Mary Lou McDonaldQuestion:
1. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe will next meet. [39896/20]
Vol. 1002 No. 2
1. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe will next meet. [39896/20]
2. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe will next meet. [41632/20]
3. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe last met. [41646/20]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.
The Cabinet committee on Europe oversees implementation of programme for Government commitments on the EU and related issues. It last met on 8 October 2020 in advance of the meetings of the European Council on 15 October and 16 October, when it discussed the agenda for that meeting, including climate action and the EU's relationship with Africa. I also used the meeting to brief colleagues on the visit to Dublin earlier that day of President of the European Council, Mr. Charles Michel. My discussions with him included the state of play in the Brexit negotiations, EU co-ordination in response to Covid-19, climate action and EU relations with Africa.
The next meeting of the Cabinet committee on Europe is scheduled to take place later today in advance of the European Council meeting in Brussels this Thursday and Friday, 10 and 11 December. The agenda for that meeting includes: further discussion on Covid-19, including the roll-out of vaccines and travel; climate action and the question of increased ambition in the European Union target for 2030; terrorism, in light of recent events in France and Austria; European Union relations with our southern neighbours; relations with Turkey; and European Union-US relations.
There is also likely to be discussion of the multi-annual financial framework and recovery package with the Germany Presidency continuing to lead discussions aimed at reaching agreement on rule of law conditionality in this context. While not on the agenda at this point, we will take stock of the current state of play in the European Union-UK negotiations. We may also discuss other current external relations issues.
I wish to raise the decision of the European Committee of Social Rights, ECSR, and the Government's compliance with the right to equal pay, as well as the right to equal opportunities in the workplace. The Irish Federation of University Women, through the University Women of Europe, lodged a complaint within the framework of the collective complaints procedure with the ECSR as the monitoring body of the European Social Charter.
Ireland was one of 15 EU member states against which complaints were made. In its complaint against Ireland, the University Women of Europe argued that the gender pay gap for women here persists despite the State's international and domestic obligations. The committee found that Ireland is in violation of the European Social Charter on three separate counts. It was found that pay transparency is not guaranteed in practice and that the absence of gender pay gap reporting is a major obstacle for victims of pay discrimination as their rights cannot be effectively enforced. It was also found that there is an absence of indicators showing measurable progress in promoting equal opportunities between men and women in respect of equal pay. The committee noted that the previous Government was unable to provide gender pay gap statistics for the previous five years in its submission. It was found that Ireland has made insufficient progress in ensuring a balanced representation of women in decision-making positions in private companies. Ireland's breaches of the European Social Charter are even more disappointing when we consider that addressing the gender pay gap was a key commitment in the National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020. Can the Taoiseach please confirm when the Bill will be released from the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth for Report Stage and also the specific actions the Government has taken to address all three violations of the European Social Charter?
The Garda Síochána is currently engaged in a joint EU-funded research programme called real time network, text and speaker analytics for combating organised crime, ROXANNE. The programme has been in place since September 2019 and runs to August 2022. Among the participants on this programme is the Israeli Ministry of Public Security, which oversees the Israeli prison service, police, border control and so on. It has been involved and implicated in repeated, terrible human rights abuses of Palestinians, including many children, administrative detention, detention of children without trial and many other human rights abuses that have recently been documented by, among others, the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign in a report it produced in August. The latter has written to the Minister for Justice. I submitted a parliamentary question that was ruled out of order asking what on earth the Garda Síochána is doing. The Garda has, as part of its code of ethics, specific and clear commitments to human rights and yet is partnering with an Israeli body that is deeply implicated in human rights abuses.
I put to the Taoiseach that we should have no hand or part in a project involving the Israeli Ministry of Public Security. Indeed, we should be suggesting that the EU, which is supposed to respect human rights, should have nothing whatsoever to do with such a project if the Israeli Ministry of Public Security is involved.
This is obviously a critical week for Brexit, and I know things are live at the moment as to where we are at. A number of key issues are outstanding regarding a level playing field, fisheries and the governance of any trade deal. What assurances has the Taoiseach in the area of fisheries that will allow access to UK waters to continue?
What we are now hearing about Brexit is positive and certainly better than it was earlier. However, in the event that things go the other direction, what contingencies are in place for a no-deal Brexit as regards financial supports that were mooted last week? When would they came into place if, unfortunately, we end up in that scenario? Has anything changed with regard to what the Taoiseach has told this Chamber about potential shortages of food, medicines or goods? Has he had any discussions with President Macron, the Dutch Prime Minister or Chancellor Merkel in the past week on what specific measures they are potentially ready to compromise?
I omitted a section of my initial reply. There will be a meeting of the Euro Summit which is expected to take stock of recent developments at Eurogroup on banking union and capital markets. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, will attend the Euro Summit in his capacity as president of the Eurogroup and a report on last week's agreement on finalising reform of the European Stability Mechanism is an important step in strengthening the resilience and crisis resolution capabilities of the euro area. The Cabinet committee on Europe will then continue to meet as appropriate, including to discuss issues on the agenda of the European Council. I pay tribute to the Minister, in his capacity as president of the Eurogroup, for the important work he did there in advancing and finalising reform of the European Stability Mechanism.
Some of the questions that Deputies raised are not directly applicable to the work but I will take the question about the gender pay gap, the insufficient progress in addressing it and, indeed, the number of women in senior positions in the private and public sectors. The Government is committed to dealing with and progressing those issues and will work with Europe to advance and progress them. I will talk to the Minister concerned about when he will be in a position to bring the legislation to Committee Stage. I will come back to the Deputy on that point. Generally speaking, we know the situation regarding gender pay. The gender pay gap is not acceptable and needs to be rectified. It needs to be dealt with in a progressive and timelined way. The Government and I are committed to doing that.
Deputy Boyd Barrett referred to a joint European Union research group, as I understand it, to combat organised crime. I commend the European Union for organising a group to deal with organised crime across Europe because crime is now international and knows no borders. It is important that An Garda Síochána is a participant in any European Union project that will subsequently enhance its intelligence and insights into how organised crime works globally and how analytics can be used to combat organised crime. The question is should the Israeli police force be a part of that European initiative. That is the more relevant question to ask, rather than saying that the Garda should not be a part of a European consortium that is working on advanced mechanisms to defeat organised crime. My view is that the defeating of organised crime is critical for us in Europe. When one looks at what is happening in South America, for example-----
-----the power of organised crime is such that it challenges the rule of the state. Indeed, it has penetrated the state in many instances in terms of influence and power, ultimately to the detriment of the ordinary citizens of the state.
There are always balances to be struck in situations like this but I take the Deputy's point. There are issues around the performance of the Israeli police and military forces, without question, in terms of human rights abuses in Palestine and towards Palestinians. That is unacceptable and Europe has taken a strong stand on the matter. Europe has been supportive of Palestinians-----
Why are they involved in a police project?
-----through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and other infrastructural initiatives in the West Bank and Gaza. Europe will continue to be supportive of Palestinians' human rights and of enabling them to build a state apparatus for themselves. That will continue. There is a balancing act in terms of the approach to these issues.
Different member states have different perspectives. They do not all share our views on the Middle East. There are 27 EU member states so we cannot dictate every issue or the composition of every committee or consortium. We are not in a position to do that. Neither do I want to be in a position where we take the Garda out of important consortiums that could be of use to the force and to this country in the context of combating organised crime. We should not underestimate the devastation that organised crime wreaks on societies and people across Europe and in this country. We have to work with others to combat it.
Deputy Kelly asked for assurances on fisheries and access to UK waters. I cannot give such assurances right now, particularly if we are heading towards a no-deal scenario. I caution that we should not over-interpret welcome moves from the UK Government in respect of the protocol and the withdrawal agreement, in so far as they have withdrawn the offending clauses of the Internal Market Bill and, I understand, similar clauses that would have ended up in a taxation bill. That is positive and to be welcomed. This is a strand of the talks relating to the Border, which is important, and the seamless interaction of people, services and goods on the island of Ireland. It is to the credit of Commissioner Šefovi and, on the British side, Michael Gove and his team of negotiators that they were able to iron out many difficulties regarding the operation of the protocol.
The situation in respect of the future trading relationship is much more difficult and will be hard to resolve. It should be resolved in the interests of all the citizens of Europe, the United Kingdom and Ireland. We will all lose if there is no deal. The absence of a deal would bring unacceptable disruption to ordinary people, workers and businesses. I have said this to all who would listen to me, including European negotiators, who are anxious to avoid a no-deal scenario, and the UK Prime Minister, when I have spoken to him. He knows my view that common sense should prevail. It is in everybody's interests that we avoid a no-deal situation and get a deal that facilitates workers and gives clarity and certainty to businesses.
On medicines, I have checked with the Department of Health, which is not sounding any alarm bells as yet regarding access to and procurement of medicines, particularly in the first six months after Brexit. There will be disruption on some scale, even if we achieve a trading deal, because of the fact that Britain is outside of the customs union and the Single Market. Being outside the customs union means a lot of checking and documentation.
4. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Taoiseach the engagements he has had with the First Minister and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland in respect of lifting Covid-19 restrictions. [39968/20]
5. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the engagements he has had with the First and deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland in relation to lifting Covid-19 restrictions. [41633/20]
Dealing with Covid-19 on the island of Ireland is a priority for the Government and I have had regular contact with the First Minister and deputy First Minister on the matter. Furthermore, there is ongoing engagement on Covid-19 between the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, and the Minister for Health in Northern Ireland, Robin Swann; between the Chief Medical Officers, North and South; and between the two health services. I have discussed Covid with the First Minister and deputy First Minister by phone and by videoconference on a number of occasions, including Friday, 16 October; Monday, 15 October, and Thursday, 24 September. I have spoken by phone separately with the First Minister on two occasions, 7 November and 8 October.
There is ongoing engagement at official level on a wide range of matters, including Covid. There has been particularly close contact between Irish and Northern Ireland officials in recent weeks in the context of respective restrictions and other measures as a consequence of Covid. While we each have our own medical and scientific advisers and decision-making processes, there is good co-ordination between us. I am pleased to note that there is a high level of commonality in our current overall approach, including in respect of the ongoing public health advice and to the lifting of restrictions as we approach the Christmas period.
I thank the Taoiseach for his response. I raise this issue, as Deputy Boyd Barrett has, in order to look at a couple of areas. The end of a period of restrictions is, supposedly, approaching in Northern Ireland and most of us in this jurisdiction have been enjoying in the past week or so being back at level 3 restrictions. We hope to stay there or go down to level 2 or 1 in due course. It should be noted that the restrictions are still sterner and the impact of the virus is much more worrying in Northern Ireland. We see reports of capacity issues at a number of Northern Irish hospitals. Of particular concern is the situation at Altnagelvin Area Hospital, which services much of Donegal as well.
Looking at the co-ordination between the Taoiseach and the First Minister and deputy First Minister, we need not only to discuss restrictions and the potential lifting of them but also the co-ordination needed in that regard. Two weeks ago, I raised with the Tánaiste my serious concerns regarding the issue of bus tours being organised by Northern Irish companies to bring shoppers down to the Republic, be it to somewhere like Dundrum Town Centre in my constituency or to the city centre. Those were flagrant breaches of the restrictions and, when the matter was taken up with the operator, there was a sheer lack of understanding that crossing any county boundary should even be considered.
I raise the serious issue of co-ordination of the vaccine roll-out. Every one of us was cheered by the scenes in Coventry, featuring a Fermanagh native, and in Belfast, when individuals were given the first vaccines. We look forward to seeing that coming into the Republic. We need to be aware that many people, going through the strands of priority that the Government has laid out for vaccines, may be working in the Republic and living in the North or vice versa, be they in an at-risk group or not. There is much more co-ordination to be done. I hope the Taoiseach will continue his conversations with the First Minister and deputy First Minister throughout this important period.
Since the Government voted down the Solidarity-People Before Profit motion calling for the payment of student nurses and midwives, I and student nurses and midwives have listened with fury to the Taoiseach's lame, dishonest and unacceptable excuses in respect of the decision the Government made. There is an interesting all-Ireland dimension to the hypocrisy around treatment of our front-line workers, such as student nurses and midwives. The following is from an elected representative on this island:
It’s only fair and right that our student nurses are properly recognised and recompensed for the service to our communities during this pandemic. Right across the city we have Covid patients being tended to by NHS staff and their student nurse colleagues. The Health Minister must recognise their efforts at the most challenging of times with fair and proper wages.
That is a quote from a Green Party councillor, who would have voted in the election for the Greens to enter Government down here and in the party's leadership election. That is stunning hypocrisy. A party with which the Taoiseach is allied marched into the Dáil last week and voted against paying student nurses and midwives; the same party, in the North, is calling for their payment and saying it is due recognition for the work they have done on the Covid front line. What does the Taoiseach think about that? Even people who are aligned to the Government call for the payment of student nurses and midwives in the North. Yet the Taoiseach comes out with lame, dishonest and unacceptable excuses for doing the exact opposite down here and covering over the disgraceful decision not to pay student nurses and midwives. We will rebut these excuses one by one in the next question in this session.
We welcome that there has been agreement on how the Covid vaccine will be administered. There needs to be the tightest possible contact between the Northern Executive and the Government. That will be critical in the roll-out of the vaccine, particularly in Border counties. I welcome the level of co-ordination that the Taoiseach has stated remains in place between him and the First Minister and deputy First Minister. We need to see how the vaccine will be rolled out. We must also ensure that there are proper staffing levels and proper consultation with GPs so that, when the vaccine is ready, we are prepared to roll it out.
I thank all of the Deputies for raising these issues. To Deputy Richmond, the first overall point I will make is that we have made every effort to try to align our positions, North and South, on Covid-19. Early on, there was the memorandum of understanding between the Chief Medical Officer, CMO, in the Republic and the CMO of Northern Ireland. There have been sensitivities and differences of opinion within the North and the Northern Ireland Executive. In advance of some of the restrictions that were introduced, we could see transparently those sensitivities playing out as well as the difficulties and challenges in terms of getting agreement in the multi-party Executive. It is an Executive that is made up of quite a number of parties. That has proved challenging.
We have engaged and we have made suggestions from the summer onwards. Unfortunately, there have been periods when our period of severe restrictions under level 5 did not align with Northern Ireland, which was at a lesser level, and when we emerged from level 5, Northern Ireland went to a more severe level. That said, I draw some comfort from the fact that numbers have been going down in both jurisdictions, although I think they are still relatively high in the North, worryingly so. We are coming out of level 5 in the Republic at a level that we must be careful about because it is far higher than when we eased restrictions in the summertime. There is a real need for vigilance in terms of stopping the spread of the virus.
In the Border counties, there is an ongoing need for co-ordination on a range of fronts such as those the Deputy has suggested in terms of shopping trips down. For example, in the Republic right now, there is a restriction on going outside one's county. That applies to all of our Border counties. It should be enforced and will have to be monitored. Likewise, Northern Ireland should monitor its regulations and enforce them as well so that we have the minimum risk to the general public in terms of the spread of the virus.
Regarding co-ordination on the vaccine, people living in the Republic but working in the health service in Northern Ireland will get the vaccine in Northern Ireland. We look forward to ongoing co-operation on the island of Ireland in terms of the roll-out of the vaccine. Both jurisdictions have similar prioritisations in terms of the groups that will get the vaccine first. In my view, that is the way it should be. I think there will be close co-ordination and co-operation from the respective CMOs and, indeed, public health specialists of both sides. Regarding hospitals, in case there are requirements for us to provide support or vice versa where a particular hospital is over capacity or there are pressures on a hospital at a given time because of the level of ICU or bed occupancy by Covid patients, particularly over the Christmas period and into January, we are mindful of that situation and will monitor it very carefully.
Deputy Boyd Barrett raised an issue - he described my presentation as "lame, dishonest and unacceptable" - with the normal high-pitched melodrama. I have to say in response that we are committed to student nurses. The countermotion last week from the Government facilitated the payment of the pandemic unemployment payment to student nurses, who cannot work part time. Fourth year nursing students are paid - I think the Deputy will acknowledge that - as part of the 36-week placement. First year students, second year students and third year students are on clinical placements. I do not believe they should be working during their clinical placements because those clinical placements are meant to be protected under the nursing degree programme by the hospitals. People are being paid by the HSE to be in the hospitals with the express purpose of protecting the learning environment and protecting the degree programme for the students. There should be no exploitation of students in that regard and none should be tolerated. I mean that.
I have spoken to the heads of a number of colleges and to the Chief Nursing Officer, who are concerned that we are now moving back to an apprenticeship model. What the Deputy seems to be advocating, whether he means it or not, is to go back to the apprenticeship model, which would be a retrograde step and an undermining of nursing ultimately. The whole idea of moving to the degree programme was to modernise, transform and professionalise nursing education and to give students the opportunity to go to third level to study a nursing degree programme like other students in medicine, pharmacology, physiotherapy or occupational therapy. Why should student nurses be any different? Why should they not have been in a position a long time ago to participate in a degree programme? That was the whole motivation behind the degree programme. It seems to me that that model is now being challenged. I am open to debate on that and I believe there should be a more fundamental review of the degree programme now in light of this debate. We should make up our minds once again about what we actually want for the future of nursing as a key part of our healthcare service. The whole idea was to advance nursing in the hospital hierarchy. In pay claims and so on, the advancement of the nursing degree was often used as a rationale.
This is a very core issue. I was involved in bringing in the nursing degree programme - I know what I am talking about. Heads of colleges have received stories of people being exploited or allegations of exploitation. That should not occur. The HSE is saying that that is not happening. We need to verify that. I do not think that any first year student on a clinical placement for six weeks should be treating a Covid patient. I do not think anyone in this House would suggest that should be the case. It should not be the case. The student should be there to learn.
It is the case.
But it should not be the case and the Deputy should not be saying it should be the case. If he is saying that everyone should be paid, then he is saying that we should go along with it.
I am not saying that.
We should not go along with it. To go along with that is to undermine the whole programme and go back to an older and, in my view, less advantageous model for nursing in general. That is the point.
Start with the reality.
I am starting with reality. In my view, we need to deal with that core issue. I have said to the Minister and others that there should now be an overarching review of nursing education in general. Australia, which often gets mentioned, has the two models running in parallel - a nursing degree model where the students do not get paid and an apprenticeship model. That is my understanding. They are two different models entirely.
It is far too simplistic to come forward with a Private Members' motion and say "They are all against us" or "They are all for us" because they voted for a motion. A motion achieves nothing in terms of public service pay. It achieves nothing in terms of a degree programme. It is about political manoeuvring. That is what it is about in essence. The Deputy knows that as well I as know that.
The Government could have amended the motion to pay them in a different way.
It is wonderful that the Deputy can boil it down to one slogan, to one hashtag, but public policy never gets developed on a hashtag. It is time people realised that.
That is the point. That is the bottom line.
It is legislation, it is public service pay talks-----
-----it is working out entitlements. That is hard work. Negotiations have been ongoing with the union and the INMO in relation to a review of allowances. There is a review of allowances for first year, second year and third year students. It will end by the end of December and result in an increase in those allowances. There will also be a review of the fourth year payment and the nature of that. In addition to verification procedures and so on and the need to protect that learning environment that I spoke about, we need to do a more fundamental review of what we want out of nursing education and what we think is the best model of nursing education into the future.
I thank the Taoiseach, but we are eating into the time for the next series of questions. We have just under 15 minutes left and there will be six Deputies contributing on the next group.
6. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he plans to publish a review of the progress made in implementing the programme for Government. [40066/20]
7. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach the mechanism by which his Department will review the progress of the current programme for Government. [41493/20]
8. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he plans to publish a review of the progress made in implementing the programme for Government. [41634/20]
9. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach if he plans to publish a review of the progress made in implementing the programme for Government. [41635/20]
10. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he plans to publish a review of the progress made on implementing the programme for Government. [41647/20]
11. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he plans to publish a review of the progress made in implementing the programme for Government. [42078/20]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 11, inclusive, together.
Alongside the State's response to the Covid-19 pandemic and preparations and planning for Brexit, the Government has been working hard to implement the commitments in the programme for Government across a wide range of issues in all Departments. Departments are currently preparing strategy statements for the next three years, which will define their high level goals and objectives as well as the strategies to be used to achieve them.
These strategy statements will reflect the key national priorities as outlined in the programme for Government. Ten Cabinet committees have been established by this Government reflecting the full range of policy areas it will work on during its lifetime, and which are set out in the programme for Government. Government policy is formulated and implemented through this Cabinet committee structure. Cabinet committees meet regularly, consistent with the provisions in the programme for Government.
Some of the key programme for Government commitments that have been progressed in the past four months or so include ongoing monitoring and management of the impact of Covid-19 on the provision of both Covid and non-Covid healthcare, the launch of the HSE's winter plan, which is supported by the allocation of an additional €600 million this year; the establishment of shared island unit in my Department - its work is under way; the launch of the job stimulus package in July; the establishment of a unit in my Department to help co-ordinate future social dialogue; the achievement of a number of key climate action commitments, including the publication of the draft text of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2020; the allocation of €3 billion in budget 2021 for housing along with additional funding in the July stimulus package; the announcement of a €118 million skills package as part of budget 2021 to help workers to reskill and retrain in certain areas; the announcement of a €121 million budget package for Tusla for direct provision services for youth and childcare services and for Traveller and Roma community initiatives; the announcement of a suite of support for the arts and culture sector; and ongoing negotiations at European Council level deal with the multi-annual financial framework, the seven-year budget for the EU and the next generation EU recovery package. I anticipate the Government will publish a progress report on the implementation of the programme for Government in the new year.
I believe the Taoiseach is guilty of quite cynical obfuscation around the question of student nurses to try to cover up the reality of the refusal to pay student nurses and midwives for the work they do. Part of that is the suggestion they are not really doing work. I will outline a few examples from a student midwife:
I've dressed and laid out babies who have passed away to be shown to their parents for the first time. I've cried with women who have been told that their baby has died while they are alone in hospitals with the current restrictions. I have taken a caseload of 12 women and babies recently to cover for staff who are out sick without having time to use the bathroom, and only half an hour break.
I could go on. When those student nurses listened to the radio this morning and heard the Government had agreed a pay increase, it rubbed salt in their wound because the pay increase agreed by the Government is not for them. The Taoiseach is going to continue to refuse them. Instead, it is for the judges. Across the board, therefore, there are pay increases for the judges of 2%. For Supreme Court judges, which includes Mr. Justice Séamus Woulfe, that is worth €4,000 per year. It is quite a substantial Christmas present for them and a lump of coal for student nurses.
We are talking about a small group of approximately 4,000 student nurses helping to keep our health service running during this crisis. We can afford to pay them a living wage but refuse to do that. Even the fourth-year students are on less than the minimum at wage, a fact the Taoiseach does not talk about. He must backtrack now. He should agree to pay them.
I ask each speaker to keep to the time because there will only be a minute left for the Taoiseach to respond.
The programme for Government commits to investigate the provision of domestic violence paid leave. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, has also called on the Government to ratify the International Labour Organisation, ILO, convention No. 190 on violence and harassment in the world of work.
Article 18 of the accompanying recommendation details measures Governments should take to mitigate the impacts of domestic violence at work, which includes leave for the victims of domestic violence, flexible work arrangements and the inclusion of domestic violence in workplace risk assessments. ICTU has also called on employers to work with trade unions to develop workplace policies to ensure appropriate supports are in place.
We know the emotional and psychological cost of domestic and gender-based violence is devastating. There is, however, also a significant economic cost, which includes the cost of services such as health and justice as well as lost productivity and absenteeism.
There is also a need to mainstream workplace awareness of domestic violence. Managers need guidance on how to recognise the signs of domestic abuse and how to respond to a staff member's disclosure. Workplace policies can assist co-workers to support their colleagues, and most critically, work can provide a safe and supportive environment for victims of abuse.
Will the Government parties support Sinn Féin's domestic violence paid leave legislation to Committee Stage? What consideration has the Taoiseach given to the ILO convention No. 190? Will the Taoiseach come back regarding the review of the programme for Government and whether that will be published in the new year? I missed that.
First, the Solidarity-People Before Profit motion on student nurses was drawn up in direct consultation with hundreds of nurses at meetings we organised online . It was, therefore, their words, not ours. When the Taoiseach insults the motion they effectively wrote, he is insulting them. He is also insulting their intelligence when he plays politics because the following are his words to me on 20 October in terms of:
... student nurses working on the wards in the current context. As they were earlier, they should be paid in accordance with the agreement arrived at earlier in the year. I will follow up on that.
That was just six weeks ago. As for the nonsense that their education is being protected, Melissa said:
Seeing as I am regularly moved away from my preceptor to another nurse in a different section of the ward because the second nurse in that section has called in sick, do you think my education is the priority in that decision? Do you think I am doing real work?
That is directly to the Taoiseach. Róisín has worked four nights in a row on a ward so understaffed she had a patient load of seven and there was no shadowing or supervision. When one of the seven patients became aggressive towards her with their dinner knife, she was told it was "her responsibility to call security and the doctor as they were her patient". Will the Taoiseach admit that this is work and commit to paying her for this work? I could go on. He is invited to the next meeting with those student nurses if he wants to talk directly to them.
The Taoiseach said earlier that if the nurses are working, they should be paid. This morning, he said that he does not believe they should be working, or perhaps, it is the other way around. He has, however, said they should be paid if they are working and he does not believe they should be working. He must verify it. I am shocked that he has not verified it because the HSE is telling him that is not the case. He has not, however, verified it; we have.
We have spoken to hundreds of people like Zara, a second-year student nurse who does a 13-hour shift with a one-hour break. She does everything from emptying bedpans to washing patients, taking their vitals to comforting them.
Linda is second-year student on placement. Her preceptor was a ward manager, which meant that as ward manager, her preceptor was in meetings all day. She was left unsupervised. She started at 7.30 a.m. and finished at 8.30 p.m.. She washed and recorded observation of ten patients daily. I call that work. I do not know what the Taoiseach calls it but I call that physical, stressful, vital and important work.
The Taoiseach seems to be taking this debate about their education out of the context of a severe shortage of staffing in our hospitals in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis. The Covid-19 crisis has not gone away. The hospitals are short-staffed. In fact, in Linda's case, they were told later that one of the nurses had rung in sick and the response of the ward manager was to say they were not going to get cover because they had a student nurse. That is what is going on. Will the Taoiseach verify that, please?
Government Senators will also have an opportunity to show where they stand on the issue of student nurses as my colleague, Senator Annie Hoey, has published a Bill that will be going through the Seanad to legislate for student nurses to be paid while they are doing their training. It is an even different perspective on it, which will give the Taoiseach a new opportunity to do what is right. We all know what is right. The Taoiseach, however, will have an opportunity again next week.
With regard to the programme for Government, basically, a range of different deadlines have been missed. I particularly want to ask the Taoiseach about three different ones. Can we get some detail on where we are as regards the retrofitting of homes? We all know the climate change Bill is being delayed with regard to climate change targets, many of which have been missed despite the Green Party being in government.
Where is the Government at on the promise to prioritise early diagnosis interventions for those with disabilities? I have raised this issue numerous times previously. Where is the Government at on commitments to look at non-statutory sick pay?
Last week, the Arcadia group of companies went into liquidation, with 900 jobs on the line. Clearly, a retail jobs massacre is under way in this country. I believe that the Government should intervene to save jobs. If it does not, Mandate, the shop workers' union, needs to consider a one-day national strike to put pressure on the Government on this issue.
There is also a broader issue in society. I have just come from a meeting of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, where we heard from representatives of banking workers that 6,000 jobs in the banking sector are potentially on the line. There should be, and could be, a debate and a discussion in the trade union movement in this country at Irish Congress of Trade Unions level about a one-day national strike of all workers to put pressure on the Government on the issues of jobs and workers' rights.
There is also the question of decent redundancy. There must be no more workers cheated out of their redundancy rights in the way that there has been an attempt to so do with the Debenhams workers. The programme for Government states that it will aim to improve workers' rights in respect of liquidations. The Taoiseach gave me an update on that recently but there is fresh urgency with the latest round of redundancies and I am looking for an update on the position.
The Taoiseach has just two and a half minutes to respond to all the Deputies.
To respond to Deputy Paul Murphy on the student nurses issue, and to Deputy Bríd Smith, who asked me what I would call what happened, I call it an instance of abuse of student nurses. It should not happen in our hospitals-----
It is happening.
It should not happen, and in my view, it calls into question the very essence of what the nursing degree programme was about. In my view, the HSE should be written to. I do not know whether complaints have been made to the HSE in respect of those individual cases but if not, they should have been and someone should pursue that on behalf of those student nurses. It is not acceptable in any shape or form. Particularly the case that Deputy Murphy spoke about, which presumably was in the maternity wards, should not happen. No undergraduate student should ever be put in that position. That is what the anger should be about-----
They are all being put in that position.
They should never be put-----
They are all being put in that position.
Let me speak. I listened to the Deputy. They should never be put in that position. I am of a view that if someone is told to work a roster, he or she should be paid for working that roster. If we allow that to happen, we will undermine the whole basis of the degree programme - that is the point. We should not allow lazy or wrong practices by those who are meant to supervise and be in charge in our hospitals. They are resolutely denying that, by the way, and nursing directors up and down the country are saying that is not happening. There is an issue here. The directors of nurses have been asked and are saying this is not happening in their hospitals. The point is-----
The issue is staff shortages.
-----1,400 additional nurses have been employed and recruited since Covid began. That is not the excuse. It should not be an excuse-----
The issue is staff shortages.
Undergraduate students should never be abused like that. That was not the purpose of the nursing degree programme. That is a very important point. Otherwise, we are regressing backwards to earlier times from which we thought we had sprung free. We invested a great deal in a nursing degree programme to make it better for younger generations to apply for and study nursing, and to aspire to have a nursing degree and a postgraduate degree as well. That was the whole purpose of it. That is why I am saying now-----
What about the Taoiseach's words six weeks ago?
-----that in addition to the reviews of allowances that will happen before the end of December, and in addition to the pandemic unemployment payment, pay for fourth-year nursing students will also be reviewed. The results of that will be available in November and we will pay higher allowances after those reviews. Of that I am certain.
And back pay for people who have been working.
Equally, however, and separate to that, there should be a comprehensive review now of the degree programme and how it is operating on the ground. Deputy Boyd Barrett talked about the preceptors and he is correct. A whole range of management posts were created and resourced by the State to supervise the degree programme in our hospitals for a reason, namely, to prevent the exploitation and abuse of student nurses in wards.
I am sorry but we are well over time.
I apologise that I could not get to all the questions.
I will send the Taoiseach an invitation to that meeting. He can meet a few student nurses. They are good people to talk to.