An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The House has previously agreed that for the duration of the Covid emergency, the rapporteur's report on the Order of Business shall not be read out but shall be taken as read. Arising from it, however, there are three proposals to be put to the House today. First, is the proposal for today's business agreed?

Not agreed. I heard the Taoiseach on the radio yesterday calling on influencers, whoever they are, to help build public confidence in the public health measures. Last week, he had a go at various Opposition spokespersons regarding their co-operation with Government, yet he denied the Opposition the ability to scrutinise these public health regulations. He did not agree to a debate on them. As we speak today, in the Assembly in the North, members are debating and scrutinising the regulations up there and making themselves accountable to the public in respect of those regulations. I, therefore, ask the Taoiseach again, will he make space for debate on these regulations? More importantly, we need a debate on the Government's testing and tracing strategy. The Government is demanding huge sacrifices of our people, which we dealt with on Leaders' Questions, but what responsibility has it to stand up to its failure in this area? What is its plan in this area? Will the Taoiseach agree to a debate this week on the Government's testing and tracing plan? Will the Government present it to the House this week and will it make time to debate it?

Is the Deputy referring to the regulations or the testing and tracing strategy?

To be clear, I am raising again the fact that the Government failed to agree to debate the draft regulations last week. This was raised at the Business Committee and here. The Government voted down the proposition. I am, therefore, asking the Taoiseach if he will make space this week to debate the issue of the Government's testing and tracing plan, or absence thereof.

We also asked about a debate on the new regulations. They are linked to the testing and tracing regime because if that was what it should be, we might not be in the situation of having to impose harsh new restrictions. The need for debate on this is doubly the case because the Business Committee also signed off on the schedule for the Covid committee. The CMO, NPHET, the HSE and the Minister for Health were supposed to come before the Covid committee, all to deal with precisely these matters. Now none of them is to come, we discover from the Chair. The Minister, Deputy Donnelly, has said he will not come because apparently the new restrictions are not his responsibility, incredibly, but rather a whole-of-government issue and, therefore, he does not need to answer questions.

The HSE is not coming in for reasons to do with the winter plan not being ready, although there are many other things we need to talk to it about, and the acting Chief Medical Officer and representatives of NPHET are not coming in. These are things that were agreed.

I do not think this is relevant.

It is very relevant. The restrictions being brought in are having a huge impact, yet there will be no discussion in the Dáil and now, even though it was scheduled, there will be no discussion of those matters in the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response. It is unacceptable.

The shambles that has been made of the Covid committee, about which we received a communication in the past two hours, means it is of extra importance that we look at our schedule for the week, particularly in relation to what has been said before. Dublin has gone through two separate levels of regulations over the last week. We have changes to the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP. There are issues in relation to the need for a ban on evictions and the moratorium on mortgage payments. All of these issues need to be discussed. We urge in the strongest terms that we find time this week to debate these issues as a matter of urgency. If we need to convene a meeting of the Business Committee to do so, we would like that to happen straightaway.

I agree that we requested a debate on the regulations at the Business Committee. I asked the Taoiseach last week if the regulations that were meant to expire last Sunday night week had actually expired or were replaced, and I did not get an answer. We have an information void. If Parliament does not have proper discussion or scrutiny, how can public bodies or members of the Garda Síochána, who are doing their best, have understanding? We saw the Garda could not prevent something that happened in Dublin the other night. It was told it did not have the legislation to do so, whereas we were told it had. We do not have proper scrutiny of or debate on these issues in here. We do not know the position, never mind the public or An Garda Síochána. We need a debate and we need the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, or the whole of Government to debate it.

On Friday, everybody was supporting the regulations and the measures we were taking. That was the public stance of Sinn Féin and all the other parties.

What about this House?

As political parties and people were briefed on Friday evening, everybody was supportive of the very same regulations. They are akin to what is in level 3 of the plan, as everybody knows.

We had no debate on the plan. That is the point. We have asked for that.

Let the Taoiseach answer.

My suspicion is often that Sinn Féin wants to undermine regulations, not support them. That was the nature of Deputy Mac Lochlainn's presentation. He had a go at the testing and tracing system, which we debated again last week in the House. That is a robust system compared with other systems in Europe. To describe it as woeful, as the Opposition has on the Sinn Féin side, is desperately unfair to front-line workers who are doing exceptional work on testing and tracing across the country, and doing it well.

It might surprise the Taoiseach to learn that we meet those workers.

Relatively speaking, the testing and tracing capacity in this country is higher than most across Europe and we are constantly seeking to increase it. In the plan, there are significant and specific measures to increase that workforce to 3,000. It is well documented and detailed. Despite efforts to say there is nothing in the plan about testing and tracing, there is, and it is very comprehensive.

That is the plan we have not even debated on the floor of this Chamber.

People want to debate everything every week and I do not mind.

It is a substantial plan.

That is what we are here for.

If the House wants to meet on Friday, I am available to do that. I have no issue with debating the plan. We debated regulations two weeks ago to give additional powers to the Garda, which Deputy Mattie McGrath opposed, as he is entitled to do.

Of course I did.

We had a vote on them. Gardaí have to take operational decisions on the ground. The Oireachtas cannot seek to influence or interfere with the operational work of the Garda. If the Business Committee wants to meet and discuss the plan, we will provide time for a discussion on the different levels and so on. I have no difficulty with that if it is a desired objective.

On a point of clarification, we did not debate the regulations. We put forward a Private Members' motion to rescind them. We had no debate on the regulations at any stage and that is why there is a dearth of information. If the Taoiseach wants support, he will get it but we have to know what we are supporting.

I am confused about the question put by Deputy Boyd Barrett. The House approved a programme of work for the Covid-19 response committee and Deputy Boyd Barrett has told us this programme of work will not happen. I presume that is a matter for the Covid committee rather than for the House.

Can I come on this? I have some information on it.

I ask Deputy Cullinane to illuminate the matter for us, without giving a long speech.

With respect, it is not just the Covid-19 committee. The business of the House is agreed and included in that, when we got notification last Friday morning of the business for this week, was the work of the Dáil and the Covid-19 committee.

That is correct.

We were due to have NPHET, the HSE and the Minister for Health in tomorrow. We were told today that the Minister for Health, the HSE and NPHET are not now coming in. We have had no debate whatsoever on the Government's plan announced last week-----

No, wait. I ask Deputy Cullinane to resume his seat.

The Covid-19 committee was due to debate that plan specifically. Now, however, the Minister for Health is not making himself available, and nor are the HSE or NPHET.

Please, Deputy Cullinane. I want to get some clarity on a process. The House approved a programme of work, which takes into account these critical matters.

Deputies were told within the last hour that that programme of work is not going ahead in the Covid-19 committee.

We must get some formal response from the committee to advise the House as to what is going on. I do not think the Taoiseach can answer that. He is not running the committee and neither is Deputy Boyd Barrett.

Is he running the Government?

Hold on now, please. I call Deputy Boyd Barrett.

The point is that the sessions that were due to go ahead and that we agreed to go ahead with-----

-----were going to compensate, to some degree, for the lack of debate-----

-----on the regulations and the plans and the associated implications. Now, however, with a few hours' notice, we have been told that is not happening. We do not, therefore, get a debate in the Dáil and we do not get to scrutinise these incredibly important matters in the Covid-19 committee. I ask the Taoiseach to comment on the fact that part of the justification, incredibly, given by the Minister for Health is that he is not responsible for these new restrictions. That is an unbelievable statement from the Minister for Health.

That is fine. I ask Deputy Boyd Barrett to resume his seat and let us see if we can resolve this situation. We will arrange, through the Business Committee, to try to resolve this matter this afternoon and to try to bring clarity to it.

Yes, that is fine.

Question put: "That the proposal for dealing with Tuesday's sitting be agreed to."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 26; Níl, 19; Staon, 0.

  • Berry, Cathal.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Devlin, Cormac.
  • Dillon, Alan.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flaherty, Joe.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Higgins, Emer.
  • Hourigan, Neasa.
  • Leddin, Brian.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Matthews, Steven.
  • McAuliffe, Paul.
  • Richmond, Neale.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Shanahan, Matt.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smyth, Niamh.

Níl

  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Connolly, Catherine.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Pa.
  • Gannon, Gary.
  • Harkin, Marian.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • Smith, Duncan.
  • Ward, Mark.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Jack Chambers and Paul McAuliffe; Níl, Deputies Denise Mitchell and Pádraig Mac Lochlainn.
Question declared carried.

I understand the Taoiseach may have some clarification for the House in respect of the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response.

My understanding is that this committee was being rescheduled for next week. The Minister, the CMO and others involved with the HSE are actively preparing and finalising the winter initiative plan this week and are agreeable to attending the Covid-19 committee next week.

That is not acceptable.

We cannot get into a debate about it.

Can I make a point of clarification?

On a point of clarification, okay.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle. I make the point to the Taoiseach that this surely was known last week, when we signed off on this. I am aware that the officials from the Covid-19 committee had been in contact with the HSE, the Minister, the CMO and NPHET. We only received notice today.

When did the invitation go out?

When last week?

I presume last Wednesday or Thursday.

While I may be wrong and we need to clarify this, my understanding is that it was Friday evening.

Even Friday evening would have been okay. We only received notice today. That is unacceptable. That is not even the main point. We have been calling now for two weeks now for a debate on the Government’s plan and we have not had one. The Covid-19 committee-----

That is a different matter.

It is the same matter.

It is not. Deputy Cullinane is messing.

Deputy Cullinane, please. You have made your point and Deputy Mac Lochlainn has made the same point and both have made it very clearly.

The Covid-19 committee was the only opportunity that we in the Opposition have had to have any discussion with the Minister for Health, the HSE or with NPHET on that plan and on other issues. It is unacceptable to be told today before the committee is due to sit that they cannot come in and that we will reschedule for next week. It is unacceptable and is a slap in the face for the Opposition.

I am willing to co-operate with the Opposition. It is, however, very difficult at times to ascertain if Deputy Cullinane is being genuinely constructive or deliberately using every available opportunity to undermine. I am willing to engage but the invitation went out on Friday evening to the people on NPHET, to those in the HSE and to the CMO and others. I am willing to clarify if that is true. These people were working extremely hard on the measures that had to be brought in on Friday, they briefed all the Deputies and Senators from Dublin late into Friday evening, as they did before for Kildare, Sligo and Leitrim. People are available now and it is unfair to suggest that people from NPHET or the HSE are not available. They have, generally speaking, been available to Members of the House, to members of the Covid-19 committee, and were available to Members and councillors in Laois, Offaly and Kildare when the severe restrictions were introduced there. I am simply saying that I have no issue with a debate on the plan itself. I want the winter initiative announced and launched this week. People are working on that because it is very important for our health service for the next six months in managing Covid-19. I am not involved with the Covid-19 committee and this is a matter for the committee itself.

I call Deputy Duncan Smith and then Deputy Boyd Barrett.

My point of clarification is that the Chair of the Covid-19 committee had already told us that the witnesses were put on notice from last Thursday, which would have been same day as the Business Committee, which is the earliest possible time it could have been told. I believe the Taoiseach would accept that three sets of witnesses pulling out of three sessions the day before the scheduled committee is pretty damaging and unprecedented for any committee,

I brought the attention of the Dáil to this matter and it still does not answer the question as to why the Minister for Health could not come in. The issue is not about the winter planning, which is a separate matter. There was no specific item about them coming in to deal with the winter plan. This plan has now become the excuse not to discuss the restrictions. The Minister disowns the restrictions. I would like to know, incidentally, who is responsible for these new regulations, if it is not the Minister for Health, and it is extraordinary when he then runs away from engagement with the Covid-19 committee in order that we cannot ask about these things. He is running away. The excuse we have been given is that the witnesses can come in the week after to discuss the winter plan. We want them to discuss the regulations.

We offered Members a debate but they called a vote.

I thank the Deputy. I am sorry, a Thaoisigh, but we have other Deputies offering to speak. I call Deputy Shanahan now.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle. As a Deputy who sits on the Covid-19 committee I am quite happy to meet NPHET, the Department and the officials next week. We will have a far better chance then to see where the trajectory of this disease is going and we will get the opportunity to ask those questions. Furthermore, if it is not working, we will get the chance to hear the follow-up plan which we may not get to hear otherwise.

The second Government Deputy from Waterford.

A Cheann Comhairle, you gave considerable time to the Taoiseach.

Everyone here seems to get considerable time. I will make one point to Members here, please. I do not know who is right or who is wrong or if anyone is right or wrong on this but when we established the Covid-19 committee, a core principle was that we were all committed not to take any professional away from the front-line services in order to serve the committees. That was a principle that we all signed up to.

I do not believe the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, is working in the front-line services.

The second item before us is the proposal for dealing with tomorrow’s business. Is the proposal for dealing with Wednesday’s business agreed to?

I call Deputy McDonald.

The situation is extraordinary. The Opposition has sought to assist Government by waiving critical things like pre-legislative scrutiny. It has been given a fair wind. At times, it has not played that hand very well in our view but the reality is that on Friday, restrictions were imposed right across the city and county of Dublin which have had very serious effects. Dublin is not alone in that. We had Kildare, Laois and Offaly and we will have other places facing similar circumstances. The idea that the Government would run from scrutiny is absolutely extraordinary. It is not a case, with the greatest respect to him, of the Taoiseach coming to the House and saying he has no objection to a debate. The facts are that those debates have not happened and key witnesses now will not appear before the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response. It is extraordinary, and all the more so given the fact that the Taoiseach says he wants to bring public opinion with him. If there is no scrutiny or oversight he will alienate public opinion. That is the reality.

The Taoiseach is threatening to unravel the sense of social solidarity that did exist and that underpins the compliance and cohesion we need to deal with Covid-19 because if people do not understand the logic and the rationale behind measures they will lose faith in the public health effort. The Taoiseach doubled down on that mistake by then cutting into the economic supports for people precisely at the time they need them most.

In terms of co-operation with the Opposition, I will register again my frustration and anger at the precisely opposite move by the Government to relegate a number of the party groups in here in terms of the speaking order and the accountability of the Taoiseach's Government on key issues. Again last week, repeatedly, we had the insult of Ministers gone from the Chamber before many of the party groups here had a chance to-----

The Deputy made that point.

I know, and I will keep making it because it is an insult and it seriously undermines accountability in that Ministers are not actually here to be held account by all of the party groups. It is a studied insult and contempt.

I agree with what has been said. I am very disappointed in the Taoiseach because he and his Minister dropped the ball spectacularly in terms of the messaging. We are trying to rebuild that. We have been supportive of everything the Taoiseach, and the interim Government, has done but it is unbelievable that the Taoiseach will not allow a debate. We cannot scrutinise. We waived pre-legislative scrutiny and then do not get a chance to debate properly in here. We now see this literally hiding from the Committee on Covid-19 Response. It is a charade and the people know that. We need joined-up thinking, logical decisions and proper explanations so that we can explain to our public what is going on. We do not know ourselves so how can we expect the people to faith in it? The Taoiseach is letting the side down badly.

Deputy McDonald said this is an extraordinary situation. It is not an extraordinary situation. There will be a full day's business tomorrow which was agreed by the Business Committee involving a Private Members' Bill, the Labour Party Bill on sick leave and parental leave, which is a very important Bill and on which Government will engage constructively. There is Leaders' Questions. I am in here every week on Leaders' Questions taking questions from parties on all sides of the House. We have Question Time to the Taoiseach after that. We have Topical Issues. We have statements on transport. We have a Defence (Amendment) Bill, the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing) (Amendment) Bill, a voting block and the House finishes tomorrow at 10.15 p.m. I am unsure of what the Members are against but that is what they are now voting against.

I think we made it very clear.

I make the point also that all of the Members opposite supported the restrictions last Friday night. I know Sinn Féin was opposing it on Thursday night and opposing publicly the issues pertaining to hospitality.

I welcome the fact that on Friday that had changed and that it supported wholeheartedly the public health measures that were introduced to which the restrictions give effect but let us not overstate this either. I have no difficulty with scrutinising anything. I understand politics, too, when it is being played and there is no better person to play it than Deputy McDonald. She excels at playing politics with situations and platforming-----

The Taoiseach is being disingenuous when he will not provide debate. He is blustering now.

I have noticed that every Tuesday here, notwithstanding what is agreed at the Business Committee, a vote is called. If there is not one vote, there are two votes.

Nothing was agreed in the past two weeks.

It is going on all of the time.

It is not agreed because we had sought a debate on the Taoiseach's plan but he still has not given it.

Every excuse will be used to politically platform-----

The Taoiseach destroyed the Business Committee.

-----cause a vote, get up and posture and so on. I did say that I was open to a debate on the plan.

Let us have it then.

I have no issue at all about that but, having said that, it was not enough for Deputies 15 minutes ago and a vote was called again. Notwithstanding that I said there should be a meeting of the Business Committee to facilitate working out the schedule, people proceeded to have the vote and not accept that as a demonstration of good faith. I have no issue at all with debating the plan. I want to debate the plan subject to schedule. I am in Brussels on Thursday and Friday for the European Council meeting but I am available to lead a debate on the plan published by Government which, to be fair, was broadly welcomed by many Members of the House. I have no issue at all with debating the plan. Many hours were spent, up to 9 o'clock or 10 o'clock on Friday night briefing Opposition Members from all parties who represented Dublin on the restrictions; likewise, with the mayors of the Dublin councils and so on. That happened also on Friday night. That took up a lot of work on behalf of the chief medical officer, CMO, and others as well, which should be acknowledged. That kind of engagement will continue. I have no issue with that. We briefed the party leaders two to three weeks ago-----

(Interruptions).

-----with the CMO and the HSE chief executive officer on testing and everything else. That happened and it was far less heated-----

We did not see an answer to that.

-----than it tends to be in the public arena.

The Ceann Comhairle always says that many members of the public watch Oireachtas TV and I agree with him, but votes on motions will be taken here tomorrow evening and only a selected few Members from each group can vote. It is very important that when the votes are taking place tomorrow the public is aware that not everybody can vote for the simple reason that they are taking place in this Chamber. If they were taking place in the Convention Centre Dublin all of us would be able to vote. Many people are engaging with the Oireachtas in terms of the reasons they do or do not vote so it is important that they know that when the votes on the motions are taking place tomorrow certain Members will be unable to vote. There are nine Members in our Regional Group and only three of us can vote so every week we would take the three. It is important that the public is fully aware of that. It is not because we do not want to be present for the vote but rather it is because of the Covid-19 restrictions in Leinster House. On that, is there any chance the Ceann Comhairle can give us an update on that situation and what will happen as we go forward?

On the voting issue tomorrow, we can ask the Oireachtas Communications Unit to make it clear what is happening because what has been decided at the Business Committee is that votes on motions will take place here with reduced attendance but votes on legislation would take place, for the time being, in the Convention Centre Dublin where all Members would be able to attend thereby ensuring that there is no undue risk of legal challenge to the vote on legislation. We will ask the Communications Unit to make that very clear. Can I take it that the business for tomorrow is agreed to?

Question put: "That the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business be agreed to."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 28; Níl, 16; Staon, 0.

  • Berry, Cathal.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Devlin, Cormac.
  • Dillon, Alan.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flaherty, Joe.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Harkin, Marian.
  • Higgins, Emer.
  • Hourigan, Neasa.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Leddin, Brian.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Matthews, Steven.
  • McAuliffe, Paul.
  • Richmond, Neale.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Shanahan, Matt.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smith, Duncan.
  • Smyth, Niamh.

Níl

  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Connolly, Catherine.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Pa.
  • Gannon, Gary.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • O'Callaghan, Cian.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • Ward, Mark.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Jack Chambers and Paul McAuliffe; Níl, Deputies Denise Mitchell and Pádraig Mac Lochlainn.
Question declared carried.

Tá gnó Dé Céadaoin aontaithe.

Is the proposal for dealing with Thursday's business agreed to?

It is not. Since I have made the same points on the other issues, I will not labour them. When I came in here this morning, I had no intention of calling a vote until I heard from the Chairman of the Covid committee that the Minister for Health, representatives of the HSE, the Chief Medical Officer and representatives of NPHET were not coming in. Our spokespeople were prepared for those sessions. They believed they were incredibly important because of the questions being asked. If the Taoiseach believes it is grandstanding to respond to the confusion and questions he knows are being asked, he is being dishonest with the public. The matter has nothing to do with that; it is about the fact that people are confused. If the Taoiseach wants to co-operate with the Opposition and bring the public with him, I suggest he take a different approach. That also relates to the issue of speaking order, which I will keep raising because it does not denote a Government that wants to bring this House or the public with it. The Taoiseach should think again. His backbenchers are losing any advantage they gained from his manipulation of the speaking order because they are now losing time on the Order of Business. I would think about that.

The Taoiseach mentioned we had a briefing two or three weeks ago. Yes, we did. It was the first we had for three or four months. When are we going to have a briefing again? There is a complete lack of information for all in the Opposition, and the Government is messing around with the plan, doing what it wants and not giving confidence to the public.

Question, "That the proposal for dealing with Thursday's business be agreed to," put and declared carried.

In September last year, my colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty, submitted a report to the Central Bank into the practice of dual pricing by the insurance industry. As the Taoiseach will be aware, dual pricing is the practice used by insurers to rip off their customers with artificially high premiums when they renew their insurance policy. Earlier this month, the Central Bank completed phase 1 of the investigation Deputy Doherty had requested and it confirmed that dual pricing is widespread throughout the industry.

Today in Britain, the Financial Conduct Authority found that dual pricing overcharged customers there by £1.2 billion in 2018 alone and so the British authorities have confirmed they will ban this practice outright.

The Taoiseach will be aware that dual pricing is banned in more than 20 states in America and today, Britain follows suit. Will he support the legislation that Sinn Féin has brought forward and do the same? Will he ensure the dual pricing is ended in the insurance industry?

First, I wish to pay tribute to the Central Bank and its work, which has established some important facts and information on dual pricing. It is unacceptable and indicates the degree to which citizens were not served properly or fairly, in any shape or form, by the industry. The Government will bring forward its own proposals on this issue.