That Dáil Éireann has confidence in the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar T.D.
The decision by Sinn Féin to table a motion of no confidence in the Tánaiste was based on that party's hope that something would turn up that would help it use today for an aggressive political attack on the Government. It was a 100% cynical move and, unfortunately, it reflects the reality of its four months as the largest Opposition party. It has been left scrambling by the reality that nothing significant has changed since last week's two-hour session. Let no one be in any doubt the situation relating to how the nearly-completed contract for general practitioners was given to a doctors' organisation is a legitimate point of public concern. It occurred during the previous Government but it is a matter which this Government and Dáil have a right to ask questions about. As I have said repeatedly, it was inappropriate and it should not have happened. When the Tánaiste informed me of the issue he outlined the details of what happened and these details have remained consistent subsequently. He also accepted without any issue that political accountability required that he come before Dáil Éireann and answer detailed questions at length. In substance, no one has demonstrated any personal gain from how the document was distributed and public policy was not adversely impacted. The Tánaiste has acknowledged his error and all details have been published. Lessons have been learned all round and Ministers realise such situations should not occur during this Government.
In recent days, Sinn Féin representatives were busy telling anyone who would listen that today's debate would be preceded by some blockbuster revelations that would justify the tabling of the no confidence motion. This, of course, has not happened. In fact, there is mounting evidence that we should be very wary of placing weight on claims made in texts between third parties. The Dáil has exercised its political oversight of this case and there has been accountability. A number of Deputies have referred matters to regulatory and legal authorities, clearly more in hope than expectation that their legal assertions are backed up. That is their right and the independent structures involved will carry out their work. It is a tiresome part of debates such as this that attacks are thrown at other parties and Deputies as being somehow complicit or lacking independence. The fact is that Ireland has a multiparty system. Everybody who actually wants to achieve progress for the people has to be willing to work closely and constructively with others. I profoundly reject the idea of putting partisan manoeuvring into every issue. Sinn Féin is entitled to practise the politics of always looking for an angle and both participating in and attacking a government at the same time. I, and my party, simply do not agree. Quite frankly, I have no interest in playing the "politics as usual" to which Sinn Féin is committed. I see no purpose in using my time in this debate to address the ever-rising examples of Sinn Féin ignoring basic ethical standards. True republicanism is about working in the interests of all of the people and my absolute focus is showing the Irish people that their Government is working for them.
At the moment our country is, with others, going through a dramatic social, economic and public health shock, which is unprecedented in the modern world. I am happy to propose a motion of confidence in the Tánaiste who is part of a coalition Government that is implementing an urgent and progressive programme to help and work with all sections of our society. Tackling the pandemic remains ouur first priority and the House will note that this morning's report from the European Centre for Disease Control, ECDC, states that Ireland now has the third lowest incidence in the EU. We still have more progress to achieve if we are to limit the impact of the virus in the time before a vaccine is approved, manufactured and distributed but there is no doubt that the measures put in place by the Government are helping Ireland get through the pandemic's second wave.
Every Minister and every part of government have been working tirelessly to respond with action to address new issues as they have emerged. Within weeks of taking up office, we prepared and implemented a job stimulus programme to protect jobs and businesses, support our schools in reopening and respond to the urgent needs of many sectors. The budget we introduced last month goes further and puts in place a comprehensive range of actions to support the hardest hit sectors such as hospitality and culture and is, according to every independent review, highly progressive. People and communities whose needs are the greatest are receiving the biggest benefit of the budget. The left and the far left in this House refuse to acknowledge it but this is a simple fact and is backed up by all independent research. Even with the priority we must give to the pandemic, in only four months we have begun moving forward with a major programme of change and investment. Ministers are participating in a range of Cabinet committees that are delivering an unprecedented period of policy review and development.
In health, on top of resources for responding to Covid, next year will see an entirely new level of activity to deliver fast and sustained progress, including action on cancer, maternity and trauma care, a new public-only contract, 1,200 acute hospital beds, major advances in mental health services, access to diagnostics and access to new medicines. This is not small incremental change; it is substantive progress after only a few months. In education, the Minister and her officials have, together with the partners in education, succeeded in overcoming a series of major policy and logistical challenges and are now moving ahead to implement longer-term action, including a lower pupil-teacher ratio, a significant expansion of special education supports and a new push for inclusive schools. These and many other actions are at the heart of our work on education.
We, of course, continue to give a priority to helping to protect as many jobs as possible and secure a comprehensive and inclusive recovery. The Government has introduced a comprehensive range of measures to support businesses of all sizes and, in particular, the small and medium-sized businesses that are bearing the biggest impact. The Tánaiste has played a central role in delivering these initiatives and continues to proactively consult many stakeholders across business to help create and retain jobs. We have continued intensive work to secure and maintain high-valued inward investment. As part of this, I have held a range of meetings with key employers and potential new investors. The announcement we made last week with Pfizer of 300 new jobs confirmed that this Government is succeeding in showing that Ireland as a place to invest and to grow. The establishment of the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science was a further example of this and a signal to the inward investment community that Ireland is serious about investment in fourth level and in research.
On housing, a new era of sustained support for social housing has begun. We have also begun action on the existential threat of climate change. Strong new legislation has been published and is going through the House and a wide series of initiatives on energy, biodiversity and sustainability are under way. At European level, we have continued our intense engagement with our partners concerning the critical Brexit negotiations and we played a constructive role in securing agreement on the breakthrough new EU funding mechanisms. On the future of this island, North-South interaction at ministerial level has been restored and is moving forward in a new spirit of cooperation. The new shared Ireland initiative is under way, built on the core principle of fulfilling the vision of the Good Friday Agreement and creating a new era of cooperation, understanding and contact between communities North and South. The €500 million fund created to support the initiative marks the largest sustained investment in this area and will benefit some of our most marginalised communities.
I am very pleased with the work the new Government has undertaken in only four months in office. The three parties that formed the Government have different views on many things but we have agreed to work together in the interests of the Irish people and this is what we are doing. At this critical moment in our country’s history we are focused on action, not politics. We are working with the Irish people to get through this pandemic, to build an inclusive recovery and to deliver sustained progress on critical social, economic and environmental issues and that is why I and my party will vote confidence in the Tánaiste and in this Government this evening.