Ceisteanna - Questions

Covid-19 Pandemic

Alan Kelly


1. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach the status of plans to reopen society and the economy when level 5 Covid-19 restrictions are lifted. [38080/20]

Richard Boyd Barrett


2. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the status of plans to reopen society and the economy when level 5 Covid-19 restrictions are lifted. [40168/20]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.

Last Friday, the Government agreed the approach for easing restrictions, including a phased move to level 3 nationally, with several exemptions in place for the Christmas period. These exemptions are designed to support people in having a meaningful Christmas, albeit different from other years. The main objective is to stay safe and to keep the Covid-19 case numbers down so that we can maintain the lowest possible level of restrictions into the new year. People are advised to plan their activities in advance, to limit their contacts during this period and to keep celebrations small.

It is also advised that being outdoors is safer than being indoors, and to ensure good ventilation when indoors with other people. From 1 December, households should not mix with any other households outside their bubble. People should stay within their county, apart from work, education and other essential purposes. People should continue to work from home, unless it is absolutely necessary to attend in person. No indoor gatherings should take place. Gatherings of up to 15 people may take place outdoors. Non-essential retail and personal services may reopen. Hotels, guesthouses and bed and breakfasts can reopen, with services limited to residents only. Museums, galleries and libraries may reopen. Cinemas may also reopen.

Gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools may also reopen for individual training only. No exercise or dance classes are permitted. Non-contact training may take place outdoors in pods of 15. No matches or events may take place, except for professional and elite sports, approved inter-county Gaelic games, greyhound and horse racing and approved equestrian events, all of which must happen behind closed doors. Public transport capacity is limited to 50%. Places of worship can reopen for services with restrictive measures, subject to review in January. Weddings with up to 25 guests are permitted. Funerals with up to 25 mourners are permitted. Higher, further and adult education should remain primarily online.

From 4 December, restaurants, and pubs operating as restaurants, may reopen for indoor dining, with additional restrictions, including requirements for meals to be prepared on-site, inside the premises. This includes access for non-residents to restaurants and hotels. Wet pubs remain closed, except for takeaway delivery. In recognition of the importance of the holiday season, particularly regarding visiting family, from 18 December to 6 January households can mix with two other households and travel outside of one's county is to be permitted.

From 7 January, the measures put in place prior to 18 December will apply, subject to ongoing review of the trajectory of the virus. The measures for cross-Border travel will be the same as for travel between all other counties, which means that from 1 December people should stay within their county, apart from work, educational and other essential purposes, while from 18 December to 6 January travel outside one's county is permitted. It has further been agreed that the use of face masks is now recommended in crowded workplaces, places of worship and in busy or crowded outdoor spaces where there is significant congregation.

I thank the Taoiseach for repeating all that. Yesterday was obviously a big day and Friday will be another big day. Regarding the trajectory of the virus, we do not know what that will be, obviously, but consideration might be given to when the Government is going to make some announcements concerning 6 January. I am not asking the Taoiseach what he is going to announce, just when that will be done. Will it be on 1 or 2 January? How much time will be given in respect of where we will be going from then?

The tourism sector is in major trouble. We can see that from what the chief executive of Fáilte Ireland, Paul Kelly, said today at a committee. I must declare that I used to work as a manager in Fáilte Ireland, so I know the sector well. Being realistic, the tourism sector is not going to get back to anywhere near where it was until 2022, at the earliest. It could be even worse. What additional supports are being looked for that sector?

An issue, which was touched on earlier and relates to the committee the Taoiseach has set up - I would like what I said in that context regarding a Minister to be considered - is that that committee will make recommendations to the Taoiseach, or whomever. The committee also needs guidance, however. I stress two things in this regard. The first is that the IT infrastructure is not what it needs to be and we need to create it. We have had problems in respect of creating a public service card. There have been data issues in that area, so how are we going to ensure we overcome those issues in this scenario? The second concerns the Covid-19 passport, the technology behind it and, most important, the rules behind that-----

I thank Deputy Kelly, but he is over his time.

In fairness to the professor, he cannot make those decisions.

Please, Deputy Kelly. There are three more speakers.

I accept that, but other people are given a little bit more latitude than I am.

Regarding the Covid-19 passport, the committee has to be given guidance concerning what rules it must implement for such a passport.

Deputy Kelly, I try to be fair to everyone. That is not fair, so I am just going to overlook it. I really try to give everybody a little bit of latitude, but there are many speakers. I am going to move. I call Deputy Boyd Barrett.

Even if there is a lifting of restrictions, one sector which is not going to see any significant recovery in its ability to earn an income involves people in music and many of the performing arts. The Taoiseach may have heard a controversy breaking out regarding the 1,400 applicants for the music industry stimulus package. Of those 1,400 applicants, some 83% were refused. That was insulting and demoralising for those musicians who applied for the package, many of whom are household names. That does not really matter, because they all deserve support since their industry has been, and will remain for the foreseeable future, decimated as a result of the pandemic. Only a miserable €876,000 was put into that scheme, so right from the outset the majority of musicians were going to be excluded from it. That is in addition to the fact that most musicians, artists, performers and SMEs involved in that industry have been excluded from the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS. Is the Taoiseach going to do something to give real support to the artists, musicians, light and sound engineers, etc., whose livelihoods have been utterly decimated? The supports given have simply not been enough.

The Government has been at pains to reject the idea that its Covid-19 strategy has been informed by the interests of short-term private profit. It is now 100% patently clear that is what is informing, or at least partially informing, the approach of the Government.

Yesterday the Taoiseach told the Dáil that "we took a more conservative approach on the household visits, and then traded that off with visits to hotels and restaurants". In other words, the Government rejected the NPHET advice to prioritise what is essential for people at Christmas, which is visits by people to their families, broadly defined. They had recommended that starting from this week one could have household visits and that for the two weeks around Christmas one could have visitors from three other households. The Government rejected that. Why? So that it could open up restaurants and gastro pubs. It is plain as day that this is what the Government decided to do. In doing so, it put profit first. It put profit before people visiting their families at Christmas, which is essential. It also placed the whole country in danger, in my opinion, with excess cases, deaths and a third wave in January, for which the Government is preparing the population as if it was absolutely inevitable, and a third lockdown that will be incredibly demoralising for people to go into. That is a consequence of the choices the Government has made to bend to the pressure of private sector business lobbying.

My apologies to Deputy Mary Lou McDonald who was next on the list. There has been a lot of interaction.

I understand and it is no problem. I have previously raised with the Taoiseach the specific challenges facing the commercial events sector. The sector accounts for approximately 90% of the five million events tickets each year pre-Covid, which in ordinary times delivers a significant stimulus for hospitality and tourism.

The event production industry Covid-19 working group, known as EPIC, has worked positively to highlight these challenges and to find suitable solutions to operating within public health guidelines. I acknowledge the Taoiseach’s engagement with EPIC and his recognition of the contribution of the arts and culture sectors to our society and economy.

Following the Taoiseach’s announcement on the lifting of restrictions, questions have been raised about the decision to reopen cinemas but not theatres. When asked to explain the differences between the two settings the Chief Medical Officer stated that theatres were not provided for in level 3 and that NPHET had not given consideration to distinguishing between the risk in the two settings.

Adherence to public health guidance is paramount, but as we have discussed on a number of occasions, providing the rationale behind these decisions is of the utmost importance. People need to understand the reasons behind the decisions that have such an impact on their daily lives and on their livelihoods. It would be helpful at this point if the Taoiseach could provide the rationale for the continued closure of theatres.

I will address question on the tourism sector first. Deputy Kelly correctly identified that the area will need a significant reboot after Covid-19. In the interim we are doing everything we possibly can to keep the edifice of our tourism sector intact through the variety of schemes we have introduced, including the employment wage subsidy scheme, the Covid restrictions support scheme, the pandemic unemployment payment and a variety of other restart grants, low-cost loans and commercial rates waivers. There has been a plethora of initiatives to try to underpin companies and business in the tourism sector. There will be a national economic plan, which is being developed, that will target the tourism sector. The budget will take on board the more than 30 tourism recovery task force recommendations in revitalising this sector as we emerge from this crisis. That plan will take us out to the next five years. Tourism is related to travel and to people's decision-making around their reluctance to travel right now. We have done everything we possibly can over the past while to try to do what we can to support businesses to get them through this very difficult period and to support our airports and connectivity infrastructure.

We will be keeping the trajectory and prevalence of the virus under review. We will keep the public updated on the next steps. As I have said, however, on the 6 January we will be going back to the pre-18 December position of level 3.

Deputy Boyd Barrett instanced the music and performing arts sector. The Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media will deal with that issue. I do not get into the micro-operation of schemes. The Government wants to be as fair and transparent as possible in any allocation of funding. I will see that this will be done. I know the Minister is of a similar view. Quite a range of supports have been given to the arts through the Department of Social Protection and the Department Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, and very significant additional resources were provided in the budget.

I must take issue with Deputy Paul Murphy in his warped interpretation and distortion of what I said yesterday. The Government is not genuflecting to short-term profit. I do not know does the Deputy represent at all the workers who are desperate to get back to work in the hospitality sector. They want to get back working and are concerned about the long-term sustainability of their jobs. They also want to be back at work. The Government is supporting the economy by €1 billion per week and underpinning work in the economy. Mental well-being is also a consideration. The Central Statistics Office research is very revealing in that regard. There was a whole balancing range of factors that gave rise to the decision to reopen restaurants and hotels from 4 December onwards. It was not about short-term profit. Deputy Murphy is so ideologically trapped that he is blinded to the everyday reality of the person on the street, the people who are out there working and who want to earn money for Christmas. The Deputy is so ideologically trapped that he cannot see the wood for the trees. The Deputy sees everything through a narrow, warped ideological frame. It informs every comment and statement he makes. His assertion was just wrong.

Deputy McDonald asked about cinemas and theatres. Again, what we were trying to do for the Christmas period was to have modifications of level 3 to help people to get through the period with a reasonable quality of life. This included galleries, museums and cinemas because they were not adjudged to be centres where the virus could spread, especially given the previous experience with cinemas. The problem with theatres is pinpointing what is or is not a theatre. We can all think of the obvious ones but it is a bit more complicated when one considers the various venues that present themselves, and with alcohol and so on. That is problematic in the decision-making on that. A call was made that cinemas, which would not add to the spread of the virus, could for the period of December open for people to get some break and some respite.

I have met with representatives from EPIC and we will work on that and engage with the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media.

Cabinet Committees

Alan Kelly


3. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee dealing with foreign affairs will next meet. [38076/20]

Mary Lou McDonald


4. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with foreign affairs will next meet. [38620/20]

Paul Murphy


5. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee dealing with foreign affairs will next meet. [40064/20]

Alan Kelly


6. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his plans for travel abroad in 2021. [40162/20]

Richard Boyd Barrett


7. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee dealing with foreign affairs will next meet. [40169/20]

I propose to take questions Nos. 3 to 7, inclusive, together.

Matters relating to international policy and foreign affairs are discussed by the full Cabinet as and when appropriate, mostly on foot of memoranda to Government brought by the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I also engage bilaterally with the Minister on such matters, as appropriate.

International matters also arise in the context of the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy and other external policies of the European Union. When appropriate these are included on the agenda of meetings of the Cabinet committee on Europe. That committee last met on 8 October and is scheduled to meet again on 8 December, in advance of the European Council meeting of 10 and 11 December. While the agenda for that meeting is yet to be finalised, it is likely that a number of international issues will arise, including relations with Turkey and the United States of America.

With regard to international travel, given the current pandemic, it remains the Government’s advice that only essential travel should be undertaken. This position will be kept under review as the situation evolves. As of now, I will only travel abroad when it is necessary to do so to represent essential Irish interests, as I have done when I have attended recent meetings of the European Council in Brussels. If I do need to travel abroad, I will follow the advice of the Government’s scientific and medical advisers and observe relevant public health guidance. In the immediate period ahead, it is my intention to attend the meeting of the European Council and of the euro summit in Brussels on 10 and 11 December.

Strict protocols are in place for European Council meetings. The travelling delegation is kept to the minimum necessary, social distancing and other hygiene protocols are followed and diagnostic testing is carried out on our return.

Other travel commitments for 2021 have not yet been finalised. A number of high-level events and summits that were due to take place in 2020 have been postponed to 2021. If they go ahead, decisions on attendance will be taken in due course. Any plans for further travel will also take account of the prevailing situation regarding the pandemic.

I understand what the Taoiseach is saying. The situation with our troops in the Golan Heights and Lebanon is very difficult because of restrictions on travelling abroad. Usually a Minister, the Taoiseach or somebody would visit them because of the significant work they do. This cannot happen at the moment and we need to support them. What else is being done in that regard?

I raise the issue of the presidential election in Belarus. What is Europe going to do about this? Belarus as a country is not a nice place, although it has very nice people who need support. My mother has been visiting Belarus for 15 years and working in orphanages there up to her 80th birthday. They are incredible people. Unfortunately, she could not go this year. We all know about the presidential election opponent, the teacher Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. As the Taoiseach is probably aware, she spent some time in my county, in Roscrea. She is now in isolation in Lithuania while her husband is in jail. The way the public in Belarus have been treated as they protest about what has happened, and the way the army and government are treating them, is disgraceful. What sanctions are being proposed, through our European partners, for the Belarusian Government because of its behaviour?

Sunday marked the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Ireland's strongest and most useful expression of solidarity would be the formal recognition of the state of Palestine. This would honour the hopes and aspirations for peace and the dignity of the Palestinian people, who continue to live under the horrific oppression of the Israeli authorities as they ramp up their ongoing attempts at annexation of vast swathes of the West Bank. Israel continues to evict Palestinian families from their own homes. Just last week, Palestinian families in the Jordan Valley were forced out of their homes to make way for Israeli military training operations in the area. As communities throughout the world attempt to cope with the global pandemic, the Israeli Government continues to compound the challenges faced by Palestinians through daily acts of aggression. This year alone, Israeli authorities destroyed more Palestinian homes than at any time in the last five years. These vicious acts of destruction are not confined just to residential homes; humanitarian infrastructure has also been destroyed. The primary purpose of these violent and illegal acts by Israel is to make it impossible for the Palestinian people to maintain a viable homeland. The Irish Government's expressed disappointment is of little consequence to the Israeli Government. However, if the Government supported the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018, Israel would finally be held accountable. I ask the Taoiseach to engage with both of these matters: the recognition of the state of Palestine and the occupied territories Bill.

What actions do the Taoiseach and his Government intend to take to pressurise the British Government to reverse its scandalous decision not to hold a public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane? Even David Cameron, in 2012, admitted to "shocking levels of collusion" and said it seemed that Mr. Finucane was suggested to the murderers as a target to kill by the police. The British Supreme Court has found that there was a failure to investigate this killing properly, but the British Government is determined to avoid a public inquiry because it is eager to cover up how high that collusion went in the British state. The refusal to hold a public inquiry is another example of the disregard it has for the lives of ordinary people on this island, as, indeed, it has for those of people in Britain and around the world. We are talking about the working of British imperialism under successive governments, hand in hand with loyalist paramilitaries, to target and kill people they considered problematic, in this case a lawyer, and using that to spread terror within working-class communities. The maximum possible pressure must be applied to the British Government to demand justice and a public inquiry.

The biggest international issue we are facing is obviously the Covid-19 pandemic and the impact it is having across the globe. A vaccine that is safe and effective will be critical to exiting this current crisis. If the roll-out of a safe and effective vaccine is going to work, a number of key things have to happen. First, the profit motive has to be removed completely from the roll-out. This means that intellectual property and patent rights, which protect the technology for the vaccine in order that those companies can make a profit, have to be waived. I note that the Government intends to give indemnity to the pharmaceutical companies and that we are going to underwrite any problems there may be with the vaccine. What is the quid pro quo here? It should require all intellectual property rights to be waived and the raw data published, because we need honesty, humility and transparency in the roll-out of this vaccine if we are going to win people over to taking it. There should be no question of those pharmaceutical companies using patent or intellectual property rules in order to safeguard profits at the expense of the roll-out of this vaccine, not just in this country but across the world. If poor countries do not get the vaccine, its efficacy could potentially be undermined.

Deputy Kelly is correct about the difficulty of visiting and recognising our Army, which has done some fantastic work in the Golan Heights and elsewhere across the world and continues to do so, because of Covid-19. We will do everything we can to show our Defence Forces again that we recognise the contribution they are making to international peace.

The European Union has moved on Belarus. We have condemned the ongoing mass and indiscriminate detentions, including of children, and the threats made by the authorities to take away the children of parents who protest. I am appalled by the shameful and needless death of Roman Bondarenko in police custody. The EU sent a very firm message to Minsk by imposing targeted sanctions against 55 individuals in Belarus, including Alexander Lukashenko himself, and we stand ready to go further. While Mr. Lukashenko has announced that he will stand down after constitutional amendments are adopted, it is clear that the repression of the Belarusian people continues. The European Union Commission has conducted a review of EU-Belarus relations and is working on directing European Union funds away from the authorities to provide direct support to Belarusian civil society. We and our European partners will continue to press the authorities to respect their international commitments to stop the repression of their people. I spoke to opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya in August. She has a great love for Ireland and said that a piece of her heart is always in Ireland. She spoke fondly of her time in Tipperary. We support a sustainable, democratic and peaceful resolution of the crisis there.

Deputy McDonald asked about Palestine. Ireland has long supported a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. That said, Israeli policy is consistently jeopardising and undermining the prospect of such a solution. We urge the Israeli Government to cease its practice of demolitions, which is contrary to its obligations under international humanitarian law. We as a country provide emergency shelter and support to affected families through the West Bank Protection Consortium.

We will prioritise the Middle Eastern peace process during our term on the UN Security Council in 2021-2022. We will do whatever we can to advance efforts towards a just and lasting peace.

We are aware of the situation in east Jerusalem and the long-standing threats of eviction which Palestinian residents continue to face in that neighbourhood, which has worsened in recent weeks. Irish officials in Ramallah visited the neighbourhood and they will continue to monitor the case closely. Our clear view is that the Israeli Government must uphold its international obligations on the treatment of civilian populations.

Settlements are illegal under international law. They actively undermine the prospects for a two-state solution. Ireland has consistently and strongly opposed settlements and this Government will continue to do so. We also work and repeatedly call on Israel to respect and respond to genuine concerns about the treatment of Palestinian prisoners. Ireland has repeatedly called to Israel the applicability of international human rights standards, and Irish embassies and missions in the region continue to monitor the situation closely. Ireland's humanitarian assistance to meet the needs of the most vulnerable Palestinians will amount to more than €16 million in 2020. This funding has been expedited to reduce the incidents and mitigate the impact of the pandemic among the Palestinian people.

When it came to power, the new Government adopted a position on the Occupied Territories Bill. I am not sure that the legislation in itself would act as any restraint on Israel's policy on settlements. We have supported legal avenues to differentiate between settlements in Israel, for example, by joining a case before the European courts last year on labelling of certain goods produced in settlements.

On the recognition of Palestine, the programme for Government makes clear that the Government will honour its commitment to recognise the state of Palestine either as part of a lasting settlement of the conflict or, in advance of that, when we make a judgement and believe that doing so would progress efforts to reach a two-state solution or protect the integrity of the Palestinian territory. We discuss this issue on an ongoing basis with our European partners, due to the likely benefits of moving in step with our European colleagues.

I articulated my views on the Finucane case strongly in the Dáil yesterday. I will engage with the British Government and Prime Minister on the need for a full public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane. There was extreme annoyance and anger at the previous day's decision and, in particular, the reference to the PSNI and the Police Ombudsman, both of which had made it clear that there is no new material for them to take the case forward. We, as an Irish Government, will, as successive Irish governments have done, continue to put pressure on and engage with the British Government on the need for a full public inquiry.

Deputy Boyd Barrett raised the Covid-19 vaccine. Governments do not produce vaccines nor do they produce medicines. They do not have the capital wherewithal and have not engaged in the area historically. The important difference that I have seen, as Taoiseach now and as Minister for Health during the SARS epidemic, has been the far greater degree of co-ordination at international level, particularly at European Union level with the private sector. I know the Deputy hates the words profit and private sector. That I understand, but that ideology cannot get in the way of getting vaccines and getting them researched and produced at an unprecedented pace and rate. The pre-purchase agreements have been essential to enabling the capital and funding provisions that will underpin the production of the vaccines. There are no guarantees when vaccines are being researched, produced and manufactured. This is a collaboration between the private and public sectors at an international level, within Europe and the United States. Considering the trillions of euro that governments have spent all over the world in underpinning their economies, the expenditure involved here is only a fraction but will be far more effective in getting our economies back up and running and getting people back to work than anything else.

We will move on as we have less than ten minutes for the last three questions which are grouped.

Departmental Strategy Statements

Alan Kelly


8. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if his Department plans to publish a statement of strategy. [38075/20]

Paul Murphy


9. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if his Department plans to publish a statement of strategy. [40065/20]

Richard Boyd Barrett


10. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if his Department plans to publish a statement of strategy. [40486/20]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 to 10, inclusive, together.

In accordance with the provisions of the Public Service Management Act 1997, my Department is currently developing its new statement of strategy for the next three years. The strategy will reflect the role of my Department to deliver the executive functions of the Taoiseach and Government and to support me as Head of Government to carry out my duties and implement the Government’s priorities over the coming period.

My Department engages with the formulation and implementation of Government policy, especially through the Cabinet committee structure, and ten have been established by this Government, reflecting the full range of policy areas that it will work on during its lifetime. My Department is playing a central role in co-ordinating the State’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and preparations and planning for Brexit. The strategy will also reflect my Department’s involvement in other whole-government work, including the development of the national economic plan and delivering real action on climate change.

As set out in the programme for Government, a new shared island unit has been established within the Department of the Taoiseach to support a renewed push to use the potential of the Good Friday Agreement to deliver sustained progress for all communities. This unit will work towards a consensus on a shared island and will examine the political, social, economic and cultural considerations underpinning a future in which all traditions are mutually respected.

A social dialogue unit has also been established as part of the economic division in the Department of the Taoiseach. This will look to build on existing work and structures already in place to support social dialogue such as the Labour Employer Economic Forum.

The new statement of strategy is due to be finalised before the end of the year. Following its submission to Government, the strategy will be published and laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. It will also be published on the gov.ie website.

This is high level stuff. When is it intended to publish the strategy? Will that be done before the conclusion of the Dáil this term? It would be helpful if it was. The current statement of strategy is completely out of date.

How is the social dialogue, about which the Taoiseach speaks quite eloquently, perhaps from history, to work? What format or structures will be in place? Will the Government bring something new to the table regarding how we do things?

The Taoiseach spoke about the economy earlier. Will it be done sector by sector. I mentioned tourism but we need a sector-by-sector plan. It is about where we go after Covid.

On sustainability and the environment, it is rather embarrassing for the Taoiseach's Government colleagues, the Green Party, where it has been shown that progress in climate action has significantly slowed since the formation of the Government. What actions will be taken to remediate this? Just four of the 22 measures in the climate action plan that were due in the third quarter of this year have been delivered. Some were very deliverable, so why have they not been delivered? It needs to be prioritised. Will the Taoiseach explain why some have been delivered?

The Taoiseach accused me of giving a warped interpretation of what he said, so I will repeat what he said, which is very plain: "we took a more conservative approach on the household visits, and then traded that off with visits to hotels and restaurants". The Government chose not to follow NPHET's recommendations on household visits so that it could open up hotels and restaurants. It is very clear, it is not warped. The Taoiseach says that he did that not because of profit but because of mental well-being. I think that most people, if asked to choose between being able to visit family and friends or go to gastropubs and restaurants, they would say it is more important for their mental well-being to be able to visit family and friends. It is remarkable how the whole issue of mental health has been abused during this pandemic by many people who never spoke a word about it previously, and now it has become a byword for reopening the pubs.

Like everyone else, I would love everything to go back to normal, to go out to the pub with loads of people and so on, but we are in the middle of a global pandemic and there are consequences for the Government's decisions to put short-term profits before public health.

Interestingly, one of those consequences is decreased medium-term economic growth. Just last week, an article by Martin Wolf in the Financial Times pointed out that countries that have pursued an elimination strategy have had much better economic results. This roller-coaster of moving in and out of lockdown is a disaster for workers.

I agree with Deputy Murphy. The main point I wish to make concerns another issue. The Taoiseach is taking a very serious gamble, as Deputy Murphy said and as I pointed out yesterday. The gamble will be disastrous if it results in the further restriction of family visits because infections go crazy in the next few weeks. The Taoiseach will be in trouble if that happens.

I wish to return to the arts and music industry. I suggest that the Taoiseach acquaints himself with it and develops a strategy. Our writers, poets, musicians, artists and the crews that stand behind them are shockingly undervalued. A row over this issue is erupting as we speak. It has been on the radio and in the news. More than 80% of the people who applied for funding for recordings under the music industry stimulus package have been refused. This is because the amount allocated to that package was miserable. People are insulted and demoralised. None of the other business support schemes, which run into billions of euro, sets limits on the number of people who could get them. If an applicant fit those schemes' criteria, he or she got the support. Only the scheme for musicians had a numbers limit. This restricted it to fewer than 20% of applicants. That is typical of the lack of respect shown by successive Governments to musicians, artists, entertainers, performers and crews. The Taoiseach should acquaint himself with this sector and it should be central to any strategy for this country.

The Taoiseach's statement of strategy must place a strong and renewed focus on the very many challenges facing Ireland's young people. Youth unemployment now stands at 45%. The release valve of emigration, which was relied upon by successive administrations, is not available to us. The ball is now firmly in the Government's court. It must deliver innovative interdepartmental solutions to the big policy issues facing young people. Market interventions such as rent caps are needed. We need rapid delivery of public housing. We need social and affordable public housing. We need to end the unsustainable rents which have placed incredible and unacceptable burdens of stress on young people, sometimes leading to disaster. This is not just a financial burden - it is an emotional one as well.

I know many people who have been lucky, as I am sure the Taoiseach does. They have enjoyed every opportunity and advantage, got an education and worked throughout that time. They may have secured permanent employment in their chosen fields. However, they are still unable to see owning their own home as a realistic prospect. They look at the cost of childcare with absolute dread. This is an appalling legacy of previous Governments.

We have consistently voiced concerns about the existing job activation programmes. I do not have time to rehearse these concerns today, but this issue must also be addressed. I hope that when we finally see this statement of strategy it will have a very deliberate focus on our young people.

The Government will publish a national economic plan that will deal the broader issues on the economic landscape. Housing will be a key part of it, particularly the provision of sustainable sources of social and affordable housing. In response to Deputy Kelly's question, I note that there will be key developments in the areas of digital transformation and the green economy. Those are two areas where opportunities will present themselves in the future.

The land development agency Bill 2019 is important from a housing perspective. The marine planning and development management Bill is particularly important for renewable energy and the exploitation of our seas' potential for economic development. I have made both pieces of legislation high priorities and I have worked with the respective Ministers in that regard. They are both complex Bills and it has therefore taken a while to get them over the line.

Deputy Kelly talked about the implementation of measures under the existing climate action plan which were due in the third quarter of this year. That is not fair to the Green Party. It is not its fault. This Government has only been in place since July. The pandemic has impacted on the implementation of some of its priorities. The Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, will update that climate action plan and take measures to accelerate the implementation plan. His Bill is progressing through this House as we speak. It will be strengthened before it comes out the other end of the legislative process.

My Department's social dialogue unit is seeking to enhance the structures and relationships by which we engage with the social partners and the substance of that engagement. We will build on the Labour Employer Economic Forum, LEEF, and make it more substantial. My unit will co-ordinate with the major social partners with a view to getting agreement on some key societal issues.

We have not maintained restrictions on household visits as a trade-off in the crude sense Deputy Murphy suggests. All the public health evidence and advice, particularly during the second wave, has identified visits to households as the cause of much of the spread of the virus. That applies particularly at level 2 and higher. That is why I said the Deputy's description was warped. There are always challenges. We cannot keep people locked up forever. I do not agree with the Deputy's zero-Covid-19 strategy in light of our geographical position. We have a Border with the North, a jurisdiction where we do not have public health control, and we are in close proximity to the United Kingdom and Europe. Others might differ, but I do not think we can pursue a zero-Covid-19 strategy. The level 5 restrictions were not as severe as in the first lockdown.

In reply to Deputy Boyd Barrett's point, I note that the Government put very significant resources into the music, culture and arts sectors in the recent budget. Several schemes and supports are available. I listened to this morning's commentary on the music industry stimulus package and I know the Minister is aware of it. I have no doubt that the Minister will re-engage with that process. There is no negative agenda towards arts and culture in this Government. The Arts Council has received a €50 million increase in funding. We prioritise the arts and believe in their fundamental importance to our society.

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