Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

Yesterday, at 6.30 in the morning, Derryroe Limited, a development company, bulldozed No. 40 Herbert Park. This was the home of The O’Rahilly, who was killed in action during the 1916 Rising. As the Taoiseach knows, he was the leader of the Irish Volunteers and the campaign to save this house in which he lived received very widespread and deserved support right across the public. Key meetings in regard to the Easter Rising took place at No. 40 Herbert Park, so it was a place of major significance.

Earlier this month, Dublin city councillors voted in support of a Sinn Féin motion to add this building to the list of protected structures. For the developers to raze the building to the ground, particularly in the knowledge that decision had been taken by Dublin City Council, is truly reprehensible. It is a grubby and calculated act of bad faith by the developers. I understand that Dublin City Council is currently investigating the matter. Is the Government, and the Minister with responsibility for culture and her Department, assisting in this investigation?

First, as I said yesterday, this act was wrong, in my view. I am very clearly of the view that such iconic historic buildings and locations should be preserved or, at a minimum, incorporated in whatever developments are taking place. I instanced the Moore Street development and the discussions that took quite considerable time and involved Deputies from all sides of this House, including Deputy Eamon Ó Cuív, who was particularly effective in that process, to be fair, and an outcome was achieved. Given the significance of The O’Rahilly in terms of the war for independence and his historic significance, to go in yesterday at dawn to destroy the building is absolutely shocking and unacceptable.

Dublin City Council is the body charged with investigating that. I welcome that and urge the council to investigate.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, our education spokesperson, has been following up with quite a number of students who are appealing their leaving certificate results. The Department of Education and Skills seems to have gone to ground all of sudden. I am wondering if there is some issue here that we need to know about. Have we dates for when the appeals will be known? Is it true a helpline will commence today at 4 p.m.? Is there any truth to suggestions that further issues or, indeed, errors may have been found in the way in which the grades have been calculated?

Yes, the Department of Education and Skills has, I understand, found two errors in the leaving certificate 2020 calculated grades. My understanding is that the Minister for Education and Skills will be making a comprehensive statement today on what has occurred, the measures taken to rectify that, the re-checking of that process and bringing in independent external evaluation. Above all, we need to make sure we can ease as much anxiety as possible in regard to the students.

The Minister needs to come to the House today to explain this.

Our priority has to be the students themselves in terms of how they receive this information. Students may receive grade upgrades for some of their grades as a result of these errors, and they have to be communicated with first.

The programme for Government commits to expanding Housing First. The national strategy, Housing First, identifies people who have been rough sleeping, or in and out of emergency accommodation for a number of years, who would benefit from a place under Housing First. The national strategy goes on to say it would provide enough Housing First places for half the people identified as having high needs. Under the expansion of Housing First, as promised by the Government, will the Taoiseach commit to providing a Housing First place for every person who is homeless and who has high support needs, given about 1,350 people have been identified?

I support the Housing First strategy. I also note the initiatives taken by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to date, particularly with regard to the 2,500 voids which will be brought back into use as a result of an initiative under the July stimulus package. Although I do not have the exact figure with me, a significant number of these properties will go to homeless people. The call for housing initiated by the Minister primarily aims to see whether councils in Dublin and across the country can quickly secure accommodation, particularly for single homeless people, who make up a significant proportion of those who are homeless right now. There will be a particular focus on increasing the provision of homes and units to those who are homeless through the social housing programme and the call for housing initiative.

The programme for Government includes multiple commitments to sustaining rural life and to strengthening communities and yet, in the past week or so, postmasters have pointed out that An Post's network and many of our local post offices are on the brink of collapse because of a lack of Government support. In my area, two post offices are under threat as a result of the outsourcing model which means that the system depends on people being willing to take up the role of postmaster. There is no commitment to maintain the only publicly owned network to reach into every community, rural and urban. There is no commitment to sustain that network and to run Government business of all sorts through it in order to protect jobs, communities and the vital communication network provided to all communities in which An Post is represented. What does the Taoiseach say to the concerns raised by the postmasters?

My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, who has responsibility for the postal sector, has met both An Post management and the Irish Postmasters' Union, IPU, and will consider the content of the IPU's report as matter of urgency. As the Deputy knows, An Post has a strategic plan for the medium and long-term future. This covers the period from 2017 to 2021. In order to implement the plan, the cost of which was estimated at €150 million, the Minister for Finance provided a loan of €30 million to the company in December 2017 to support the renewal of the post office network and the continued fulfilment of a five-day-per-week mail delivery service, the cost of each amounting to €15 million. An Post continues to undergo vital transformation as part of the delivery of its strategic plan which has seen the company split into two distinct business units, An Post mails and parcels and An Post retail. An Post will continue to transform its retail network by delivering new products and new formats, which includes diversifying and growing the range of financial services products it provides to individuals and SMEs to include loans and so on. The investment by An Post of €50 million in the network aims to get communities to use the enhanced services in their local post offices.

I note that the HSE's winter plan says that it intends to build capacity for contact tracing. I also understand that earlier this year more than 72,000 people volunteered for the HSE's On Call For Ireland initiative. Has any thought been given to tapping into this great pool of talent, which has been completely underutilised, in order to fill contact tracing roles? If no thought has been given to it, will the Taoiseach and his Government consider it?

I appreciate the Deputy's question. The HSE has already commenced a recruitment campaign for 700 swabbers and 500 contact tracers as part of its plans to expand and increase permanent capacity within the testing and tracing system. The call initiative which the Deputy referenced yielded some results but perhaps not what had originally been expected. Of those who came forward, not all were suitable for particular positions in clinical settings or in the wider health service. I have no doubt that the HSE will use every means at its disposal to get the requisite number of people into our testing and tracing system because the plan for living with Covid we have outlined will require more than 3,000 people working between all stages of our testing and tracing system.

I got a call this morning from a businessperson in Tipperary. This person runs a good premises and works hard. There was a customer on the premises last week who this week phoned to say that he had tested positive. The owners of the business are diligent people and went into self-isolation and closed down the business. They have contacted the HSE and have also gone to their GP, who could not get a test for them. They were told to wait for contact from the HSE. They contacted the HSE only to be told that they would have to wait and that they should close their business and keep their children home from school. The system is clearly all over the place. They have now been told by the HSE that contact tracing operates within a 48-hour window but they are clearly outside of that. It is totally unfair to force such a business to close. These people cannot get tested, cannot get information and cannot get anything else. This is happening across the country. People such as those Deputy Berry spoke about are offering help but the Government will not take it. The people have totally lost confidence in the system. These people own a small business and want to live, to pay rates and taxes and to run their business. This is totally unfair. It is disgraceful that they have not been contacted by the HSE. They have been left in limbo and are keeping their kids home from school. They cannot afford this. The contact tracing system is clearly not working. It is a sham and it is shambolic. The Taoiseach should be ashamed of it.

It is not a sham and it is not shambolic. The Deputy should not say that.

I do not know about the individual case the Deputy has spoken about. I can check it out for him. If he sends me the details we and the HSE can track down what went wrong or find the explanation.

It is diabolical.

If the Deputy watched the RTÉ bulletins last evening, he would have seen that the amount of testing going on is far-----

RTÉ acts as the Taoiseach's spokesperson. It is driving fear into the people. It should be turned off. It is shambolic.

RTÉ cannot be turned off.

Of course it can.

The Deputy should not advocate for that.

It is the spokesperson for the Government.

The volume of testing being carried out is far in excess of the volume carried out in the earlier period of the pandemic. The capacity has expanded and grown to try to meet the increasing demand. The testing system is meeting demand, unlike other systems in Europe. Covid is very challenging.

We need to avoid the kind of language the Deputy has used in condemning the people involved.

Baineann mo cheist le Bille na dteangacha oifigiúla. Mar is eol don Taoiseach, tá an iliomad geallúintí sollúnta faighte agam sa Dáil seo agus sa Dáil dheireanach maidir leis an mBille seo. Cá bhfuil sé? Tá sé thar a bheith tábhachtach. An geallúint shollúnta dheireanach a fuaireamar ná go mbeidh sé ní hamháin foilsithe ach achtaithe roimh an Nollaig. Ag an bpointe seo, bheinn sásta a fháil amach cén dáta a bhfoilseofar an Bille.

Admhaím go bhfuil an-chuid gheallúintí tugtha maidir leis an mBille seo. Is é an tuiscint atá agam ná go mbeidh leasuithe don Bhille ag teacht os comhair an Rialtais an tseachtain seo chugainn. Mar is eol don Teachta, ba mhaith leis an Rialtas an Bille a threisiú. Le cúnamh Dé, beimid in ann an Bille a fhoilsiú agus a thabhairt os comhair na Dála laistigh de choicís.

Last Monday, rural publicans were allowed to open their doors for the first time in six months. It is good to see the doors open and a bit of life in rural villages such as Gneeveguilla, Brosna, Sneem and Fieries which were totally desolated and dead for six months. I am getting very worried, however, because the first question people are asked when contacted by the contact tracers is whether they have been in a pub or restaurant in the past two weeks.

Surely there are other questions and other places they should be asking about as well. I wonder whether the same attention is being given to people who travel abroad and come back. We recognise their right and need to do that. Is there the same follow-up on quarantine when they come back from countries that are not on the green list? Why is all the focus directed on the pubs again? Is the Government going to close them again?

I think Deputy Healy-Rae needs get with it and get a bit real. There is nothing wrong with asking a person if he or she has been in a pub if a contact tracer is trying to track down-----

It is the first question each one of them is asked.

It is not the first question. It is a sensible question to ask, as are other questions. We should not be consistently trying to undermine the public health message.

It is not the second.

I think that is what is going on here and we need to cop on.

(Interruptions).

This is the national parliament. This is the Oireachtas. We need to stand behind public health personnel, who are doing their jobs to prevent the spread of the disease or virus. This is pandering to base politics. The Deputy is trying to win votes from different sectors. That is what is going on here. I think we have had enough of it and wider society has had enough of it.

The Taoiseach is pandering.

Why does the Taoiseach hate pubs?

The Taoiseach, without interruption, please.

I welcome the fact that enterprises are reopened but there is a limit now to what is going on in terms of trying to pick and undermine everything that people are doing to try to protect broader public health.

The Taoiseach is a disgrace.

They hate the pubs.

The health guidelines on playing outdoor sports and team sports are unclear and confusing for many sports clubs. Different sporting organisations are interpreting the guidelines differently. We have a situation now where players can play one day for Clanna Gael Fontenoy in Ringsend but the same players cannot play for St. Patrick's CYFC in Ringsend in the eastern women's football league the next day. Clubs in Naas and Clontarf can play rugby but St. Patrick's CYFC cannot play soccer. All sports clubs, including soccer, rugby, GAA and hockey, should be opened or closed on the same basis. Can the Taoiseach give consistency in messaging and clear guidelines to sports organisations? Some clubs are being treated unfairly and it is bonkers for the clubs.

Sports Ireland is available to all of the sports organisations. They have a direct line to Sports Ireland to discuss the application of the public health measures in respect of sport. Sport is and has been a great factor in terms of morale, mental well-being and facilitating people who are engaged in sport to get through Covid-19. Obviously, there are limits, limitations and constraints and Sports Ireland is the best organisation for the sports clubs to engage with.

I want to acknowledge the significant personal investment of time and effort by the Taoiseach and his office in respect of the plight of Debenhams workers. As the Taoiseach is aware, I raised this issue at the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting recently. These workers have been picketing for in excess of 170 days during cold nights and mornings that are getting cooler and wetter. These are predominantly or almost exclusively women. I know they have the Taoiseach's admiration and my admiration. Does the Taoiseach share my concern over the manipulation of these vulnerable workers with Private Members' motions in this House that are portrayed as potential laws establishing funds for workers who might be laid off unjustly? Such motions would penalise good employers and have absolutely no benefit for Debenhams workers. The implementation of the Duffy Cahill report, aspects of which I strongly support, would not be retrospective and would not benefit Debenhams workers. This amounts to the manipulation and misleading of these workers.

Time is up, Deputy.

What steps are left to the State to provide assistance to these workers? Does the Taoiseach support the call to consumers not to purchase Debenhams goods online in support of the plight of these workers and the efforts they have made to secure their rights?

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. I accept the extraordinary challenges that are facing the Debenhams workers and the fact that they have been campaigning and on strike for so long in the pursuit of the realisation of their collective agreement. The Tánaiste and others have been seeking to see what we can do with the trade unions to try to assist in some alleviation of the situation for the workers concerned.

I take the overall point made by Deputy Lahart. I have been consistent in all my meetings with workers that we have to work within frameworks and law. We cannot pretend that we can do things that cannot be done. Motions in themselves do not change the de facto reality. Over time, there is need for change of legislation in terms of Duffy Cahill and other aspects of company law that may facilitate companies avoiding their obligations. There is also a need for collective agreements to have parity with others in terms of liquidation processes. That is important as well. We should never create situations which can give people an impression that a motion, if passed, solves all their problems. Of course it does not. It is far more challenging and complex than that.

The programme for Government promises to reduce the cost of childcare for parents. It promises to support staff retention and to develop career paths for childcare staff. Our early childcare educators are skilled and dedicated workers. However, this is not reflected in their pay scales. The majority are surviving on minimum wages. They need the extension and reinstatement of the childcare education payment to 100%. They need the continuation of the employment wage subsidy scheme at the higher rate. They need to be treated as an essential service with prioritised Covid-19 testing. Is the Government going to look after the early childcare educators and fulfil its promises now? Urgency is needed to help this vital sector, without which our economy would not survive.

I thank the Deputy for his question. There is no doubt the early childcare providers have challenges in the context of Covid-19, especially in the recruitment of staffing and staffing difficulties. The Government has given, and continues to give, significant financial support to providers through the wage subsidy scheme to assist in recruiting and retaining staff. I know that the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has been engaging actively with sectoral organisations to gather data and examine proposals to alleviate any immediate pressures. The Department will continue to work with the sector to support it in providing vital services to children and families throughout the country.

People in my constituency of Meath West have contacted me regarding the primary care medical certificate. They have applied to the HSE and have been told that they will not get the certificate pending a court case. The court case is not due before the courts until July 2021. These are some of the most vulnerable people. Some of them have no use of arms or legs and cannot get from A to B. Will the Taoiseach put a temporary scheme in place for these people until the court case is sorted to allow them to purchase vehicles? It should apply whether they are driving or passengers. We need to help our most vulnerable people.

I thank the Deputy for his point. Deputy MacSharry-----

Deputy Pauline Tully will speak on the same matter.

People have raised with me the issue of the primary medical certificate in one of the areas in Westmeath. It is not in my constituency but as disability spokesperson they came to me. They informed me there has been a waiting list of 45 applications since March. The offices are closed and people are working from home. It requires a face-to-face interview. That is causing the delay. Many of these people are in dire circumstances. Could this be speeded up or dealt with, please?

Deputy Marc MacSharry raised this with me last evening as well at our parliamentary party meeting. It is a serious issue. There are legal issues, as the Deputies have pointed out. I am waiting on a report back from the Minister to see how best we can approach it and deal with it.

Will the Taoiseach outline the Government's plans to proceed with its climate action plan in light of the recent Supreme Court decision in the case of the Friends of the Irish Environment v. Government of Ireland? In this case, the Supreme Court decision in effect quashes the climate mitigation plan. Is there a timeframe for the delivery of the new mitigation plan? Can the Taoiseach assure the House the Supreme Court judgment will not be undermined by legislative changes, for example, by amending or removing section 4(2)(a) of the Act on which the judgment is based? Will the Government implement a new general obligation on every organ of the State to perform functions of the State compatible with the objective of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the aim of the Paris Agreement?

The Government has a very strong climate change agenda. It is quite radical and transformative and I hope the Deputy will support all aspects of it. Her party opposed the cross-party approach to climate change in the previous Oireachtas and tends to take an à la carte approach to climate change when it suits. We take the Supreme Court judgment on board. The new climate change Bill will be quite comprehensive and set strong targets. Crucially, there will be an independent oversight approach in terms of the council that will be established as a result of the Bill passing in the Oireachtas. The Deputy can take it that we will seek to strengthen oversight and the whole approach and thrust of climate change policy.

I would like to know the Government's plans for the insurance sector. While we welcome the Law Reform Commission report, which is very beneficial, we are all waiting on the Judicial Council review. The Alliance for Insurance Reform has stated there may be a need for a plan B, which is possibly legislating to deal with cases if the Judiciary does not step up to the mark. This is about the significant pay-outs while there is the continuing travesty of dual pricing. In my constituency, a community centre was charged €6,000 last year and insurance companies would not quote it for public liability insurance this year. The centre was then quoted €3,000 on the promise that the proposals from the Government would be enacted, combined with a proposal for the establishment of an the Irish leisure industry standards association, ILISA, that I made to the Government and that would require Government supports. One can see that it led to positive results.

I thank the Deputy for raising this very important issue. The programme for Government identifies insurance reform as a key priority. The Law Reform Commission report published today is positive in certain respects. The Government has formed a special Cabinet sub-committee involving a number of Departments to deal with this in a comprehensive and very focused way. The Minister of State, Deputy Troy, is working on reform of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB, to strengthen it and its role in personal injury cases.

I am astounded by the Taoiseach's answer to my colleague and party leader, Deputy Kelly, that there has been yet another foul-up from the Department of Education and Skills in respect of the leaving certificate. The leaving certificate was postponed, the calculated grades system replaced it, the results date was postponed, and now it has been reported that for 10% of all students, there is an error in their calculated grades. Does the Taoiseach not think this deserves more of a reaction from the Government? Does he think it is acceptable that a party spokesperson on education, such as I, was not given any briefing or an indication of any briefing today from the Department about the upcoming statement from the Minister for Education and Skills? Does the Taoiseach not feel that it would be appropriate for the Minister to come to the House immediately to speak about this issue, which is yet another upsetting turn of events for those in the leaving certificate class of 2020?

I raised with the Taoiseach the issue of calculated grades about two weeks ago and I have to say he was somewhat dismissive. The news this afternoon is absolutely extraordinary. I am astounded, but the ones who will be even more astounded are the many students who worked extremely hard and had their grades downgraded. For them, there are countless questions. One of the main ones is whether those whose grades were downgraded by standardisation can now be revised upwards. Will they then be potentially able to access third level or will that be deferred to next year? There are so many questions.

The Taoiseach stated the Minister was going to make a statement at 4 p.m. That is not good enough. She needs to come in here. There are countless questions we need answers to and we need them now. The Minister needs to come here this afternoon. The lack of transparency from the Department is not good enough, nor is the fact that this has just been sprung on us.

The two Deputies who have just spoken on this issue are 100% correct. These are the same students whose parents paid for student accommodation on Friday afternoon, only to discover on Friday night that the accommodation might not be required because the universities and colleges they are going to might not be operating in that way for the next number of weeks or months and perhaps until Christmas. For the Government to have let this happen is absolutely disgraceful. The two Deputies have outlined that issue. What further compounds it for these parents, who worked so hard to put together the money to pay for accommodation that might not now be needed, is that we all know how much of an impossibility it could prove to get that money back.

I have responded on this matter to Deputy Kelly, but I will say to the other Deputies who correctly raised it that the fundamental priority has to be to communicate to the students involved because it is their grades and results. The Minister will have no difficulty coming to the House to make a presentation-----

She has to do it today.

She does not have to do it today. I think the statement has to be issued and-----

At any other time, this would-----

Through the Chair, if I could answer the question, it has to be communicated to students in the first instance and to be done in a comprehensive way so that all the issues are fully articulated and explained-----

At any other time, this would bring down the Government.

-----around the technical processes and the technology. I accept that the students of the class of 2020 have had a very challenging year-----

At any other time, this would bring down the Government.

The matter relates to technical issues, not political issues or anything to do with the Government overseeing it-----

It is not technical.

I refer to the technology, the coding and so on. It will be fully explained by the Minister.

It will result in upgrades for quite a number of students and the point has been raised about places at third level-----

Unbelievable.

It is extremely important that students are facilitated in their progression to third level. Covid-19 resulted in a calculated grades process being introduced----

This is a calculated mess.

It resulted in the abolition of the exam and, essentially-----

(Interruptions).

Deputy, please.

-----that is the process that came. It is not to audit the Department; it is to audit the process, which is important-----

The process is run by the Department.

It is a full, independent, external audit. It is the correct thing to do. It is a good thing to do.

(Interruptions).

I thank the Taoiseach. That concludes Questions on Promised Legislation.

Will the Taoiseach not acknowledge-----

I am sorry but we are out of time.

It is outrageous-----

We must move on to the next item.