1. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his plans for a new citizens' assembly in 2021. [25030/20]
Vol. 998 No. 2
1. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his plans for a new citizens' assembly in 2021. [25030/20]
2. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach his plans to establish a citizens' assembly in 2021. [26525/20]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.
Under the programme for Government, the Government is committed to establishing a citizens’ assembly in 2021 to consider the type of directly elected mayor and local government structures best suited for Dublin. The work of the current Citizens’ Assembly on gender equality has been interrupted and delayed by the impact of Covid-19. It was originally scheduled to hold meetings in the period from March to July and issue its report in the summer. It has had to adapt its methods to comply with public health guidelines but will resume its work with online meetings in October and over the coming months, with the aim of reporting by June 2021. I commend all the members of the assembly on their commitment to their work in the face of the challenges presented by Covid. Their civic-minded dedication to completing their task will ensure we can make substantial advances on gender equality, based on their findings and recommendations.
The experience of the current assembly in operating online will inform the approach to the other citizens' assemblies to be undertaken in line with the programme for Government. The Dublin mayor Citizens' Assembly will be established with a new chairperson and new members following completion of the current assembly. The programme for Government also provides for the establishment of citizens' assemblies to consider matters relating to drug use, biodiversity and the future of education. Officials from my Department are engaging with officials from the relevant Departments on the approach to be taken to these assemblies. It is envisaged they will be established after the Dublin mayor Citizens' Assembly has completed its work, but the specific timing of each assembly has yet to be worked out.
I call Deputy Ó Ríordáin, who is deputising for Deputy Kelly.
All the issues to be discussed by the citizens' assembly are important but none more so than that of drugs. The Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy has stated in the House that he has twice written to the Taoiseach to try to find out when the citizens' assembly might take place. There is a feeling that in the middle of a pandemic, all that momentum for radical drug reform that had been building for years, on issues such as drug use, addiction and recovery, has, unfortunately, been lost. When the opportunity arose within the programme for Government to announce the potential for a citizens' assembly, it was seized on by those in this area as a great opportunity. We hope the Taoiseach will give more of a commitment as to when and how that citizens' assembly might meet.
The Taoiseach knows the issues around decriminalisation are very important, such as trying to take people out of the criminal justice system and treating drug use as a purely medical issue.
I suggest that the Taoiseach has an opportunity, given that he has a Seanad space free. While political parties will do whatever they can to make sure a particular candidate meets the criteria, and while I know it is the agricultural panel, would it not be quite powerful for the Taoiseach to do what he can to ensure that somebody who advocates for drug users and those in recovery could fill that space in the Seanad? It could be somebody like Tony Geoghegan, Philly McMahon or Peter McVerry. I know the criteria of the agricultural panel have to be fit, but at the same time, such an appointment would indicate to those who care deeply about this issue that the Government cares deeply about it and that it wants somebody in these Houses who has an intimate understanding of the complexities of it.
Also, we need to know when the citizens' assembly will sit, because while I can speak about the health elements of this problem, for far too many families there is clearly a violent gang element to it as well, which is literally killing people on the streets in my constituency and throughout the country. We need a firmer commitment from the Taoiseach along the lines on which I have spoken. We need dates and we need to know the Government is on the side of these families and communities.
I also want to raise the matter of a citizens' assembly on the issues of drugs and drug use and misuse, as well as recovery and how the State supports and funds such an approach. I have raised with the Taoiseach the value and importance of the community participation provision within the national drugs strategy. I have brought to his attention that some within the apparatus of the State are less than enthusiastic about that community participation provision. The Taoiseach has agreed with me on more than one occasion that this participative piece of the strategy is essential in respect of the issue of drugs, drug use and misuse and recovery. I would also like to know what the plans are for this. The dangers and harm that drugs can cause are present and real. Therefore, there is an urgency for individuals and their families as well as for communities, many of which can be readily identified and which have suffered disproportionately from drug use and misuse and from a lack of State support for services and a viable recovery model. In fact, I represent such communities.
I know we will talk about the Government's shared island unit later. It is appropriate and obvious at this stage, however, not least because of the position of Boris Johnson, his Government, its Internal Market Bill and all that has arisen around the Brexit discussion and debate, that there is a need to plan in real time for Irish reunification. By that, I mean there is a need for a real-world discussion around public services, such as the health service, for example, as well as educational provision and the economic model of a reunified Ireland. All of these are key and critical issues and they will take time to consider and plan for. I have said to the Taoiseach before that it is a reckless mistake for anyone to bury his or her head in the sand at this point and to try to imagine that profound political change is not under way, because it is, and that will find constitutional expression. I am raising that matter with the Taoiseach again and I would like him to consider the establishment of a citizens' assembly or a similar mechanism - I do not mind what it is called - that clears the space for that conversation on constitutional change and a reunified Ireland, that brings the conversation beyond politicians and invites the citizenry in its entirety to be part of this conversation, which we know has started in communities across the island in an organic and real way.
There is a difficulty with the citizens' assemblies in terms of timing, organisation and logistics because of Covid-19 and that has to be acknowledged. The existing Citizens' Assembly on gender issues has been delayed but it is meeting and engaging. I am open to working out the logistics of the range of issues that we want to put before citizens' assemblies, but we have to be realistic as well. The next one after the gender issues one is complete was meant to be the Dublin mayor Citizens' Assembly. I will ask my officials to discuss this with other parties and work out the logistical requirements in the context of Covid-19 and essentially in an online format. For the foreseeable future we are looking at how effective such meetings of citizens' assemblies can be and examining if we can run some in parallel, because there are three to four of them that people would be anxious to have. Given the slower pace of them, as a result of Covid-19, there will be problems around that.
I want to stress that in no way should that weaken the resolve and the work that is under way in tackling the drugs issue and the issues of recovery and a multidisciplinary response to addiction and recovery that is rooted in community and community participation. That is still required, irrespective of whether or when we have an assembly. There should be no let up in advances or progression on a range of issues around that because the world cannot stand still. We have to keep making decisions and policy, while getting it right with the Citizens' Assembly approach.
On a citizens' assembly on the Good Friday Agreement or on the question of Irish unity, I have set up a shared island unit within the Department of the Taoiseach, which is designed to scope out a range of issues about what it would be like to share this island and to examine how we can best share this island into the future, irrespective of people's views on the constitutional position. The Good Friday Agreement allowed for that and the genius of it was that it essentially meant we did not have to talk about constitutional issues every single day, and rather we could get to work on putting flesh on the bones of a lot of what is in the agreement. We have not succeeded in doing that within the institutions themselves because they have been too stop-start from the beginning of the agreement and have been in abeyance and suspended for a lot of the time.
There is a North-South dimension which needs strong momentum and impetus, and that is something I am committed to doing with the existing bodies. I am also committed to looking at investment in North-South infrastructure, which has been on the agenda for a decade. We want to take the initiative on that and follow through on the commitments made by the Irish Government in respect of New Decade, New Approach agreement.
There is a lot to be done. As opposed to grandstanding and indulging in rhetoric all of the time, an awful lot more can be done on putting flesh on the bones of the Good Friday Agreement, making it work and enabling it to work. In some respects, the North-South bodies have not been given the support and momentum they deserve. They did great work in the early phase of the Good Friday Agreement. Waterways Ireland, Tourism Ireland and InterTradeIreland all do effective work, but they need new momentum and an injection of support from all sides. The Irish Government will not be found wanting in that respect.
Likewise, in terms of health we need to intensify cross-Border co-operation, particularly in paediatric, cancer and oncology services, to a far greater degree than has been done to date. The community application of information technology, CAIT, initiative is one of the first and original initiatives on a cross-Border basis on health that has been added to in the utilisation of Altnagelvin hospital's oncology services and tertiary services for paediatrics. There are two fundamentally differently structured health services, however. In the North, it is essentially the National Health Service as experienced through the UK's historic model, although it is subject to a lot of pressure right now.
Our model evolved differently because we did not have the same social insurance provisions in post-war Ireland as developed in post-war Britain. In essence, that allowed for an initial voluntary hospital system to emerge from the beginning of the last century, which was religiously driven by various denominations, and then the State hospitals were introduced with the Health Act 1970. This involved the expansion of health board hospitals and then State hospitals at St. James's and Beaumont.
There was a very mixed evolutionary system in the Republic and that needs much reorganisation. It is a big question in terms of the alignment of that with the structures in the health service in Northern Ireland. With the shared island unit the idea is that we would commission substantive research to inform our perspectives. That would be my approach in the first instance.
We are out of time but I can allow a quick contribution.
As the Taoiseach indicated, we cannot say we will deal with the drugs citizens' assembly question when the Citizens' Assembly meets. There was great co-operation across these Houses on the issue of injecting centres and decriminalisation.
I will return to the Seanad matter for a moment. The Taoiseach nominated Colette Kelleher to the Seanad in a previous Oireachtas and the Government took on the suggestion of appointing a Traveller representative. It would be a strong sign if the Government could nominate somebody from the drugs field and who knows it intimately if it feels the drugs citizens' assembly would be delayed. It would make good a Government mess around Senator D'Arcy if somebody of that stature in the drugs area could be nominated.
As the Deputy knows, it is a Fine Gael vacancy.
I am sure the Taoiseach has a view on it.
I got in to ask a question and then the Taoiseach talked down the clock. My colleague got a short few seconds but I will get none.
I did not talk down the clock. The Deputy had as much time as I had.
Okay. The Taoiseach has a peculiar way of looking at the clock. All the evidence in the real world demonstrates the State does not take the matters of drug use, misuse and, above all, recovery seriously. How many detox beds are available in the State? Tell us that.
I say again to the Deputy that it is not fair to say the Government does not care about drug recovery or addiction. I have been involved in that work as a former Minister with responsibility for health. I worked very strongly at that and we made much progress in our time with a multidisciplinary response and the creation of new approaches. The momentum must continue, and it will. What I am saying is that must continue irrespective of when we have that citizens' assembly.
On the Senator vacancy, in the first instance it is a Fine Gael Senator who has now left. That person was elected as a Fine Gael Senator and in the first instance it is a matter for Fine Gael to consider how it feels it is best to fill the vacancy. There will be some reflection on that but in the first instance it is a matter for that party. I will not pre-empt the consideration of another party. Others may want to nominate people as well to that position.
How many detox beds are there? Does the Taoiseach know? He should.
3. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Taoiseach the financial and staff resources that will be made available to the shared island unit. [25179/20]
4. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Taoiseach if he will create a new Ireland forum to bring together civil and political society to start to work towards further all-Ireland integration and unity. [25415/20]
5. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Taoiseach if the citizens’ assembly will examine the practicalities of what a united Ireland would entail. [25613/20]
6. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Taoiseach if the citizens’ assembly could examine the practicalities of a united Ireland. [26630/20]
7. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Taoiseach the specific role of the shared island unit. [26807/20]
8. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Taoiseach if he will create a new all-Ireland forum to bring together civil and political society to start to work towards further all-Ireland integration and unity. [27114/20]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 to 8, inclusive, together.
The programme for Government sets out the Government’s commitment to working with all communities and traditions on the island to build consensus around a shared future, underpinned by the Good Friday Agreement. A shared island unit has been established in my Department in support of this commitment and its work is now under way. The unit’s work is being led by an assistant secretary, with two staff appointed and further assignments in train. The work programme and related resourcing for the unit are being further developed.
The unit will examine the political, social, economic and cultural considerations underpinning a future in which all traditions are mutually respected. This work will at all times be grounded in the principles of the Good Friday Agreement. Strengthening social, economic and political links on the island and the promotion of all-island approaches to the strategic challenges facing Ireland, North and South, are key objectives for the unit.
Research and dialogue are also at the core of the unit's work. It is tasked with working collaboratively across the Government and with research, sectoral, business and community organisations, and with engaging with political and civil society representatives on an inclusive basis. The unit will seek a broad base of contributions from across society on this island and work to ensure that people who have been proportionally under-represented in the peace process, such as women and new communities on the island, are fully represented.
There are no plans for a civic forum or citizens' assembly on the constitutional future of the island. As I have said, I do not believe that a Border poll could be constructively pursued in the current term of the Government. It would have a very divisive impact.
The Government respects and affirms everyone’s right on the island to make the case for the constitutional future for Northern Ireland they wish to see, whether they are nationalist, unionist or neither. The Good Friday Agreement and the two sovereign Governments explicitly recognise and validate the legitimacy of both constitutional positions, which are deeply held. I am and the Government is firmly committed to working towards a consensus on a shared future for the island in which all traditions are mutually respected. The work of the shared island unit will support this and the Government will listen to and engage with the views of all communities and traditions on the island.
Our approach will at all times be founded on realising the full potential of the Good Friday Agreement to sustain progress, deepen mutual understanding and further reconciliation.
It really concerns me and many of the Taoiseach's grassroots and lifelong supporters that nowhere in the 1,900 words of the programme for Government section on the shared island unit does it mention a united Ireland. That is why many supporters of the Taoiseach's party are leaving and joining Sinn Féin. I can only speak from my experience in Mayo on that.
This concerns me as the Taoiseach and his partners in the Government have not acknowledged their constitutional obligation to achieve a united Ireland. There is no reference to the explicit commitment in the Good Friday Agreement for the referendum on Irish unity. I have to ask the Taoiseach why that is so.
Despite this, the shared island unit is tasked with a wide range of responsibilities, although I will not name them now. The shared island unit must be capable of delivering progress in a wide range of areas that needs to be reflective of how it is staffed and resourced. Expectation of a shared island unit are that it would establish a citizens' assembly, publish a White Paper on Irish unity and facilitate a Oireachtas joint committee to encourage structured dialogue North, South, east and west, which would also involve our diaspora and allow us to discuss how we share and shape this island.
The hour has come for the Taoiseach to show me and people like me from all around the country that a shared island unit is a genuine attempt to unify our island. The folly of partition is demonstrated over and over again, more recently with Brexit and Covid-19, and dismantling it, while always important, is now urgent. Before he gives me a lecture about Sinn Féin having disregard for the Protestant, unionist or loyalist population, I tell the Taoiseach that I am a mother from the far west of Ireland. I was born in London and I lived a very good part of my life in England. I want the same opportunities for my sons as do mothers in east Belfast. I want to see a good a respectful relationship between both our islands that embraces the Irish living in Britain and the British living in Ireland.
There are two very important documents that frame this country. The first is the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and that document very clearly states the rights of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland.
It calls for full Irish Independence.
The second important document is the Good Friday Agreement. Thankfully, that document helped bring the peace that none of us then believed was possible. The truth at the very heart of that document is the idea that the will of the majority of the people of the North of Ireland should direct its future constitutional location.
I have heard the Taoiseach argue against Irish unity on several occasions, and I have heard him argue against the majority element of the Good Friday Agreement as well. Why does he oppose elements of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and elements of the Good Friday Agreement? He uses the phrase "shared Ireland" all the time, as if "united Ireland" were somehow dirty words. It shocks me that a leader of Fianna Fáil, a party which once confidently supported Irish unity, would feel that way.
I completely understand why the Taoiseach would be cautious. It is absolutely logical to be cautious with regard to Irish unity, but the chaos that has been created in our country by the Tory Government, which affects our ability to trade, move people and do business between North and South, must have limits in light of our own self-interest as a nation. There must be some point on that spectrum where even the Taoiseach would come to the view that Ireland's self-interest makes it logical to set up an all-Ireland forum to which we can bring civic and political views from across the island of Ireland, discuss the best ways to ameliorate the worst excesses of Brexit and start to plan for Irish unity.
I have to agree with what several speakers have said. The conversation on Irish unity has begun. It has undoubtedly been sped up by Brexit and the madness of the Internal Market Bill. We have recently heard mention of Bloody Sunday. Last week I spoke about the case of Seamus Ludlow, who was killed by loyalists and members of the British Army. The reality is that British rule in Ireland has never been good and Boris Johnson has just given everybody a reminder of that.
It is straightforward. The idea that we must tug our forelocks and cannot mention Irish unity serves no purpose. It does not make us more liked by a certain section of unionism that may have a difficulty. This question is happening. Brexit makes it far more likely. A huge number of people are now determining that they want to stay within the European Union, and if Irish unity is the way to do it rather than as part of the very dysfunctional so-called United Kingdom, this question may happen faster than anticipated, possibly faster than even we in Sinn Féin had anticipated or wanted. The Government needs to prepare. We need to look at the practicalities and have a full conversation about all the people who live in Ireland, including unionists, nationalists, republicans and beyond. As I said in this House last week, Ireland has changed a great deal since I was 16 or 17. The idea of a united Ireland that I had then probably does not relate to what a united Ireland will look like. We need the Government to step up and put plans in place. We need to allow a full conversation. I accept the difficulties of Covid-19. If an all-island forum needs to start as a partly online forum, so be it.
I wish to join other speakers and note that the Labour Party supports moves towards a united Ireland. We are interested to know whether the shared island unit in the Department of the Taoiseach has discussed the Government's vision with unionist leaders.
I am somewhat amused by some of the contributions from the Deputies opposite. Deputy Conway-Walsh said she did not want me to lecture her. I have no intention of doing so.
Sorry now, I did not interrupt anybody. I would equally ask Deputy Conway-Walsh not to lecture me. Since first coming into this House I have had a commitment to North-South relationships and to the issue of the future of this island. That has been my principal interest. I have worked hard behind the scenes and as a Minister to develop collegiate arrangements with people of all political persuasions in the North. I do not need lectures from Deputy Conway-Walsh or from anybody on the Sinn Féin side of the House. Working with others, Fianna Fáil was essential to the Good Friday Agreement. Fianna Fáil enabled the Deputy Conway-Walsh's party to give up the gun. Sinn Féin endorsed violence as the way to unify Ireland and did more damage to Irish unity than anybody else. Sinn Féin continues to endorse that narrative of violence, not understanding that every time it does so it makes more difficult than ever to get a united Ireland or to get consent.
When Deputy Conway-Walsh's colleague, Gerry Kelly, celebrates a prison escape which resulted in the murder of a prison officer, is that okay? Does she think that advances the cause of Irish unity? Of course it does not, nor does saying that Sinn Féin is more pure than Fianna Fáil because of my position on a shared island unit. That sums up Sinn Féin's view. Its members see it as something to appease the base. How many more votes can I win if I shout "united Ireland" more often than somebody else? That is the essence of what I have just heard from the Deputies opposite.
That is not what I said.
If we shout "united Ireland" better than somebody else, we are more deserving of grassroots support.
The Taoiseach has hearing difficulties.
It is much more profound and complex than that.
Taoiseach, please do not patronise me.
He always patronises people. It is his thing.
The Good Friday Agreement is an excellent agreement. It is about time a lot of people worked the agreement. I am prepared to work the agreement in all its aspects. The problem is that too many people for far too long were not prepared to work the agreement.
The Taoiseach opposes the majority element.
I do not. That is an outrageous assertion.
The Taoiseach is on the record as saying that a simple majority is not enough.
No. You are wrong again.
That is exactly what the Taoiseach said.
I do endorse-----
I ask the Taoiseach to speak through the Chair.
I am speaking through the Chair.
Several questions are grouped. I ask the Taoiseach to address them.
I am answering the question. I did not interrupt any other Deputies when they spoke. I have been heckled since I began to speak and there have been efforts to interfere. With the greatest respect, I would appreciate the protection of the Chair when I have the floor.
Regarding the questions around the shared island unit, it is a noble objective to work with all sides to enable people to share this island together in whatever format into the future. I have clear views on it and I want to work with people in that regard. It is outrageous that Deputy Tóibín would put those words in my mouth about Irish unity. I never said that and I never would say it. This is about people and about minds.
I do endorse aspects of the Seamus Mallon approach, not the majoritarian approach or whatever particular formulas he had, but the ethos of what he said, that there were people in his own neighbourhood who had been there for 400 years and that it was about time we learned to share our homeland, so that people would live in neighbourhoods together rather than always opposing each other. That is the spirit in which we should go forward on the island. There is lots to engage on and we need to engage people, not just constantly polarise them through rhetoric and appealing to the base.
The Taoiseach means to say "discussion".
I am all for discussion. I have engaged in discussion on all fronts with all people involved in the North. The shared island unit can do a lot of useful work in the areas we have mentioned, including health, the range of issues concerning justice, education, including a shared approach to history within the curricula, and commemoration, notwithstanding people's different perspectives. It must also deal with Brexit, which will have an impact. Brexit must be dealt with in terms of the pragmatic impact it will have on people's lives, the economy, business and jobs. We need to resolve that as quickly as we possibly can.
Brexit could put this question in front of us a lot more quickly.
The approach Sinn Féin has put forward will only divide people more, both in the manner it has been put forward and the very partisan approach taken by Deputies opposite. I do not share that approach. I do not need lectures about Irish unity or republicanism.
Neither do I.
The essence of my party has been to unite Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter. We are of the Wolfe Tone persuasion. We are constitutional republicans who believe in the European Union.
I am delighted that the Deputies opposite came around to the European Union after opposing it for decades, as it opposed this State and its institutions for decades.
Fianna Fáil opposed the State for a period of time.
We all know it.
I thank the Deputies for their co-operation.
9. Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he is in a position to finalise the membership of the Media Commission. [16500/20]
25. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he is in a position to finalise the membership of the Media Commission. [26658/20]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 25 together.
In December 2019, the Government agreed the terms of reference for the commission on the future of Irish public service broadcasting, to be established by the Department of the Taoiseach. Professor Brian MacCraith, former president of Dublin City University, was appointed as chair of the commission. The programme for Government has expanded the remit of the commission on the future of Irish public service broadcasting to become the Future of Media Commission, which will consider the future of print, broadcast, and online media in a platform-agnostic fashion. The terms of reference have been amended in light of this expanded remit.
Today, the Government approved the terms of reference and membership of the Future of Media Commission. The commission is tasked with proposing how public service broadcasting aims should be delivered in Ireland over the next ten years, how this should contribute to supporting Ireland’s cultural and creative sectors, and how this work can be funded in a way that is sustainable, gives greater security of funding, ensures independent editorial oversight and delivers value for money to the public. The commission is also responsible for making recommendations on RTÉ’s role, financing and structure within this framework and how this is overseen and regulated while having regard to our European Union obligations, including the requirements of the revised audiovisual and media services directive.
The members of the Commission have been selected to capture a range of expertise in the various areas of public service communications and are as follows: chair of the commission, Professor Brian MacCraith, former president of Dublin City University; Sinead Burke, writer and academic active in social media and member of the Council of State; Alan Rusbridger, chair of the steering committee of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford and former editor-in-chief of Guardian News and Media; Lynette Fay, freelance broadcaster with an academic background in applied communications through Gaeilge; Nuala O’Connor, co-founder of South Wind Blows and writer and documentary film-maker in the areas of music and the arts; Gillian Doyle, professor of media economics at the University of Glasgow; Mark Little, CEO and co-founder of Kinzen and founder of Storyful, a social news agency; Stephen McNamara, director of communications at the Irish Rugby Football Union; and Dr. Finola Doyle-O’Neill, broadcast historian at University College Cork. Two further proposed members have agreed to serve on the commission, subject to approval by their employers. Their names will be announced once that approval is obtained.
It is expected that the commission will engage in wide-ranging consultation with all relevant stakeholders and sectors to ensure that all relevant perspectives are considered in its work. It is to report within nine months on the necessary measures that need to be taken to ensure there is a vibrant, independent and sustainable public service media for the next generation. I thank the eminent members of the commission for their commitment to chart the pathway for public service broadcasting and media, particularly Professor Brian MacCraith, who has been an innovator in education and is a pre-eminent intellectual in Irish public life. I look forward to receiving their recommendations in due course.
I thank the Taoiseach for providing a full answer on this timely question. This is a genuinely exciting opportunity to shape a new media environment rather than allowing our existing media to be hollowed out by some of the forces of change that are currently at work. Does the Taoiseach agree that Covid has underlined the importance of an independent media more vividly than ever before and that it has exposed the vulnerability of many of our media sources in a way that may not have been clear previously? Does he agree that some trends in this area cannot be reversed, such as the decline in the use by younger people of traditional media as well as the growth of global platforms offering a wide array of content? There is an opportunity here to signpost a new direction such that citizens are properly informed and we have proper audiences for our significant range of sport, culture and other activities.
I welcome the nine-month turnaround time for the report. Will regulatory issues come up for consideration? Will some of the issues around competitive platforms and the freedom they may have compared with traditional media be matters for consideration as well as the issue of the greater range of content, as outlined in the terms of reference?
I welcome the announcement that was made earlier today. I note the Taoiseach stated that two places on the commission are yet to be filled. My party and I hope that full-time journalists will be appointed to those positions. In concurring with the remarks of Deputy Bruton, I would note that journalism is in a very difficult position, not least in these Houses where it has never been more important to have good journalism. Anybody who is reading the book "Champagne Football" or listening to the online podcasts about George Gibney will know that we need journalism to hold people to account, to find truth and to keep the institutions of the State, and every other institution, honest. However, even in these Houses it can be seen that many former political commentators have drifted into becoming political advisers because there is a feeling that journalism is not a sustainable profession at this time. It does not pay well, the hours are unreasonable and there does not seem to be as much of a future in it as may previously have been the case. That said, a central tenet of any democracy is the ability of journalists to ask questions and find the truth. Does the Taoiseach share that nervousness about the state of journalism in Ireland and internationally? Does he hope the commission can speak to those issues and deal with them in a real way?
The commission is to consider the future of print, broadcast and online media in what is described as "a platform-agnostic fashion", which is an interesting turn of phrase. Consideration needs to be given to the differing regulatory frameworks governing online media and traditional media. I think all Members present agree on the absolute importance and urgency of the work of the commission. Quality public service journalism and broadcasting are essential. They are at the core of our entire democratic system.
I am conscious of the point raised by Deputy Ó Ríordáin regarding those in the profession of journalism. There is ample evidence that many able professionals move from their first calling into the political space. We need to ask why that is the case. We also need to look at the new media and how that stitches in to provide an information-rich and diverse environment. As Members are aware, that is not always the case and, as such, regulation and regulatory frameworks need to be examined.
I agree with much of what has been stated by the Deputies. I did not quite catch the final point made by Deputy Bruton. Is it the balance between traditional media and-----
Yes, the whole regulatory environment concerning who is a publisher and who is not and these sort of obligations.
When we say in "a platform-agnostic fashion", I think there is a view emerging that there has been a seismic change in terms of non-traditional media, such as those using online platforms. As Deputy Ó Ríordáin stated, that has impacted on the quality of life of journalists and the quality of the job itself. It is extraordinary that those currently working in journalism must marry so many different platforms and be on all of them almost simultaneously from morning to night. It is often the case that when one checks one's Twitter account one sees that a journalist is reporting breaking news. Journalists are competing to be the first to report breaking news in addition to having to write articles and columns and carry out analysis. It is an extremely demanding and challenging job.
The financial underpinning of all of this is a significant issue. Overall, we must accept that editorially independent journalism is essential to underpin our democracy in the modern era. It is vulnerable to attack from new platforms, as we know from the experiences in other jurisdictions. The Irish system is no less vulnerable to such attacks than the system in any other jurisdiction, whether at election time or any other time. That must be kept under review. Above all, journalism should be financially remunerative. Those working in the sector should be able to anticipate and aspire to a particular quality of life, but that is becoming more challenging and difficult.
Public service broadcasting is very important. I agree with Deputy Bruton's observation that Covid-19 has shown public service broadcasting at its best. It has also shown the extent of the vulnerability of various forms of media. Local media in particular came under significant threat because of the absolute collapse in advertising during the early phase of the pandemic. Such organisations are still under pressure as a result of that collapse. Advertising spend at a national level has been somewhat restored, which is helping broadcasting.
We must be clear about the importance of arts and culture in this area. The synergies between culture and creative media and broadcast must be explored.
In terms of the music, I favour the symphony orchestra being separated out but getting ring-fenced funding for the future - it is not quite under the remit of this - as per a previous decision. We need to clear the demarcation lines but also create synergies between broadcasting, media in general and the arts and culture. That is why they are all situated within one Department now, which is far better than was the case heretofore.
I believe we are at a crossroads. We must be prepared. In talking of the financing, I have been criticised for believing we should financially underpin our media and we should do it in a way that ring-fences its editorial independence, both in broadcasting and in print media.
I think we should financially underpin it through a universal approach. The licence fee, in itself, is not sufficient. The methodology of collecting it is not sufficient. Many people are paying it. Quite a number are not. That is not fair. It is also not at present in a position to underpin the quality, breadth and width of public service broadcasting that the State requires to underpin our democracy. Those are my general views on it.