An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

I remind the House that we have agreed not to read out the Order of Business, but instead take it as read. Arising from its circulation, there are four proposals to put the House. First, is the proposal for dealing with today's business agreed? I call Deputies Mac Lochlainn and Boyd Barrett.

We requested time for statements on the winter plan for Thursday and note that has been agreed.

The announcement from Bus Éireann that it will close its intercity Expressway services to Galway, Limerick, Cork and Belfast is an extremely disturbing development. I ask that time be made available this week to discuss this issue and try to arrive at a solution that allows those vital services to continue.

The Taoiseach will be aware that there was consternation last week at the failure of several organisations and the Minister to attend the committee on Covid. I am sure he will agree that it is seriously problematic that NPHET will not appear before the committee again this week. The Minister will be before the Dáil on Thursday for two long sessions of statements, and rightly so. That is welcome but NPHET must also be accountable and must engage with public representatives on very serious developments. We need clarification on these matters.

Last week, I brought the attention of the House to the fact that the acting Chief Medical Officer and NPHET were not coming before the committee on Covid despite having been invited. It is a completely unacceptable situation.

Before the weekend, I discovered from the Covid committee's secretariat that NPHET would not be attending again despite the consternation and debate in the Dáil last week. NPHET was due to attend today but will not be doing so. I wrote to the Covid committee over the weekend to express my dismay about this situation. It beggars belief that the acting Chief Medical Officer and NPHET will not appear before the Covid-19 committee in a time of rising infections and anxiety about the current situation and the Covid strategy. It seems to suggest an unwillingness to have open and transparent discussions about the strategy.

Furthermore, I will object once again to the order of the debates. It is another example of why this manipulation of the order by the Government is a problem. The Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill will commence this evening, but several of the party and Independent groups will not get to speak in the first round of speeches. That is unacceptable. This is an important Bill about the future of forestry, but once again whole sections of the Dáil will be excluded from the opening round of the debate.

I am also concerned and I support Deputy Boyd Barrett on both issues, the first of which was NPHET not appearing before the committee. Three weeks ago yesterday, we had a briefing for group and party leaders. Last week, the Taoiseach promised that there would be another shortly. When will we have that briefing?

We are the Rural Independent Group, but because of the Government's manipulation, we will not get to speak tonight on the first round of the Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. That Bill is badly needed because untold damage is being done in rural Ireland and, indeed, urban Ireland in terms of the lack of timber for roofing in houses. The Government continues with this charade every week. Last week, I was sitting in the Chair when several Government backbenchers did not turn up. The debate could not be followed. It is not fair to the other groups if they do not know when they will be on because the people listed before them do not turn up. Bills will collapse. We will not let them if we can help it, but it will happen. Even to the best of our ability, we cannot monitor these debates. This situation is wrong.

I will discuss three issues briefly. First, our group will not have the opportunity to speak on the Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill tonight even though we have tabled 12 considered amendments to it. An opportunity needs to be facilitated.

Second, we have been promised briefings. Statutory instrument after statutory instrument is being introduced in secondary legislation relating to Covid-19. These instruments have far-reaching implications for every citizen in the country. Some of them are contradictory and are causing abject confusion, but we have yet to receive a briefing on any of them.

Third, can I get clarity from the Taoiseach-----

Deputy, is there some specific briefing-----

Yes. I would like clarity from the Taoiseach on the winter plan, which will be debated in the House on Thursday. When will we see the detail of that plan? None of us yet knows what will happen in the country, but we are supposed to be debating the plan on Thursday.

I will add my voice to the points on NPHET. It is the most powerful organisation in this State currently and the decisions it is making are having a significant impact on hundreds of thousands of people around the country, yet Deputies have not had an opportunity to tease those questions out and hold NPHET to account. I know of Deputies who have asked journalists to ask NPHET questions, which is an incredible situation. We need the opportunity to make the decisions that are being taken transparent and open.

First of all, not everybody shared the consternation last week. Deputies can create their own consternation and some of them are quite good at it. They practice-----

What does the Taoiseach mean?

What I mean is that it had already been arranged last week, prior to the consternation, that there would be presentations from the HSE and from the Minister this week. Not within the timelines last week, but the following week. That was agreed, actually, by the Covid committee. That is my understanding.

Hold on, please. Equally, I am saying-----

Wait, Deputy. Can we let the Taoiseach answer?

People are saying that we will not have time. There is an hour and a half on the forestry Bill. An hour and a half.

The Taoiseach's own party thinks this is criminal.

What is being suggested is that nobody on this side of the House should have any opportunity to speak at all.

We are not saying that.

That is what is being said.

That is a total misrepresentation.

No one is saying that.

When one boils it down-----

Nobody is saying that.

The Taoiseach's parliamentary party meetings-----

A Cheann Comhairle-----

Please, can the Taoiseach respond without interruption?

It is only an hour and a half. Divide up an hour and a half as much as you like. The Minister will be coming in.

Twenty-minute slots.

The point is, we would love more time for the Bill this evening-----

Government Deputies are not turning up.

-----because this Bill is essential for the future of jobs in many rural communities.

It is very positive that the Bill is being debated. We would welcome more time for the debate but Deputies will have an opportunity to speak because the Bill will be debated again tomorrow. The consternation is about the hour and a half given tonight and Deputies saying that not everybody will get to speak in that hour and a half.

That is not true.

Let us get real and have some sense of perspective. Not everybody can speak in an hour and a half. The change has been that many backbenchers in the larger parties are saying that they have entitlements as well and they want an opportunity to speak on issues. It is a fair argument and that is all I am saying. Not everybody can be accommodated within an hour and a half but there will be more time tomorrow for the debate on the Bill. I presume people will----

Not enough time.

We would welcome more Government time but the Dáil business is very crowded. I am looking at the schedule and it shows a very crowded timetable. Deputies are already looking for more time to debate matters concerning Bus Éireann, which I agree is a serious issue. It is a question of how to divide up the time for the remainder of the week. That is the $64,000 question. It is not for me to decide but we will try to facilitate people as best we can.

The Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2020 is a good Bill and it is important to debate it.

If it is too weak from Deputy McGrath's perspective, it is probably too strong from somebody else's perspective. I am satisfied that it is needed to deal with the crisis within the forestry industry. We need to get on with it and get it done. I do not know whether time can be made available for other matters such as the Bus Éireann issue. I will leave that to the Business Committee.

We are dealing with the proposed business for today.

What about the briefing?

My understanding is that NPHET will be meeting on Thursday, having assessed and reviewed the situation across the country. That is its primary duty. NPHET is not the most powerful body in the country.

It provides advice to Government and the Oireachtas. Last week, I thought I would be attending a European Council meeting on Thursday and Friday. As it transpired, that meeting was cancelled due to reasons beyond our control when somebody close to the President developed Covid-19 symptoms. As a result, the Council meeting was postponed until this Thursday and Friday. I will facilitate a briefing of leaders.

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

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

Is the proposal for dealing with No. 2, regarding Wednesday's business, agreed to?

I am afraid I will have to call a vote on this proposal. It is completely unacceptable. The manipulation of the speaking order is bad enough but the ramming through of the Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2020 on Wednesday is an absolute abuse of democracy and it cannot be allowed to stand without serious objection. The Bill has been described as "shocking" by the Environmental Pillar. The latter group, the Woodland League and others have expressed deep concern about the net deforestation that may now be happening because of the dysfunctional industrial, profit-driven forestry model in this country, which is doing nothing to protect or enhance biodiversity and doing nothing to reach our climate goals. It is driven only by money interests.

The Deputy cannot debate the Bill on the Order of Business.

We have submitted dozens of amendments. Deputy Naughten, who has a different perspective on the Bill, has indicated that he put in 12 amendments. There are some 100 amendments in total.

We have put in a number of amendments and we want to debate them.

I agree with Deputy Danny Healy-Rae that all the amendments should be debated. It is unacceptable that Second Stage should run on into Committee and Final Stages when most of those amendments will not even be debated. That is completely unacceptable and there is no justification for ramming the Bill through in this way. I sought a briefing on the Bill from the Oireachtas Library and Research Service but none was available because of its late publication. Yet the Government is proposing to ram through all Stages. We have facilitated the Government in necessary emergency measures but what is happening now is a sustained, ongoing abuse of the democratic process that is going to lead to bad legislation in this case and possibly severe consequences for the Irish forestry sector.

I too object in the strongest possible way to the short time being given on Wednesday for the debate on all Stages of the Bill. I objected at the Business Committee to the proposal. I suggested that we start debating it at 10 a.m. today or at noon, but I was told that was not feasible for the Cabinet. It is totally ridiculous to have such important legislation debated in this way.

I fundamentally oppose what Deputy Boyd Barrett is talking about. Our concern is for real jobs and the real people who have trees planted.

Tree huggers and tree lovers are holding up the Bill and clogging it up with frivolous amendments. We want to stop people who live in the city objecting to plantations that are 100 miles and 200 miles away. This is scandalous. Families are being deprived of their living, they cannot harvest their timber, contractors are being deprived of their living, the mills are without timber and builders consequently cannot get materials to build houses. It is farcical coming from Deputy Boyd Barrett, who is always talking about housing, that he is so short-sighted he cannot see this. I ask him to go and plant some trees in his leafy backyard if he wants to. He can see how trees grow and how we in the countryside mind them. It is ridiculous.

If we had decent jobs instead of bogus self-employment in forestry then I might agree with Deputy McGrath.

Six hours are provided tomorrow-----

There is in Dublin what we do not have down the country.

Please, can the Taoiseach respond without interruption?

Six hours are provided for the Bill in tomorrow's business. The Bill is urgent. The issue has been going on for years. There have been serial objections on an industrial scale, which is not merited and is not fair.

Most of them upheld.

I have no issue with people objecting. People are entitled to make an objection. All that the Bill is doing is aligning the issue of licences in forestry, felling and planting to the conventional planning system. It still allows for objections but it creates fees for those who want to appeal and so on, in line with normal planning situations. I agree with a broad-based forestry policy. I am not sure that anyone in this House has ever said we should end commercial forestry. A lot of jobs depend on commercial forestry and many farmers, for example, entered into contracts some 20 years ago-----

-----with grants to do it, with an expectation they would be able to fell those trees in due course. The timber industry had expectations there would be a supply of timber to enable production and jobs and so on, and the supply of materials to the construction sector. All of this is threatened. The urgency is that by the end of October or November there will not be an industry and jobs will be lost.

The Government is wrecking the industry as it is.

No. That is the reality. The Deputy articulates very eloquently on behalf of workers and so on, but if this Bill is not passed, whatever chance we have, there will be a lot of workers made redundant unnecessarily because of inertia of the Oireachtas, of the legislators, and of the Executive. The Executive has taken its decision and has presented the Bill. We also want to encourage native species, which have also been objected to. In the rush to object to everything in July, everything was objected to-----

This is just propaganda.

Sorry, Deputy, please.

-----including native tree plantations and so on. The wonderful Dublin project was objected to also in the rush to object to everything. I am fully for stronger and enhanced biodiversity and for grants to farmers to grow native trees. I want the rebalancing of forestry policy. I do not subscribe to the idea that we put an end to commercial forestry.

Big money and big interests are involved in this.

There is nothing wrong-----

It is about families' survival.

Deputies, please.

There is nothing wrong with people being tree huggers and tree lovers. Trees are wonderful.

They can hug them in St. Stephen's Green.

Trees are probably the most effective thing we have in this country to fight climate change in the future. That is my view. We should grow far more than we are growing at the moment. The current planning process-----

Methinks the Taoiseach does protest too much.

-----is paralysing the entire situation.

Deputies, we are talking about arrangements for the taking of legislation. We do not have to debate the legislation itself, please.

That is what the Taoiseach is doing.

Is the proposal for taking Wednesday's business agreed to?

Question put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 29; Níl, 16; Staon, 0.

  • Berry, Cathal.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carroll MacNeill, Jennifer.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Higgins, Emer.
  • Hourigan, Neasa.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Lahart, John.
  • Lawless, James.
  • Leddin, Brian.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • McAuliffe, Paul.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
  • O'Callaghan, Jim.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Sullivan, Christopher.
  • Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • Richmond, Neale.
  • Smyth, Niamh.

Níl

  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Cairns, Holly.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Cronin, Réada.
  • Daly, Pa.
  • Farrell, Mairéad.
  • Gannon, Gary.
  • Harkin, Marian.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Ward, Mark.
  • Wynne, Violet-Anne.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Jack Chambers and Marc Ó Cathasaigh; Níl, Deputies Joan Collins and Richard Boyd Barrett.
Question declared carried.

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

It is not agreed. I will not waste the House's time with another vote as people will want to get on with other business but we had a discussion about the length of time that would be made available for the debates on Covid and on the winter plan. A number of members of the Business Committee made it clear that we wanted a slot of two hours and ten minutes for each debate and that we wanted each debate to be taken separately. The times have been reduced back to one hour and 45 minutes each which means that, yet again, smaller groups and parties will have ridiculously short speaking slots to respond to very important issues. That is unacceptable. It is another consequence of the Government's rigging of the speaking arrangements in the House. It does a very serious disservice to the public and to democracy. The slots should be as were requested at the meeting of the committee, that is, two hours and ten minutes for each debate.

More than two hours have been given for each debate.

I am sorry; I meant to say the slots should be 210 minutes long rather than 1 hour and 45 minutes.

We have given over two hours for each debate.

I am sorry; I meant 210 minutes as against one hour and 45 minutes.

We have also split the debate into two separate debates, as requested by all Members representing the Opposition. We have facilitated the requests made through the Business Committee and the Deputy is getting his debate. We have used all Government time. In fact, we have expanded Government time to facilitate both debates. We can only schedule the time as per the request. Debates lasting 210 minutes each would affect the time given to debate the Private Members' Bill Deputy Boyd Barrett's colleague is bringing forward after the two debates. We can only work within the time given to us as per the schedule. We have given significant time for both debates.

I do not agree but I will not call a vote.

Noting Deputy Boyd Barrett's dissent, is the proposal for dealing with Thursday's business agreed to? Agreed.

This morning, the North's public prosecution service announced that 15 former British soldiers will not be prosecuted in connection with the murder of 13 civilians in Derry on Bloody Sunday in 1972. I pay tribute to the Bloody Sunday families for their strength, stamina and determination. This is another very disappointing day in their campaign for truth and justice. I share that disappointment given the well-documented actions of the British army on that day. The former British Prime Minister, David Cameron, said that what happened was "unjustified and unjustifiable". Despite this, the families have been denied justice for nearly half a century.

As the Taoiseach will know, the British Government continues to block the establishment of the legacy mechanisms to which it signed up and which were agreed under the Stormont House Agreement. Will the Irish Government continue to support the Bloody Sunday families in their campaign to uncover the truth of what happened that day? Will the Taoiseach speak, as a matter of urgency, to the British Prime Minister to ensure that provisions made under the Stormont House Agreement are implemented?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The decision of the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland to uphold the decision not to prosecute 15 former British soldiers in connection with the Bloody Sunday killings will come as a deep disappointment to, and will be met with anger by, the families of all of those killed by the parachute regiment in Derry in 1972. Today's developments will bring back feelings of pain, loss and frustration for many. I was the Minister for Foreign Affairs when the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, made his apology, which I felt at the time was very heartfelt. I believe he got it right with regard to the manner, nature and candour of that apology.

The families have been tireless in pursuing this issue and in seeking truth and justice. They will examine this decision very closely. I understand they and their legal representatives are considering whether there are grounds for challenging this decision in the UK High Court. They should be given space for such consideration.

Yesterday the Tánaiste, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform met with representatives of the banks. As we all know, the outcome was that payment breaks will no longer be offered to borrowers who are in trouble due to Covid. Statistics issued by the Central Bank show that more than 56,000 family homes were in mortgage arrears at the end of June. There is a code of conduct for mortgage arrears in place to protect borrowers but, as the Taoiseach will know, it is very much weighted in favour of the banks.

I am asking the Taoiseach in light of these statistics and the depth of concern that many in this House have for those borrowers who have been on to us. Will the Taoiseach bring forward some form of amendment to strengthen the code and rebalance it so that borrowers are not at the whim of the banks to the degree that they are under the code at the moment?

As I said earlier, the European Banking Authority, which is the European-wide regulatory authority, has essentially made the six-month timeframe in terms of payments being deferred. The position is that the Government met the banks yesterday and more tailor-made responses to individuals from here on is the more appropriate response. It is not a cliff edge although as and from the end of this month no new people may apply for the waiver or deferment of payments. It has been invaluable to many people with mortgages and personal loans as well as many small and medium-sized enterprises as well. The majority were able to exit after a period and return to normal repayment although others have been unable. It is incumbent on the banks to behave properly and sensibly to such customers. The Government will monitor that in the coming period.

Yesterday, Dr. Ronan Glynn sent out an excellent graphic and talked about how we should all reduce our contacts. He outlined how one case of the virus could lead to 56 cases. It was an excellent graphic and it was incredibly appropriate. I want the Taoiseach of speak to those who cannot reduce their networks. In particular, I am speaking of schoolteachers, special needs assistants and people who are in contact with numbers of people daily. They cannot reduce their networks. What is the message for them? In our school community at the moment there is anxiety around the number of contacts. They seem to be getting left behind. What is the Taoiseach's message to teachers and SNAs who are expressing a genuine sense of frustration, fear and anxiety about feeling unsafe in their workplace at the minute?

First, I thank the teachers and SNAs throughout the country for their commitment and for making it possible for schools at primary and post-primary level to reopen. It has been the number one objective of our society collectively that our children would be back in a learning environment, because their life chances and development depend on it. That said, in terms of the primary school system, mass testing to date and testing where it has occurred indicate transmission from children to other children is low. The figure was as low as 0.5%, but I can be checked on that. That was the latest in HSE data. The acting Chief Medical Officer drew some reassurances from that aspect of it.

The schools and the Department are in constant contact in respect of public health advice. This morning, further substantial funding was made available to the Department of Education and Skills to enable the school transport system to fulfil the latest National Public Health Emergency Team advice in respect of school buses at 50%. We are constantly working on making it safer and providing the resources to enable us to do that. The schools put in significant measures as well and that is important to note too.

Yesterday, the Déise five occupied the Debenhams store in Waterford city in protest at the refusal of KPMG to talk. These workers want real talks unhindered by the introduction of non-union scab labour into the stores or the intervention of gardaí against peaceful protests, which we have seen now in no fewer than three stores during the past five days. The programme for Government raises the possibility of improving workers' rights in liquidation situations, a tacit admission that workers' rights may not currently be what they should be here. Given all this, is the Taoiseach prepared now clearly, strongly and unequivocally to call for the withdrawal of non-union scab labour from these stores, to call for a stop to the involvement of the gardaí in this peaceful industrial dispute and, last but not least, to call on KPMG to end its refusal to talk and to call for real talks to begin aimed at formulating a meaningful proposal for the workers with a view to ending this dispute?

There should be proper and meaningful dialogue between all involved in this particular dispute. There are legal frameworks governing this. There is no point in pretending there are not, because there are. I have spoken to some workers and, as I have said, I am not going to pretend that things can be done that cannot be done.

I believe the law needs to be reviewed and changed especially in respect of honouring collective agreements or at least giving collective agreements the same level of parity as other creditors in terms of a liquidation. That should happen. Moreover, within the context of this specific dispute, meaningful efforts should be made so that, in addition to the statutory redundancy the Government is giving, workers could get more payments in addition to what they would be getting from a statutory perspective.

The O'Rahilly was the only leader from the 1916 battle to die in battle. His home in Herbert Park, Dublin was the location of much planning and development during that revolutionary period. Indeed, the Asgard gunrunning was organised there, as were many of the events of the 1916 Rising. Cumman na mBan was founded there.

Today, the building lies in rubble in a shocking act of cultural vandalism. Today at 6.30 a.m., against the motion passed by Dublin City Council with regard to listing the building, the developer demolished it. This mirrors the experience with Moore Street, which lay for decades in dereliction.

Every Minister in the Government owes his or her office to the bravery and sacrifice of the men and women of 1916. Why was there not one Minister to stand up for that building before it was demolished?

Iconic and historic locations such as this should be preserved or should be, at a minimum, incorporated into any new development. As Deputy Tóibín is aware, in terms of Moore Street there have been exhaustive discussions involving Deputies and Senators from both Houses. This has resulted in conclusions that could enable the dereliction to end and the locations to be preserved historically in an appropriate way. They allow for development to occur as well. It took a long time in terms of Moore Street. Something similar should have happened here, in my view. I do not believe buildings of this historic value should be demolished in such a manner.

There is a sense of outrage today about the young people in Galway last night and in the Taoiseach's city of Cork. I do not agree with it. I believe mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí. We should be praising our young. They were all allowed to go back to college last week. They paid their fees, including accommodation fees. Then, the Government announced on Friday evening that these people would have to stay at home for two weeks. The people are utterly confused and so are the young people. They do not buy in to the Taoiseach or believe he is serious about this.

As I said before, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health have spectacularly dropped the ball on the messaging. There are mixed messages. Every parent was allowed to pay the money last Friday, register and pay the fees. Then, the colleges told the students that evening after the close of business that they could not attend and would have to participate online. Why would they not go? They need some fun in their lives too. We should stop knocking them. What about golf-gate? It has gone off the agenda completely. If we keep demonising young people like this, then we will suffer for it. We should praise them and give them a chance to live as well.

Deputy Collins, I will call you as the last group leader before going to the Taoiseach.

In Cobh on Friday, three workers, including two full-time seasonal workers and a part-time worker, received notice of dismissal even though their contracts had them working until 29 November. It was no coincidence that these workers have been campaigning for toilet and hand-washing facilities at the Spike Island Tours kiosk. One had to get the union in to represent them to get toilet and hand-washing facilities. When they went looking to discuss it, the board of Spike Island Development Company told them their personal issues were getting in the way of business. This has to be dealt with. These are State companies. They have unfairly dismissed workers at least one month before their contracts were up. There should be an intervention on behalf of the State to get these workers reinstated.

Aontaím leis an Teachta. Mar a deir an seanfhocal, mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí, agus níl aon amhras faoi sin. Ar an taobh eile den scéal caithfimid a bheith macánta chomh maith agus níl aon leithscéal maidir leis na sluaite a bhí bailithe i lár chathair na Gaillimhe aréir.

I agree. Nobody is knocking or criticising young people but, irrespective of age, people should not congregate in large numbers on streets in the middle of Covid-19. Let us call a spade a spade; we cannot do it. Whether people are adults or whatever age they are, we cannot congregate in large numbers. The numbers might be in Galway because of college but they do not have to be students only. There could be others who are not students who are congregating. Congregation is problematic for the spread of the disease and the virus. We need to be unequivocal about that. Even though colleges are returning, in many cases the numbers of students coming back are much lower than normal. When I was in touch with one university, for example, it had already, prior to any decisions last Friday, ordained that classes would be 80% online and 20% on campus.

On Deputy Collins's question, I do not have the details of the specifics but, again, there should be no issue with proper toilet facilities for workers. That should be a bottom line.

We are in the middle of a pandemic and now they are being dismissed by a State company.

They should not be dismissed by the company and I will pursue it.

That concludes Questions on Promised Legislation. Eight Deputies were not reached today.