An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that today's Order of Business shall consist of the announcement of business and proposals for arrangements for Tuesday and Wednesday only. We are working on an amendment to Thursday's schedule, previously circulated last week, and we will circulate a revised schedule to the Business Committee as soon as possible for discussion with all Members.

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

We want to see, and I suspect we are not the only ones, a real debate on the move to level 5 that is taking place at midnight on Wednesday. There needs to be a place on the agenda this week for a thoroughgoing discussion on that. There is a debate scheduled for Thursday - and I do not know if that is what the Chief Whip was referring to - where there is due to be two 45-minute discussions on the mental health implications and on the renewal of the sunset clause that is proposed. That is not sufficient time to discuss those issues but there also needs to be a space for the broader issues.

We are just talking about today's business.

I propose that the Business Committee meets today to see if a space on today's agenda can be found for that and, failing that, at some stage later in the week.

I understand the Chief Whip is going to work with the Business Committee to try and find time for these matters on Thursday. I call Deputy Gannon.

I would like to add our voice to the suggestion that we need a debate on the move to level 5 restrictions. It is essential that we have such a debate. Hopefully, it will be conducted in a substantial and collaborative way but we need to have our concerns on the record.

We also need a debate on our schools. Massive anxiety was created yesterday when the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Foley, highlighted the fact that schools may not able to reopen. We need a discussion about that. It was reported in the media yesterday.

That is wrong. That did not happen.

It was reported in the media.

That is wrong. The Deputy cannot say that. That is not on.

I wrote to the Business Committee last week to ask if we could have a discussion about schools and it was suggested that could happen in a couple of weeks. That needs to happen this week.

We had serious concerns about the Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) Records, and another Matter, Bill 2020 being taken this week. Almost everybody in the Opposition opposed the Order of Business at the meeting last Thursday.

That is on the record and yet the Bill is going ahead. This is hugely controversial legislation. Appeals have been made that the Government would engage with the survivors, their families and legal representatives, but consideration of the Bill is going ahead and there is no way that the many voices in opposition can affect its being pushed on. Serious events were discussed during Leaders' Questions. The Government is talking about reordering the schedule for Thursday's sitting. Even if an hour and a half is set aside for discussion of the new restrictions, we will be eating into the time available for debating the Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) Records, and another Matter, Bill on Thursday. Sinn Féin is proposing that we sit on Friday. There needs to be ample time to debate the extension of sunset clause emergency measures. We need ample time to do that on Friday.

Deputy Gannon mentioned the issue of education. My colleague, Deputy Ó Laoghaire, is appealing that we would have statements and debate time with the Minister for Education and Skills about the serious safety concerns in the schools, including issues around testing and tracing. We are asking an enormous amount of our teachers and students and there needs to be ample debate. We are saying that Friday needs to be set aside for these debates. We should not be packing such debates into a schedule that already includes controversial mother and baby home legislation, discussion of which is scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.

I again remind Members that we are only talking about Tuesday in this segment of discussion.

I agree with what the Ceann Comhairle has said but much of what has been mentioned previously was discussed at last week's Business Committee meeting. To add to that, we are here at the Order of Business and we have no visibility of when the emergency Bill for the extension of the ban on evictions will be introduced. We know, or sense, that it will come in on Thursday, a day that is already packed to the rafters. It is absolutely no way to do business. Of course, if the Government had listened to our amendment in July, it could have extended the eviction ban by regulation rather than having to bring in an emergency Bill which will become the latest in a long list of Bills that will not have undergone scrutiny. We are getting sick and tired of this. As the Taoiseach and other Deputies know, it is being reflected every Thursday morning at meetings of the Business Committee.

Today's schedule of business is packed and will run until almost 1 o'clock tomorrow morning. There are only going to be 45 minutes per segment to discuss the extension of the emergency powers, which is not enough. We will not have enough time to discuss the mother and baby home legislation either. What are we trying to do here? Are we trying to steamroll everything through? If we have to sit on Friday, so be it. We need a day's debate on the second lockdown that was announced last night. A full eight hours or more of debate is needed because there are many issues out there for many different people, affecting the economy, mental health, you name it.

May I make a proposal, a Cheann Comhairle?

The Deputy has spoken already. Is he making a proposal about today?

Good. Go on, then.

I have listened to the points that have been raised. Points were raised about putting the evictions Bill on the agenda and a lengthy, significant debate on the question of the Covid-19 strategy. I suggest that the Business Committee be asked to convene this afternoon and to come back later with proposals that would include the items I have mentioned, with the debate on the Covid strategy to take place before restrictions come in on Wednesday night. That proposal would obviously have to include a sitting on Friday.

My understanding is that the Business Committee is due to meet today, or that it can do so. We have no difficulty in engaging with the Business Committee, as the Chief Whip has made clear, to work out the arrangements that might be optimal for the House to debate all of these issues.

I hope Deputy Gannon did not mind that I interrupted him. The reason I did is because the Minister for Education and Skills gave positive feedback to the Cabinet on the reaction on the ground to the operation of schools. It has been agreed by all parties that keeping the schools open safely is an important societal objective. Children must have an opportunity to learn, develop and socialise within the school environment. I trust that everyone in the House is still supportive of that noble objective because children lose a lot when they miss school, some of which cannot be regained. I hope we can get agreement across the House. I understand that people have concerns and fears but I hope there will not be attempts to politically exploit them or undermine the genuine effort to try to keep schools open for the right reasons. I know that everybody in the House shares that objective.

I take the Ceann Comhairle's point that the House is meeting late into the morning and will potentially be late tomorrow morning or the morning after. We will do whatever we can to be facilitative and constructive with the Opposition on the ordering of Business.

We will convene a Business Committee meeting if that is what Members want this afternoon.

On a point of clarification, all of these votes will pass today and we will not have another chance to debate this. I want clarity. Are we agreeing a Friday sitting? If the Taoiseach is insisting on going ahead with the mother and baby homes legislation on Wednesday and Thursday – I assume he is insisting on going ahead with that – we need Friday cleared now for business. If we get a commitment from the Taoiseach now that we will sit on Friday, then we will not push this matter to a vote on the Order of Business.

If the Deputy is agreeable to a Business Committee meeting-----

The Taoiseach can do that. He can make that call.

No, I cannot. I do not want to do that. I am not going to dictate to the Business Committee.

There is the Taoiseach's schedule there. He gives it to us every week.

It may very well result in a Friday sitting but given that it has been agreed that the Business Committee will meet, the fairest thing is to allow it to deliberate upon it. The Government will be represented by the Whip at the Business Committee. That is a reasonable way to proceed.

It is a simple proposal. I agree with the Sinn Féin proposal. It is a pity to waste time voting here. Many Members want to get in.

It is their decision to vote.

There are Questions on Promised Legislation. The Taoiseach does not listen to the Business Committee any week. Every week he does not listen to us.

To be fair to Deputy McGrath, he ran that committee for a long time.

Did I? No, I never-----

I jest, I jest, I jest.

That is an insult to the Ceann Comhairle. He is an excellent chair of that committee at all times.

I jest; I apologise.

The Taoiseach has too much jest.

No offence, a Cheann Comhairle. I did not mean it.

I will live with that.

The Deputy has been very active on the Business Committee for a long time.

This is not a circus.

I said the Business Committee is due to meet. I am being respectful to the committee and I will not dictate to it. I will not pre-empt what it may do.

He does every week.

That is a reasonable position. If the Deputy does not accept that, that is his prerogative.

He is the Taoiseach now and not a comedian.

It will take a while to surpass the Deputy in that department.

I want to ask one simple question. Is there any point in having a Business Committee? I come in here every Tuesday and the exact same thing happens. The Government and Deputies are all fighting with each other. Perhaps instead of an Order of Business on a Tuesday, the Business Committee should meet and organise the business for the whole week. We waste half an hour here every Tuesday. As a backbencher, I am trying to get a bit of speaking time. People are looking for votes. I suggest the Business Committee meet here every Tuesday at 2.30 p.m. instead of having an Order of Business.

There is no doubt that the Business Committee worked more effectively in the past than it is working at present.

Yes, under the stewardship of the Ceann Comhairle.

Perhaps that is because there are a greater variety of opinions now than there were in the past.

No, there is a majority.

We are in a democracy as well, remember.

Is the proposal for dealing with today's business agreed? Agreed. Tomorrow's business is set out by the Chief Whip. Is the business for tomorrow agreed to?

It is not agreed, on the basis outlined.

The Social Democrats strongly object to tomorrow's business, in particular the debate on the commission on mother and baby homes being sealed for 30 years and the manner in which this is being brought before the House. It has been rammed through the Seanad and there has been no pre-legislative scrutiny on it. Inevitably, it will face a guillotine given the time allocated to the debate. It is an incredibly important Bill and if it is passed as it is, it will be an act of political cowardice. We will not be complicit in that.

I wish to say the very same as the previous speaker. This is a shambles. Those who were in mother and baby homes and families have waited long enough. The way the Government is treating them is shambolic. It is being rushed through the House without any proper scrutiny. We are also opposed to it.

I agree that the mother and baby homes commission is a sensitive matter for a lot of people. We should not trivialise or try to short-circuit the matter. I have never heard so many people worried about a Bill. We have not had time to go through it properly. It is important that we dedicate time to debate it in a sensible way because it is such a sensitive issue for so many people.

It is such a major issue for so many people and we need to show respect. The State has apologised. The optics of what we are trying to do here are absolutely wrong.

I agree with previous speakers. It is clear that not enough time has been allocated to the debate on the Bill. The legislation has been described as an emergency but the report was imminent when the Minister briefed Opposition Deputies a couple of months ago. We are now approaching the final days. The Minister is introducing an amendment to change the date to January 2021. A simple Bill of one line could change the date to January. That would be sufficient to facilitate a proper debate and discussion on what is involved in this Bill. It is vital that we do that.

I was under the impression that a number of the Minister’s amendments have taken on board some of the concerns that have been raised.

I spoke on this matter in the House last week. The issues with the Bill are very clear. It is for the preservation, in the first instance, of the records and the necessity to do that before the end of this month. The bona fides of the Minister in this should not be questioned. He wants to do the right thing by those most affected as well and-----

He certainly does not.

-----this will be followed by further legislation. He is willing to engage with Members of the Opposition on the issues.

For the information of the Taoiseach, the Minister put forward an amendment to the Bill that will delay the need to do this until January of next year. All we need is a one-line Bill to delay everything until January and allow us to have a proper debate.

Question put: "That the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business be agreed to."

Question put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 23; Níl, 21; Staon, 0.

  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Carroll MacNeill, Jennifer.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Flaherty, Joe.
  • Higgins, Emer.
  • Lahart, John.
  • Leddin, Brian.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Matthews, Steven.
  • McAuliffe, Paul.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Sullivan, Christopher.
  • Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.
  • Richmond, Neale.
  • Smyth, Niamh.

Níl

  • Barry, Mick.
  • Brady, John.
  • Cairns, Holly.
  • Canney, Seán.
  • Carthy, Matt.
  • Connolly, Catherine.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Gannon, Gary.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • O'Donoghue, Richard.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Laoghaire, Donnchadh.
  • Ó Murchú, Ruairí.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Smith, Duncan.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Jack Chambers and Marc Ó Cathasaigh; Níl, Deputies Mattie McGrath and Pádraig Mac Lochlainn.
Question declared carried.

In July, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, announced that he was conducting a review of co-living, despite having stated when in opposition that co-living was "bonkers". Today, yet another co-living application has hit the headlines. This time it is for a 14-storey, 506-bed co-living development in the markets area near Capel Street in Dublin city centre, which, as it happens, is in my constituency. The Taoiseach previously referred to co-living as "battery cage-type accommodation" and asked if we were going back to the era of tenements. I agree with his sentiments. Co-living is glorified tenement living and a Sinn Féin Bill being debated tonight would ban it. Does the Taoiseach still believe co-living is battery cage-type accommodation? Does he accept that it is particularly dangerous in the middle of a pandemic?

What is the status of the Minister's review of co-living? Will the Government support the Sinn Féin Bill this evening?

My understanding is that the review will be completed soon and that the Minister will publish it. Co-living has not developed or taken off as was originally feared. There have been a lot of planning applications passed, but as a percentage of overall development, it is very low. In my view, of course it has the potential to become glorified tenement living given the nature of some of the applications I have seen and what could transpire. I have no difficulty in waiting to see the review and for it to be published.

It has been a very difficult 24 hours for the nation but it has been an even more difficult last few hours for Cork city, as I am sure the Taoiseach will agree. The businesses based in the lower mall, Oliver Plunkett Street and around that area, which the Taoiseach is aware is an area I know very well, face into devastation from flooding. I read the his statement in which he said humanitarian and business schemes will be available to all of the businesses and residents living there. How much will be available to those affected in Cork city today? What is the long-term plan and the timeline regarding flood defences for that part of Cork city, which we know will flood again and again?

I will make two points. The Government did consider this issue earlier. I am desperately disappointed and sorry for all of the traders involved. At this critical time as they face into a lockdown, this is the last thing they needed. There are a number of schemes that we will activate to assist the traders and others in difficulty. Obviously, applications will need to be made. I cannot determine here what the precise amount will be.

How much will be available?

Whatever the demand is in terms of what qualifies will be made available. Deputy Christy O'Sullivan raised with me that there has been some flooding in Bantry as well and that will need to be taken on board. There will be a further incorporeal meeting today to make sure that the measures for Cork and Bantry are included in that.

The long-term plan is the OPW plan.

What is the timeline for it?

The timeline has been thwarted because there is a judicial review of the plan. It has planning permission. I would have thought a lot of modifications have happened. There was engagement. In my view, there were a lot of changes made. It is a good plan and it should be allowed to proceed.

The Taoiseach was a member of the Bertie Ahern-led Government that brought in a gagging order, further compounding survivors' trauma caused by institutional abuse, and he admitted that that was a mistake. He can choose not to repeat the mistakes of the past today. If we pass the Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) Records, and another Matter Bill 2020 in its current form, the only question worth asking is whose interests are being served because the Taoiseach and I know it is not the interests of survivors. There is no closure without justice and there can be no justice if the State continues to hide information. The systems of the State have done enough damage and it is time for this to stop. Will the Taoiseach please stop it now?

I was a member of the Government that led the opening up of all the secrets to do with the industrial schools and gave the survivors of those industrial schools their voice.

With a gagging order around it.

I did that. As chairman of the interdepartmental committee that led-----

The Taoiseach said himself that it was a mistake.

-----to the inquiries, I spoke to the survivors. The Deputy should speak to the survivors, who will tell her how honestly I engaged with them.

Does the Taoiseach think they want these records to be sealed for 30 years?

With all due respect, I do not take lectures from anybody on that issue.

The Taoiseach without interruption, please.

I went beyond what most people wanted done at that time and did it-----

What about now?

-----in the interests of the survivors of industrial schools. I put a historian into the Department of Education at the time to go through all of the archives and to make them available to survivors in regard to their personal records. Some of them only saw them for the first time when they went to Athlone to the Department of Education and Science.

They are not available because they are about to be sealed for 30 years.

We are not going to seal these records either. That is not the agenda. Let us not try to undermine the good faith of people involved. The Minister is not trying to do that. Deputy Cairns knows there is an issue. The issue is if he does not act the records disappear for all time. That is his problem.

That is not true.

That is not the issue.

That is the issue.

(Interruptions).

The more fundamental issue is what one does with the records and how one releases them. The Deputy knows-----

It is not true that they will disappear.

(Interruptions).

I have no agenda to try to suppress records. Please do not suggest that.

Do not tell lies.

The Government is rushing the Bill through.

I ask the Taoiseach to resume his seat. Deputy Smith, do not accuse the Taoiseach of telling lies.

He needs to retract his statement that the records will disappear. They will not disappear.

This is not Deputy Bríd Smith's question. I will come to her in a minute. Please, have some respect for the House. The Taoiseach has dealt with Deputy Cairn's question.

No, he has not.

He has. It is not for Deputy Gannon to decide whether he has or has not.

He has not answered the question pertaining to these particular records.

It is one question from one Member.

The Taoiseach should answer the question.

He needs to consider an extension, as proposed by Deputy Pringle.

No, you have said enough.

On a point of order, there has been a constitutional issue about access to records for a long time that predates this issue. People who are long-time Members of this House know that. The previous Minister for Children and Youth Affairs did not resolve it. There are two steps. We need to preserve the records in the first instance and ensure they do not get into jeopardy or get lost. That was the objective of the former Minister. The second step is how we make the records available to those who need them.

Not in this way. The Government needs to listen to the lawyers, the experts and the survivors.

I am for that.

(Interruptions).

Please let the Taoiseach answer.

I am asking the House to not try to undermine people's bona fides. I am not trying to seal anything. I have no interest in sealing any of the records.

Then do not do it.

I deal with people just as the Deputy does. I deal with people who want access to these records.

Do not seal the records.

Listen to the human rights lawyers.

The Deputy should stop taking the high moral ground and saying that others on this side of the House, because we are in government trying to do the right thing, are somehow trying to undermine people's access.

This is not the right thing.

It is not the right thing.

Will Members please behave with a little decorum?

This commission was formed to inquire into the deaths of 600 babies. This is a massive issue.

Deputy Cairns has asked her question and she got a reply. I am moving on to the next questioner. I call Deputy Mick Barry.

Is KPMG to be allowed to collect non-essential stock from Debenhams, a non-essential retail store, over the next six weeks? People need clarity on this issue. If the answer is "Yes", even if the trucks and vans are only to travel the 5 km, then workers are going to be forced to maintain pickets during the lockdown. If the answer is "No", then is the Government going to allow a situation where the dispute remains unresolved during lockdown, meaning pickets will have to be put in place again three weeks before Christmas under threat of a High Court injunction and jail at Christmastime or, instead, will the Government convene talks with KPMG, Mandate and shop stewards to ensure that a reasonable offer is made that can resolve this dispute? Workers need clarity on this issue. We are hoping that the Taoiseach can provide that clarity in his reply today.

On the lockdown, the measures are very clear in terms of what is essential and non-essential work. That will apply. The Garda, as in the case of the previous lockdown and under the level 3 restrictions, has operational discretion but the situation is clear. We have allowed construction and manufacturing work to continue and there is a list of exemptions. I am not, on foot of every questioner, going to add or subtract from that list. The optimal way to resolve this matter is through talks to try to get something sorted as opposed to having people endlessly on the picket line. I do not want to see anybody in that position for a day longer than they should be. That has always been my position while operating within the framework of the law.

In light of the lockdown, there is an ongoing issue with community employment, CE, supervisors and their claim for support and recognition. These are people who will be on the front-line dealing with people who are in isolation and living alone and creating the community effort over the next six seeks to ensure that everything is right in the communities. I would welcome the Taoiseach's thoughts on when the Government might bring a conclusion to the matter of pension rights or some form of recognition for these staff, some of whom have worked as supervisors for more than 35 years and have done more for the State than what they are asking for. Without these schemes, this country would be a lot worse off.

I am very well aware of the situation and I thank the Deputy for raising it. The Minister is very possessed with the issue. Discussions took place recently between the Departments of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and Public Expenditure and Reform, which has a key role in this matter as well given concerns previously that there may be knock-on implications arising out a mechanism to deal with this issue.

Those discussion are still ongoing. I will keep the Deputy informed.

In the first lockdown people could go for long walks and walk out in the countryside. The weather was good. The weather is so wet now with long evenings. The issue of people who use gymnasiums and hotel and private gym owners needs to be examined because they are safe places. Contacting tracing is in place, people are booked in and they are highly disinfected. They should be looked at sensitively for the physical and mental health of people who are using them, young and not-so-young. Many of the elderly use them as well. They are on the telephones crying. It is their only outlet. They live in the town or nearby or adjacent. They can travel a safe distance. They need to be looked at sensitively because they cannot go out walking in this dark weather, especially in the countryside with the lighting and danger on the roads. Will the Taoiseach please re-examine the situation around the gyms?

I appreciate the point Deputy McGrath has made. Again, the difficulty with lockdowns is that they are crude and blunt instruments designed to reduce congregation and people gathering. Recommendations come from NPHET on the variety of measures that are required. We try to be as judicious, effective and compassionate as we can.

One can always go through each individual setting. If we look at it in isolation or from the perspective of that setting, one can make an argument. However, it is the cumulative impact of all these settings that gives rise to the problem. The objective is to reduce congregation and people gathering and to keep people as close to the 5 km limit as possible.

The person who never made a mistake never made anything. I am grateful to the Government for looking back and saying it was a mistake to restrict funerals to ten people and that the limit should have been the same as weddings at 25 people. I respect that the Government was able to look at that and decide it was necessary to change it.

Now I am respectfully asking the Taoiseach on behalf of farmers from Malin Head to Mizen Head, the length and breadth of the country, and not least in our marts in Cahersiveen, Kenmare, Milltown, Gortatlea, Castleisland, Tralee, Listowel and Dingle. I want to ask the Taoiseach a question clearly. Will the Taoiseach please make an allowance so that those marts can open and that buyers, people who want to purchase animals at marts, can go in and stand around a ring in a socially responsible way? They could do this like our excellent mart managers in the county that I am from have organised. The sellers can operate on a rota system coming in and out. I am not talking about a free-for-all under any circumstances.

Thank you, Deputy Healy-Rae. Your brother wants to come in on the same matter.

It is a clear question on behalf of the farmers of Ireland. Let the buyers buy the animals that want to be sold.

I wish to speak on the same issue. It is clear that no cases happened in marts. Farmers are hurt because it is only a buyers' sale and the sellers get no look-in. The farmers will not be able to go in to sell their cattle. It is most unfair. This is even though not one single case happened in any mart. They obeyed the rules. Other businesses that did not break any rules feel let down as well. These are an exception. No case has happened in a mart. This will mean a difference of €100 to €200 less for farmers if the Government stops them from going into the marts to sell their cattle. It is wrong. They were doing it in a way that was well-controlled. Managers accosted people and made them toe the line. Everything was run in a way that was perfect and impeccable. I am asking the Taoiseach to look at this again.

We had the litany of the saints when I was a child going to school. We have had the litany of the villages and the townlands. I think today we have had the litany of the marts in County Kerry. The Deputies are fighting a tough battle. Taoiseach, are you going to re-open the marts in Kerry?

Thank you for that lead-in, a Cheann Comhairle. First, level 5 is difficult and very challenging. It is a lockdown. Everyone says it did not happen in their place. I do not know where the virus starts. If one was to add up the list of all the places where it did not happen, one would be hard pressed to find where the virus begins. The virus spreads from people to people. Public health advice is that the less social contact we have, the better all around, especially now because there is such high community transmission of the virus. The incidence rate is so high that they want to reduce any congregation where they possible can. Unfortunately, that includes marts. That is the position of the public health advice. I accept that the principle of congregation is correct and that the virus spreads most when people gather, meet and engage. We have to reduce people's social contacts. That is the position at the moment. We will keep it under review.

The Taoiseach should have visited the marts in Kerry to see the way they were run.

I have no doubt. I am not casting any aspersions on the people who ran them, in fairness.

My apologies, eight Deputies have not been reached. We will give them priority tomorrow.