I ask for the co-operation of Deputies because there is a long list, and we hope we will get through it. We will start with Sinn Féin. I call Deputy Doherty.
Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation
Yesterday, during Leaders' Questions, an Teachta McDonald raised with the Taoiseach the issue of family carers and the failure to set out a specific place for them in the Covid-19 vaccination programme given the vital front-line care they provide. We in this House know that family carers look after vulnerable loved ones with compassion and love. Their value is immeasurable.
In response to Deputy McDonald, the Taoiseach said that the Minister for Health had written to the national immunisation advisory committee, NIAC, regarding a re-examination of the sequencing of vaccination, and it was his understanding that NIAC would be responding to that query last night. Has it done so? Will family carers now be afforded clarity regarding their place on the Covid-19 vaccination programme?
I thank the Deputy. I checked before I came into the House and, to the best of my knowledge, NIAC has not yet come back to us on that matter. It is under consideration, however. As we move down the list to more and more groups of people, we have asked NIAC to give consideration to groups that could be prioritised, not just family carers but also people under 70 who may have a medical condition, transplant patients, people who are immunosuppressed, cancer patients and people with cystic fibrosis. There are, therefore, a number of groups we have asked NIAC to give consideration to. As of this morning, it had not come back to us about it. Perhaps it came back to the Minister for Health and it did not get to me, but we will let people know as soon as we can.
I welcome from the Tánaiste's live-streamed parliamentary party meeting yesterday the fact he is taking on board what I brought up ten months ago regarding compensating front-line workers. I am glad he has agreed with that.
I want to raise a specific issue with the Tánaiste regarding mass vaccination clinics and who will do the work. Nurse on Call has put out the pay rates it has been offered to hire people in to do vaccinations in these clinics. Frankly speaking, looking at the rates, the take-home pay for many would be around the minimum wage. A number of people who are qualified to do this work, that is, retired nurses and other qualified people, have told me they are not now going to do the work in the vaccination centres.
It would make more sense for them to continue to work for one day per week in some other facility. We could have a real issue with this. Like with the student nurses, why are we going out for this most important HR solution for vaccinations and not paying people a decent wage for the length of time it will take?
I do not have any detail on the different pay rates being offered to people who will be working in the vaccination centres, but like I said, we will have a subcommittee on Covid this afternoon and I will take that up with the HSE then.
I want to follow up on the question from Deputy Bríd Smith on the mother and baby homes commission. On the one hand, the Tánaiste said the Government knows there is a flaw in the system and that once these commissions hand over their reports they dissolve and the Government is left answering questions for them. On the other hand, the Tánaiste is saying he will not extend the commission. It is within the remit of the Government to change that legislation, to change the date and to extend that commission. The Social Democrats have drafted a Bill to that effect and we would love it if the Government would support it. Otherwise, the Government should bring in its own legislation and we will support that but it is important that it is done. Everyone acknowledges that, in October, the Government completely mishandled the legislation on the mother and baby homes issue. It is walking back into the exact same situation again in which survivors will be let down.
I am not saying we will not extend it. I am saying that the Minister is giving that consideration. If we do extend it, we want to know that it will serve a purpose and help us solve the problem that has arisen around deleted audio recordings. We do not know if they are recoverable and an answer to that question would be helpful.
There seems to be a push to get all the kids back to school and it is understandable that people want that. It was said in yesterday's Irish Independent that it has figures that show that the cohort of people next most susceptible to Covid during the third wave are young people, from ages 16 to 18, and so reopening the schools has huge implications. Has the Government ensured that the work was done to make our schools safe? I mention the size of the classrooms. Have we acquired more spaces so that children and young people can be spaced out further away from each other? Have we employed more teachers so that we can guarantee that the class sizes are smaller? Have we dealt with the question of ventilation in the classroom? We are told that 80% of our schools have poor ventilation and we have had nine months or, arguably, a whole year to do this work. How much of it has been done?
A lot of extra staff have been hired and a lot of resources have been provided to schools to adapt to Covid by purchasing screens, sanitisers and all of those things. A lot has been done in that regard. The advice we have from NPHET and our public health doctors and scientists is that schools are safe places but no place is 100% safe. Any place in which people are going to interact carries a certain risk. We have to bear in mind, however, the high risk of denying children and young adults their education, the opportunity to meet other young people and the opportunity to develop. We have to bear that in mind in any decisions that we make. The World Health Organization has been strong on that matter too. It strongly argues that the last thing that should be done is to close schools and the first places to be opened are schools because of the wider benefits of that.
I am looking for the Government to intervene on promised legislation. In the programme for Government, the Central Bank (Amendment) Bill 2018 is due for pre-legislative scrutiny in the autumn. Will the Tánaiste give an update on this Bill? The reason I am looking for this update is due to the fact that many of the main banks are reneging on loan approvals for PAYE workers whose employers avail of the Government's temporary wage subsidy scheme. It will be disgraceful if banks are allowed to get away with this. Many of these workers are in desperate need of a home for themselves, and in many cases, their families. They have done everything that was asked of them. They have saved for their deposits, paid their deposits, got their loan approvals in principle and it is just when they are ready to close that they are told by the banks that their loan approvals are no longer valid. I have spoken to people in Dundalk and there is a real anger about this. We all know the banks received help when they needed it and the taxpayers of this country are still paying a heavy price. I am asking the Tánaiste and his Government to intervene. I know the Tánaiste is meeting the Minister for Finance today-----
I am told there is no date yet for that Bill but I will take up the matter with the Minister for Finance today when I speak to him. We need to be frank and honest with people. Banks have a responsibility to engage in prudent lending and they should only lend money to people or businesses where there is a reasonable confidence that they will be able to pay it back. The Deputy talked about the banks being helped out in the past and the reason they had to be helped out or bailed out in the past was because they lent a lot of money to a lot of people and businesses that could not pay it back. It is not in anyone's interest for us to have a repeat of that. Because people have lost their jobs and because so many people have seen their incomes fall, the truth is that there are people who might have been able to service a loan a year ago who might not be able to now or in a year's time. We need to be honest with people about these things.
There are almost 30,000 families, homes, businesses and schools waiting for broadband in Tipperary, according to National Broadband Ireland, NBI. A recent response I got to a parliamentary question told me that there were 8,000 surveyed in Tipperary, which means that 21,000 were not surveyed. These people are trying to work, do business, get education, pursue leisure and do everything, so when will the roll-out of broadband be accelerated? The Tánaiste mentioned the banks and so on doing business online now, but the Government is not thinking about people in rural Ireland who cannot access broadband and who have no idea when they will be able to access it. We are talking about a four-year roll-out. When will it be accelerated for these people to be able to work from home like the Tánaiste says people can in Dublin? The Tánaiste is fortunate with that in his constituency but people in rural Ireland are entitled to fair play as well.
Most people do their banking online and they do it on their phones, and one does not need broadband for that. If the Deputy asks around in his constituency and community, people will tell him they mainly do their banking on their phones. Leaving that aside, I will meet NBI in the coming weeks to discuss the acceleration of the national broadband plan. As the Deputy knows, this is a huge investment of €3 billion in rural Ireland. A contract was signed by the previous Government and was opposed by most other Members of this House. I am glad they no longer oppose it and that they want it to be accelerated. That is exactly what I will be talking to the company about. It involves 100,000 homes, farms and businesses being connected every year for the next six or seven years. If it can be speeded up, it will be speeded up. The political will and the money are there to do it but I understand this is a huge technical operation and it can only be done as quickly as it can be done.
I want to go back over the exchange the Tánaiste had on Ulster Bank during Leader's Questions and the difficulties that will happen tomorrow when NatWest announces its decision on Ulster Bank. It is vitally important that Ulster Bank is maintained to generate that third force within the banking industry in Ireland. The Minister for Finance is not an innocent bystander in this. We own a 75% stake in Permanent TSB so we can go in and say that we can take over the retail responsibilities of the bank and provide that third force. We should be putting that up to Ulster Bank or NatWest to make sure that is within their consideration, and that is vitally important. I would ask that the Tánaiste would ask the Minister for Finance to make sure that is done so that we can manage our own move away from the banking system.
As I said earlier on, the development of a third banking force that is able to compete with Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Banks, AIB, would be welcome. It is something the Government would support but any decision on Ulster Bank will be a commercial decision for NatWest. With anything we do in trying to put together a third or a new banking force, we would have to make sure that entity would be successful, viable, profitable and in a position to compete with Bank of Ireland and AIB. That would mean taking on the strong aspects. We would not want to set up a third banking force to fail. We would want to make sure we get it right.
Millions of euro is after being spent in Bandon on water and sewerage infrastructure but serious questions have to be asked of Irish Water as sewage is entering some properties on the New Road area in Bandon in recent weeks, especially over the past weekend.
I have spoken to residents who are to say the least angry to have their homes destroyed by sewage. It looks like pipes laid are the wrong size and urgent works are required to remedy this mess. There is likely that the untreated raw sewage will also enter the Bridewell river in Bandon. All this is extremely concerning for the people of Bandon whose businesses have been shockingly disrupted for a number of years. This water and sewerage scheme needs to get done urgently and properly, and get business and residents' lives back to some kind of normality after years of disruption. Will the Tánaiste personally intervene on this urgent matter with Irish Water or the Minister to help save these homes in Bandon from being destroyed with raw sewage again?
I am very sorry to hear what people in Bandon are experiencing. I visited after floods a couple of years ago and spoke to many of the business people and residents. The flood works that have happened there have produced some benefits but the problems are far from resolved. I will certainly undertake to inform the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, that this was raised here in the Chamber today and ask him or Irish Water to come back to the Deputy with more information.
Once again, I would like to bring up the issue of the acceleration of the national broadband plan. I welcome the Government commitment in relation to this. I had a meeting with National Broadband Ireland, NBI. It dealt with a number of issues that it said were probably hampering the acceleration. One of the issues relates to Safe Pass. In fairness, I dealt with this on Thursday last here. It looks like that issue has been dealt with. That was impacting on contractors coming in.
There is a different formation of planning permission permits that the company is looking for. At times, the company will have a plan, there will be a change of a pole and then suddenly the company has to put in fresh application that could hold it up, whether by Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, or the local authority, anywhere between two days and eight weeks. That is something we need sorted. It possibly needs a moratorium on the tree-trimming ban.
I was second on the list yesterday. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle took down my name. Members have stood up here today who were behind me on the list yesterday. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae was first. I was second on that list. I was here at 9.30 a.m. Nine of us stood in a queue yesterday and Members have spoken before me.
The Deputy is using up time. I am going through a list here. If there has been a mistake, we will make it up to the Deputy at some point. Please resume your seat. This is 30 minutes where I meticulously go through a list that is front of me. If I could have the Deputy's co-operation, I would appreciate that. I call Deputy Carthy on the same issue. The next Member on the same issue will be Deputy Bruton, and then Deputy McNamara.
On the national broadband plan, the Tánaiste this morning directed people who wanted to find out when it is estimated that they will be connected to the national broadband to a page on the Fine Gael website. I would like to ask the Tánaiste if he or his party have consulted with the Data Protection Commissioner as to the legality of this. This is clearly a data harvesting project on the part of Fine Gael. They are using information that is freely available on a public website - a website that the taxpayers pay for - and yet, on the Fine Gael website, there is information being sought that is not necessarily-----
I thank the Deputy.
-----on the NBI website and there is an obligation to sign up to receive information from Fine Gael. I would like to ask the Tánaiste if he has asserted to the legality of the Fine Gael actions.
If Deputy Carthy will not co-operate, I do not mind. I am sitting in the Chair doing my best. The Deputy is allowed contribute briefly and if he speaks for a longer time, other Deputies are deprived.
On the same issue, I congratulate the Tánaiste for the vision in bringing forward this plan in the teeth of opposition from many quarters, including the party who has just spoken. These visionary projects are hard to get through. Can the Tánaiste give an indication that the NDP and new economic plan will represent a watershed where we will see a similar visionary position taken on offshore renewable energy, on land use, on forestry and on the potential ICT revolution that the broadband plan can trigger?
There are other people waiting for the national broadband plan to be connected. Among those, there is a smaller cohort who are just a half a kilometre down the road from where the existing Eir connection ends. Is there anything as part of the plan that can be done to incentivise Eir or other providers to take in a group, within, what I accept is, another half a kilometre, when a sizeable number of people can be connected for a very small amount of infrastructural outlay?
I, once again, warmly welcome the absolute 180° U-turn by Sinn Féin and other parties when it comes to the national broadband plan. This was opposed tooth and nail when we signed that contract in 2019 and now nobody wants to cancel it. We had all the usual conspiracy theories and all the rest of it about how the contract came about and who got it and why, and how somehow things could be done quicker and cheaper, but they could not say how. I welcome the fact that Sinn Féin has now totally U-turned on this and is now a supporter of the national broadband plan which it opposed tooth and nail in 2019.
The Deputies asked many good questions and very technical questions about how we can speed up the NBP. As I said, the money is there. The political will is there. I understand there are technical difficulties because it is such a big project. In my capacity as Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, I will meet NBI. I will see what might be done to speed it up and I will take on board the matters that the Deputies have raised in that regard.
I want to, again, raise the issue of the Educate Together secondary school on the Mill Road in east Meath and the Department's plans to move it temporarily for a third time. The current site was specifically chosen to cater for the massive growth in population in the east Meath area and the parents are adamant that they will not be moved again. There is ample land on the current site to expand and if the Department was not using Google Maps and carried out an on-site inspection, it would see that clearly. At this stage, because we have not heard a peep from the Minister, would the Tánaiste request that the Department make contact and arrange a meeting between the Department, Meath County Council, Educate Together and the Minister to resolve this matter-----
I thank the Deputy.
-----and request that the Department carry out an on-site-----
I thank the Deputy and call the Tánaiste.
I thank Deputy Munster. The Deputy raised this issue last week or the week before. On foot of that, I have written to the Minister, Deputy Foley, and have asked her to take up the matter directly with the Deputy. I do not know the details of the school project but it is important that proper consultation happens with all of the people affected.
I would also like to raise the issue about Covid-19 vaccines for family carers. Carers who work for the HSE and private providers will be a priority. However, the State equally depends on family carers but the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, stated that family carers are not seen as a distinct cohort. This was very hurtful to family carers. They care 24-7 with no days off, no breaks, no shift changes and little rest. I have been contacted by many courageous family carers, such as Ms Jane Johnson from Wexford, a loving mother with two sons with special needs, who said, "It is time to embrace their diversity." Family carers feel that they are on the outskirts of society and unseen and unvalued. Family carers are very concerned about who will take on their caring duties should they themselves have to isolate. We are told that the allocation groups can be revised and re-examined. I would appeal to the Government to start seeing and valuing family carers in giving them equal status as their fellow carers in priority 2.
As I mentioned earlier, we have asked the national immunisation advisory council to consider that and to give us advice as to whether we could prioritise family carers, for the reasons that the Deputy said, but not just them. We have asked it to consider other groups too, such as those with cystic fibrosis, CF, and people who are immunocompromised, for example, people who have transplants.
It would be remiss of me not to raise my concerns here about the commemoration being organised by Sinn Féin in Wexford, in the Deputy's constituency, in relation to the Edward O'Brien bus bomb. This is a deeply offensive commemoration.
I thank the Tánaiste.
The family do not support it and our Defence Forces-----
This is a disgraceful abuse of the House.
I thank the Tánaiste. I would ask him for his co-operation.
Our Defence Forces would be particularly offended that the term "Óglaigh na h-Éireann" is being used in relation to this.
I am trying my best to keep the time.
I call on Sinn Féin to disassociate itself from the commemoration, to call for it to be cancelled-----
I am moving on. I call Deputy Clarke.
-----and to condemn the violent crime which this bus bomb was.
Last April, in-person assessments for the primary medical certificate ceased because of Covid-19 restrictions.
While everyone could see the need for that at the time, we now need a clear plan to address the backlog in assessments. The Tánaiste has spoken about being frank and honest with people when it comes to their local banks closing down. Will he be frank and honest with these people, who have severe and permanent disabilities, and say whether all steps in the recruitment of new staff will be taken to ensure these assessments happen in the shortest time possible?
Due to the suspension of primary medical certificate assessments in the second half of last year and their reinstatement just last month, approximately 1,500 people are now on the waiting list for an assessment. Alleviating this backlog could be achieved by increasing on a temporary basis the number of medical officers in the HSE to assess applications. However, I believe that current medical officers are now engaged in the vaccine roll-out and are not performing assessments, which will lead to further delays. Many of the people who are waiting will be prisoners in their own homes until they receive their assessments and can access the disabled drivers and passengers scheme. This situation is restricting their independence and can have a negative impact on their mental health.
I have written to the Minister about conducting a walkability audit and ensuring that correct disability parking spaces are installed-----
This is not on the same issue.
-----rather than just parking spaces with disability signs. We wrote to the Minister seeking for him to provide funding so that a walkability audit could be carried out on behalf of people with different types of disability and limited mobility in Cork city, but it should be done in every constituency.
I appreciate that the backlog in primary medical certificate assessments is causing a great deal of distress for hundreds of people across the country. It has been raised with my constituency office as well. I will make contact with the HSE to see if anything can be done to speed up matters. It is important that the assessments be done.
As Deputy Bruton has already spoken, I will call Deputy Cullinane.
I do not believe my question was answered.
I can do nothing about that for the Deputy. He will have to take the matter up-----
My question was not answered.
I am sorry, but I am moving on to Deputy Cullinane.
For the record, when Deputy Bruton was a Minister, he answered all of our questions.
Let me just say-----
Deputies, please. The clock is running.
I wish to raise the issue of a university for the south east. A number of meetings are taking place with Oireachtas Members from Waterford, the local chamber of commerce and a campaign group in Waterford. I raised this issue with the Tánaiste last week and I will repeat what I said then. It is important that this project be delivered, and I want it to be delivered as quickly as possible, but it has to be consistent with national policy and the national planning framework. Under national policy, Waterford city has to be the catalyst for economic growth. In that context, it is important that the headquarters of the new university be located in Waterford as a university city. Will the Government make a clear commitment to take this issue off the table and ensure we can return to focusing on the necessary capital investment and making the university real?
I also wish to discuss the technological university for the south east. Speaking as a proud Carlow woman, where we have two excellent institutes of technology, those being, Carlow College, St. Patrick's, and Institute of Technology Carlow, we are delighted with the proposed technological university, but we also believe that we should have the headquarters. I do not want this to be a contest between Waterford and Carlow. We must first ensure that we get the technological university, which we are told will happen in January 2022. That is huge. We should all then play our part and look for a headquarters. Like other Deputies, I will be fighting for Carlow and Kilkenny.
I am a great supporter of a technological university for the south east. One of my regrets as Taoiseach in the previous Government is that this is one of the measures we did not get over the line. I am determined that we will get it done and up and running in 2022. While I am strongly of the view that it should be centred in Waterford city and we should use some available sites there to expand the university further, it would be a shame if it got delayed or caught up in a row over where the president's office is or where the headquarters should be. One reason the Munster Technological University and Technological University Dublin have gone ahead is because of the disputes between the various campuses in the south east, which have held up the project. That is a shame. Instead of looking for reasons for rows between Carlow and Waterford and perhaps Kilkenny and Wexford, the best thing we can do for the people of the south east is to set up this technological university as soon as we can and deliver its benefits to the region.
The national and international communities are rightly concerned about Covid. Long may that level of concern continue. However, another issue is emerging across the globe, that of the suppression of human rights. All over Africa, the activities of Boko Haram have become evident. There have been instances of genocide and ethnic cleansing. In Russia, there has been the imprisonment of a main opposition leader. This morning, we heard about the imprisonment of an Irish businessman in China. Lastly, Princess Latifa has been confined and all of the personal freedoms she would have in any democracy have been ignored. Is it now time to ask the EU and the UN to focus on these issues before they become accepted as the norm?
I thank the Deputy for raising these issues. My colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, has done a great deal of work on the case of Mr. Richard O'Halloran and in trying to assist that gentleman and his family. The issues the Deputy raised in respect of others who may be detained are pertinent and ones in which the Government takes an interest. Perhaps the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence may wish to take an interest in them as well.
I thank the Tánaiste.
It has been stressed all along that priority would be given to children with additional needs who attend mainstream schools, yet there was no mention of their inclusion in last night's announcement of a possible return to school on 1 March. Will the Tánaiste assure the House that children with additional needs in mainstream schools will return on 1 March?
To be clear, there is no date set or agreed as yet. What is being planned for is a phased return of schools across March and into the Easter period, starting with sixth years and the youngest years in primary school. That would also include special schools and special classes that are 50% back being back 100%, as they should be.
Taxi drivers received an extension to the ten-year age limit rule last year in light of the pandemic and its continuing impact on the industry. The extension was necessary and welcome. Taxi drivers understood the measure was being further extended to the end of 2021 but it now appears that, instead of being extended further, the measure was replicated. In effect, they could benefit from a one-year extension and then that was it. The implication is twofold. Drivers who have made little or no money in the past 12 months but whose cars fell for renewal last year must now replace their cars. They are also being denied the €150 waiver in respect of the suitability test. Will the Tánaiste engage with the Minister for Transport on these issues, please?
I will take them up with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan. Taxi drivers have suffered more than most in this pandemic. They have experienced a significant loss of income and their vehicles have not been used much in the past year or so. The Deputy's suggestions make sense and I will take them up with the Minister.
I thank the Tánaiste for his co-operation. I have five or six Deputies offering. Some have spoken already, so they are off the list. If Deputies co-operate and take just 30 to 40 seconds for each of their questions, I will get through everyone on the list who has been waiting. We are out of time and I am dependent on Deputies' co-operation.
There are full-time paramedics with the National Ambulance Service Representative Association, NASRA, who have been demanding for nearly a decade the right to be represented by a recognised trade union of their choice, that being, the Psychiatric Nurses Association, PNA. In 2019 when there were shenanigans with confidential documents, they went on strike. They did so because they wanted to be represented by the PNA as the union of their choice but they were refused. We keep hearing that the HSE does not recognise them. I have been told that the Department of Health has engaged with HSE management to see if a resolution to the dispute can be progressed. No solution has yet been found. In the interests of these workers, who have been on the front line during the pandemic, is it not appropriate that they be recognised?
I thank the Deputy. I am afraid I do not have an update on this. My understanding is that the NASRA, which is associated with the PNA, is not recognised by the HSE because it has existing agreements with another union. I think it is SIPTU but I am not 100% sure. I will certainly ask the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, to provide an update for the Deputy.
In 2019, when the Tánaiste was the Taoiseach, he made a very welcome apology to the victims of child sex abuse in day schools. It was very much appreciated. We are now in February 2021. The Tánaiste is aware that at the time, the ex gratia scheme was not fit for purpose. In the absence of the completion of the ongoing review of that scheme, will the Tánaiste intervene in the Creagh Lane case in Limerick and resolve it? Recently, the Taoiseach met students who attended the school in my constituency and made commitments to them publicly and privately. Their complaint is crystal clear and has been proven in court. Will the Tánaiste intervene and honour the commitments to these survivors? I ask him not to hide behind the review. As I have said previously, it is not needed in the Creagh Lane case.
I thank the Deputy. I have read about the case but I am not an expert on it. I want to be careful about what I say on such a sensitive issue. I know that after the apology I made as Taoiseach we made offers to ten or 16 people, most of whom accepted them, but there are now difficulties with people who did not apply for the ex gratia scheme at the time because they believed they would not be eligible. What we will probably have to do is reopen the scheme or re-establish it. I know that work is ongoing by the Department of Education.
I will be as brief as possible. The Government states it will embed ageing-in-place options for older people in the planning system as the county and city development plans are drawn up this year. Has any directive been issued to local authorities regarding this? What are the Government's plans to address the matter?
I am not aware of a directive on this matter but I will check it out and come back to the Deputy.
As the Tánaiste knows, we are reaching the endgame on Ulster Bank and the imminent decision we expect from NatWest. Obviously, Ulster Bank is at a crossroads. Earlier, the Tánaiste mentioned the need to consider a third banking force in the context of Irish banking and the Irish economy. It seems that an obvious partner for Ulster Bank's assets and business would potentially be Permanent TSB. I say this because we can use our significant influence as the major shareholder of Permanent TSB to leverage a positive outcome for Irish workers and Irish business and seek to break the Bank of Ireland and AIB duopoly. We know we have issues with competition in this country. It is not just, of course, because we have a limited number of banks in the market as there are also other issues. Will the Tánaiste comment on how he sees the proposition of a third banking force developing over the next period of time?
I understand where the Deputy is going with this but I am constrained by stock market rules in what I can say in this regard. What I will say is, as I said earlier, that the Government supports the concept of establishing a third banking force with sufficient scale to challenge Bank of Ireland and AIB. We have never really had that in Ireland and it would be a good thing to have it. We also need to make sure we get it right. The last thing we want to establish is a third banking force that is weak at birth. It needs to be strong and this needs to be borne in mind in any decision that we make.
Will the national task force for vaccinations review the Limerick situation? We will have a very good facility in the Radisson but it is based in County Clare. The task force needs to look at the provision of another vaccination centre within the area of Limerick City and County Council. I note there is provision for a review and for additional capacity to be provided. I ask that the Tánaiste requests the national task force for vaccinations to look into the matter.
I also want to highlight that the mass vaccination centre announced for Limerick is in County Clare. The racecourse in Limerick, which is off the motorway, was offered. The HSE called out and saw it but never got back to it. The greyhound track was offered but again it was not chosen. People from Kilbehenny, Galbally and Abbeyfeale will have to travel for an hour and then go outside the county bounds to a vaccination centre. Why is this when venues in County Limerick were offered? People came back to me and said it is because there is racing going on. There are no spectators at racing. The racecourse said it could facilitate it. It has two exits and two entrances. It was not accepted but the vaccination centre was put in County Clare and we will have people travelling one hour and leaving the county to go to a vaccination centre. This does not make sense.
I thank the Deputies. The list of mass vaccination centres is not exhaustive. There may be additional centres or centres that are open for a few weeks in one area and then moved to another area so that a large county can be catered for and perhaps this can include Limerick. I want to make the point very clearly that the list is not exhaustive and there may be additional centres. It is also important that people appreciate that many people, if not the majority of people, will not get the vaccine in a mass vaccination centre but in their local GP practice or primary care centre. They may even get it in their local community hospital or local pharmacy. It is not the case that everyone or even most people will have to travel far at all because the vaccines will be provided through GP surgeries, primary care centres and community pharmacies. In some cases, the National Ambulance Service may even go out to remote locations and provide vaccines in remote areas such as islands.
This system is very inadequate. On Wednesday morning, from 9.30 a.m. people were queueing around the chair of the Ceann Comhairle waiting for the opportunity to join the list. A number of hours later, they got the opportunity to speak. We need to devise a process whereby people can signal in advance their desire to raise a question and there is some selection procedure, perhaps by lottery, for them. Even from the point of view of social distancing it is not appropriate. While we are all getting used to queueing, it is not a good use of Members' time to have to physically come in here to get in a queue of this nature.
I wish to speak on a similar matter.
Deputy O'Donnell has already spoken but he can continue.
I agree with my colleague. I have raised this matter with the Ceann Comhairle. We need a process for the Order of Business whereby people have certainty in being able to function and being able to raise issues of the day. It is an issue I have raised previously and I support my colleague, Deputy Bruton.
I share some of the dissatisfaction expressed by the Deputies. I note that at least one of them had a second opportunity to come in. It is very rare for some of us even to get one opportunity. That aside, there is scope for us to look at the system. It is deeply frustrating. We know the reasons there have to be constraints but I caution that any system needs to be reflective of the relative size of the Government to the Opposition parties and it has to be fair. The Business Committee should be alerted to this and should be able to come up with some system. I do not think there is any dispute between us that there is no great satisfaction with the system but we can improve it and ensure all Deputies get a fair go.
I agree with all of the speakers. If half an hour was designated for Questions on Promised Legislation only, with the Government business agreed and done outside of that half an hour, people in the rota would be able to get in. As I said earlier, I was second on the list but I was overlooked. I take it that I was overlooked and that is fine and I got an opportunity to come in. I was there at 9.30 a.m. yesterday and ten Deputies in the Chamber today said I was there but I was off the list for some reason. I accept mistakes can be made but we need a system whereby half an hour is given just for promised legislation so that people on the list are gone through efficiently.
It is absolutely wonderful to see the interest there is in participating in Questions on Promised Legislation but it is not just questions on promised legislation. It is questions very often on whatever you are having yourself. I am very conscious of the fact that none of my predecessors would have had lists or would ever have answered questions in the House about what criteria they applied for the selection of people.
I have tried, as has the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, in the past and present Dáil to list people on the basis on which they have indicated. The Dáil reform committee, appreciating the point that each Deputy has made, has looked on several occasions, most recently this week, at how we might deal more efficiently with this, along the lines that Deputy Bruton set out. We have yet to reach agreement. In fact, at the next meeting of the reform committee a proposal from the Sinn Féin Party and the Government will be looked at. It is be hoped that out of that will come a more satisfactory system.