An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The House has agreed that for the duration of the Covid-19 emergency only, the rapporteur's report of the Business Committee will be taken as read. Arising from it, there are just two proposals to be considered. Is the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business agreed to?

In the last couple of hours, I have been informed by the four national representative taxi groups that the Garda has banned their planned protest, which was due to take place outside Leinster House tomorrow, on Merrion Street. This is a shocking development. There would be no threat to public health because the taxi drivers were going to be in their cars. That was clearly outlined to the Garda, yet the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, has banned the protest on public health grounds. Given that the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2021 is up for debate today and the acting Minister for Justice will be in the House, I request that she make a statement on whether this interpretation of the public health guidelines to ban a legitimate and safe protest by taxi drivers is in line with the Government's view of public health guidelines. She should also find out what on earth Drew Harris thought he was doing in using public health as an excuse to ban a legitimate protest by taxi drivers.

It would be a most unusual step for the House to intervene in any way in an operational matter for An Garda Síochána.

I wish to speak on the same issue. I have been contacted by taxi drivers from Tipperary who planned to come to Dublin in their cars tomorrow. They have been wiped out by the "condemic". It might be an unusual step for us to raise this here but these are unusual times. Are we living in a totally totalitarian state whereby we cannot protest safely in cars? This is unbelievable. We saw what happened in County Longford at the weekend in a church. It is disgraceful. Are we going back to the time of Hitler and the Nazis? What the hell is going on here? We must pull up Drew Harris, the Garda Síochána boss man. I do not like these antics. I support An Garda Síochána always but this is driving people away from supporting the Garda. We need to have a debate on it here.

Some 45 minutes has been scheduled on Thursday for the Opposition to engage on the national marine planning framework, NMPF. As the Taoiseach knows, serious concern was conveyed to the Government through the Business Committee from a range of Opposition Members, including Sinn Féin.

The NMPF is a major planning framework. It has legal consequences for our coastal communities, inshore fishermen, environmental NGOs and a range of organisations that want to have their say and come before the Oireachtas committee to do so. Rather than facilitate that discussion through the Oireachtas committee, the Government is going to ram the framework through, with five minutes speaking time allocated to each Opposition party. It is completely wrong.

I appeal to the Taoiseach, at this late hour, to put the debate back for another week and allow the environmental NGOs and inshore fishermen to have their say on this matter and advise us of the problems that might exist. It is much too important to be rushing through. I appeal to the Taoiseach to put the debate back, at least for another week, to allow for proper consultation, rather than rushing it through with minimum scrutiny tomorrow.

On the same point, a 45-minute debate on this motion is entirely insufficient. There has been a lack of scrutiny of the national marine planning framework. It is a highly significant framework, which has major implications for our marine environment, those who work in fisheries and renewable energy. It is highly regrettable that the Government does not seem to have learned lessons from Derrybrien, where the State is paying out some €15 million in fines for rushing through planning legislation without proper debate and scrutiny. I ask, at this late stage, that the motion be withdrawn and that, when it does come back to the House, proper time is scheduled for the debate and proper participation to give more space for scrutiny.

I thought that was Thursday's business, which is why I was waiting, but now that the issue has been raised, I want to add my voice. It is totally unacceptable that the Government is doing this. Initially, it was to be a motion without debate but it was then changed to provide for a debate of less than an hour on a matter as important as this. I must call this out for what it is. It is simply a case of the Government ramming things through without consultation. If the Government has got itself into trouble in relation to a European directive, that is its difficulty. It should be explained to us.

The framework is too important to deal with in 45 minutes. It has huge implications for the sustainable use of our seas and climate change. If the Government is seriously interested, it must schedule a proper debate on the motion after the committee has considered it. I understand there are two relevant committees. I do not mind which of them deals with this but neither of them has had the opportunity to examine this framework which the Government wants to pass without discussion.

I can see Deputy Cairns indicating, but I can only take one speaker from each group. Deputy Mattie McGrath has spoken already.

I understood this was Thursday's business so I was waiting for that, but as the issue has been taken now, I will speak on it. I wrote to the Ceann Comhairle objecting to this motion being rammed through without debate. Now there is a miserly five minutes for each group. This motion is too important for that. It sends out all the wrong signals to people looking in at how we do business in this House. Like other speakers, I ask that the motion be withdrawn and we have the framework looked at by the committee. The matter is too serious. As Deputy Connolly said, if the Government is in trouble with missing EU deadlines, that is tough. We will all help out the Government but not without debate and proper discussion.

On the taxi situation that has been raised, I have no intention of becoming involved in any operational decisions that have been made. The Government is very conscious of the difficult challenges that taxi drivers have faced as a result of the pandemic, and has provided a number of supports to taxi drivers. I accept that they may not consider them to be sufficient but we have provided them with a range of supports and are prepared to examine their situation again.

I ask Deputy Mattie McGrath to withdraw the remarks he made - he should withdraw them - when he referred to Nazism and Hitler.

It is my opinion.

Gardaí have to make operational decisions. Those operational decisions are made in the unarmed police force in this country that has stood us well and served the country very well throughout the years. That reference should be withdrawn, irrespective of to whom it applies, given the appalling atrocities that Nazis committed and that Hitler committed. We are a far different country from that. It is not good enough that remarks like that would just slip off the tongue in condemning operational decisions that have been taken. It is not good enough for this Parliament and it should not be tolerated.

It should not be tolerated because we are the one country that has been a beacon against fascism since the foundation of the State. We are the one country that brought in a Constitution that was radical in its time, with judicial interpretation, in the middle of the fascist era in the 1930s. We were one of the few countries that did it. A bit of self-awareness and a bit of acknowledgement of where this country has come from is due. The Deputy should withdraw those remarks. They are not good enough.

I pray you spare me the lecture. I will not withdraw the remarks.

In regard to the national marine planning framework, NMPF, Bill, the European maritime spatial planning directive requires all member states to publish and implement marine spatial plans by quarter 1 of 2021. I do not want government by paralysis. We have a cross-Government approach and we have been four years involved in developing Ireland's first marine spatial planning framework. This is good and we need to get moving in terms of the resources and how we protect those resources in our seas, and do it in an orderly way. That is what the national marine planning framework is going to do. It is the marine equivalent of the national planning framework. It sets out a long-term spatial planning framework out to 2040 and gives a clear decision-making framework for marine regulatory bodies over a long term. It is structured under three pillars of forward planning, whether on land or marine, namely, the environmental, the economic and the social pillars. It ranges across all areas of human activity, particularly in terms of aquaculture but also offshore renewable energy. We have talked about offshore renewable energy for a long time. One of the problems is that we do not have this type of planning framework and this type of spatial planning to facilitate it into the future. It will give the Government-----

We cannot really get into the details of this.

In terms of the assertions that have been made, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has made itself available to the Oireachtas joint committee throughout this process. It is not correct to say the legislation is being rushed through. The draft NMPF was launched in November 2019 and officials were invited to appear before the Oireachtas joint committee on 25 March 2021 for a private briefing, as well as appearing before a public sitting of the joint committee for further scrutiny of the NMPF on 6 April. There was scrutiny by the Oireachtas joint committee. The assertion was that there was not.

The fishermen were denied legislative scrutiny.

The Taoiseach, please, without interruption.

The draft NMPF was laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas on 24 March 2021-----

There was no committee scrutiny.

-----and approved by Seanad Éireann on 19 April 2021. It is time for this House to get this country moving on a whole range of areas and stop trying to slow everything down and inject a paralysis into the affairs of the State-----

A paralysis caused by you.

-----which is becoming a feature of what goes on here.

That is an absolutely derisory response.

Is Wednesday's business agreed to?

Deputies

Not agreed. Vótáil.

Question put: "That the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business be agreed to."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 25; Níl, 20; Staon, 0.

  • Berry, Cathal.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carroll MacNeill, Jennifer.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Devlin, Cormac.
  • Duffy, Francis Noel.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Flaherty, Joe.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Higgins, Emer.
  • Lahart, John.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Matthews, Steven.
  • McAuliffe, Paul.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Connor, James.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.
  • Richmond, Neale.

Níl

  • Cairns, Holly.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Connolly, Catherine.
  • Cronin, Réada.
  • Daly, Pa.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kerrane, Claire.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Murphy, Verona.
  • Mythen, Johnny.
  • O'Callaghan, Cian.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Murchú, Ruairí.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Smith, Duncan.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Brendan Griffin and Jack Chambers; Níl, Deputies Cian O'Callaghan and Pádraig Mac Lochlainn.
Question declared carried.

Is the proposal for Thursday's business agreed?

It is not agreed. I held back on speaking to Thursday's business until now. The Ceann Comhairle knows I raised this matter at the Business Committee last Thursday. The idea we will pass a motion on the national marine planning framework on the basis of a 50-minute debate is utterly unacceptable. For the Taoiseach to suggest that we are somehow trying to paralyse the process is utter nonsense. Unless we have proper planning of the marine environment and offshore development, we will end up with the sort of wild west we had in housing that led to the crash. It is happening as we speak and fishermen are being ridden over roughshod in Dublin Bay and the Codling Bank by private companies that have grabbed the offshore and that are only interested in profit. There is no proper regulation in this regard. There are serious threats to biodiversity in the offshore, particularly the near offshore. This matter requires proper scrutiny and it should not just come under one committee; any committee with an interest in it should be allowed to scrutinise it and stakeholders should be allowed to give evidence. The idea that the Government would try to push this through with no debate at all or, as is the case now, with five minutes for each party to contribute, is completely unacceptable.

I reiterate, in reference to a previous matter, that the taxi drivers would have been in their cars. An operational decision was not made in this regard. Rather, it what is happening is political policing. We should have a statement from the Minister for Justice about this matter.

The Deputy made that point already.

I object in the strongest possible terms to the way in which the marine planning framework is being dealt with. I also flatly dispute the Taoiseach's presentation of how the committee has dealt with the matter. The draft plan, which will have a legally binding effect on our marine territory, which is seven times the size of our landmass, was only published a number of weeks ago. The committee had one very detailed briefing from officials from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. I thank them for that. Members of the committee wanted one further scrutiny session.

We wanted the national inshore fishermen to make a presentation to the committee and to hear from environmental non-governmental organisations which have concerns about marine biodiversity. We proposed that this could take place during the recess week when the committee was not meeting. If that had been facilitated, we would now be dealing with the substantive matter.

There are grave concerns about the impact of aspects of this plan on biodiversity and on the community of inshore fishermen. I cannot understand why the Government would deny proper scrutiny. The consequence of not doing this right is the type of paralysis the Taoiseach outlined. If the Government makes a mess of this, applications for much-needed offshore wind generation, something we all support, will end up being as the subject of a judicial review brought by environmental groups or inshore fishermen because their interests are not being adequately protected. This is another example of a Government that does not want scrutiny. It is not just the housing committee that wanted to deal with this matter, the Joint Committee on Climate Action also wanted to deal with it. My reading of section 72 of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2018 is that any committee could consider this matter and if a committee lays a report or an opinion before the House, the Minister would have to have legal regard to it. Perhaps the reason the Government does not want scrutiny is that it is fearful it will expose some of the weaknesses in a planning framework that is mainly positive, and that it would be forced to act to protect marine biodiversity and inshore fishermen.

We cannot get into a detailed debate.

If there are delays to this and if there are judicial reviews, it will be on the Government's head for not doing its job properly.

I echo some of the sentiments expressed in respect of to the marine spatial planning framework. The Taoiseach said it has been in development for four years, but nobody has consulted the inshore fisheries community and, as Deputy Ó Broin said, there has been no proper scrutiny of it. The fisheries community and all of us acknowledge the importance of wind energy. What the community wants is to be consulted. At present, we are only in the site investigation stage and inshore fishermen have been severely impacted in terms of their incomes and the future of the sector. They have yet to be consulted, so 45 minutes for a debate is, quite simply, ridiculous. If it has to be passed in the first quarter of this year, as the Taoiseach said, why did the Government wait and allow blatant avoidance of scrutiny ?

The fact that it appears we will have very little time to discuss the marine planning framework is another attack on the inshore fishermen of west Cork and the rest of the country. It is only right that we get time to debate these issues in a proper manner. I cannot understand why the Taoiseach does not want proper scrutiny in the Dáil. I know the Taoiseach has been attacking the fishermen personally. As soon as he was the temporary Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, he proceeded with the penalty points that kicked the fishermen further in the teeth. It was the same with Brexit. He fell asleep at the wheel on that issue. There is a major issue with regard to the weighing systems relating to catches and Europe is cracking the whip against the Irish fishermen, but the Taoiseach will not even provide a proper amount of time to debate the issue. What is he scared of? Are the inshore fishermen not to be respected in this House? Are ordinary fishermen not to be respected? Are the ordinary users of Irish waters not to be respected? Some parts of the framework may be fine, but it still requires proper discussion in the House. I ask the Taoiseach to step back and, for once, stand up for and stand by the fishermen of west Cork and the remainder of the country, not stand against them as he has continued to do since he took office 12 months ago.

The Taoiseach might not be aware that, currently, due to the dysfunctional elements with regard to what happens in different Departments and in the context of legislative licensing requirements, the cable layers of the world are laying cables on our seabed, jeopardising the livelihood of the fishermen that he does not want us to discuss. Those fishermen find themselves in the High Court defending their fishing rights over the rights of the cable layers, who have not been instructed by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to lay the cable under the seabed. There is a real conflict here and it is paramount that we discuss this matter fully in order to avoid this happening in the future. I concur with my colleagues. All of us are in favour of renewable and wind energy, and we do not want the lack of scrutiny in this House to be a problem raised in the future.

The points raised in respect of this matter reflect the discussion that took place at the Business Committee, the emails among members of that committee and what has already been stated here. This is a reasonable request from parliamentarians who are committed to scrutiny of legislation, etc. The Taoiseach knows it is the right thing to do. I ask him to listen to the Opposition and the committees on this, to pause and to remove it from the Order Paper for tomorrow.

This is the business for Thursday so I am taking this opportunity to say that I object in the strongest possible terms to this going through. The Taoiseach's answers up to now have been weak and unacceptable. He spoke about a paralysis. The only paralysis relates to an absence of debate and reasoned opinion from all Deputies. It is our job to scrutinise this marine planning framework. It would be helpful if the Taoiseach was listening to us. I know it is difficult, but this our the only opportunity to raise matters. The Taoiseach's answer in the context of paralysis is simply weak and unacceptable. I ask him to withdraw this motion, let it go to the committee and be brought before the House for proper and robust scrutiny. If we have learned anything from Covid-19, it is that we cannot return to doing things the way we did them previously because that means we will be heading for disaster.

A Cheann Comhairle-----

We have heard a Member from the Rural Independent Group and I cannot take a second speaker.

On behalf of the fishermen of Kerry, I appeal to the Taoiseach to allocate more than 45 minutes for the debate. They are more than entitled to that anyway. They have been blackguarded for long enough.

We will hear from the Taoiseach now.

There was a lot of populist rhetoric-----

It is not populist, it is the truth.

-----in what was articulated by Deputy Michael Collins and others. There is no attack on fishermen. This is the State's marine spatial plan. In the context of the issues raised by Deputy Verona Murphy, this is not legislation, it is a plan. The absence of a proper spatial plan has led to many of the issues Deputies have raised. The country has not had a marine spatial plan to date. This plan has been four years in the making. Deputy Ó Broin said it should go to another committee and yet another committee. Let us keep going to committees-----

One meeting is what we asked for.

The Taoiseach without interruption.

-----but let us never make a decision on anything. Let us always try to exploit something for electoral advantage, which is what Deputy Ó Broin is doing. There is no question about that.

(Interruptions).

They have nobody standing up for them.

We are trying to do our job as legislators by scrutinising. The Taoiseach should withdraw that remark.

I am entitled to make a political assertion, just as the Deputy is.

We are trying to do our job by scrutinising a legally binding plan and the Taoiseach is stopping us doing our job. A Cheann Comhairle, that is an outrageous accusation.

Will all the Members behave with a little decorum? Members of the public are watching these proceedings and they would like to think that we can reasonably and rationally debate the issues. Questions have been put to the Taoiseach. Will Members allow him to answer?.

The committee concluded its business on this and asked that it proceed. This was before the Oireachtas committee on 25 March and 6 April. The assertion that it has not been before the committee is false. It has been before the committee.

The Government whipped its members. The Taoiseach should tell the truth.

There is an obligation on the State. The European maritime spatial planning directive requires all member states to publish and implement their marine spatial plans by the first quarter of 2021. Even Deputy Ó Broin, despite all the posturing, had to admit in the end that, in the main, it is a good plan. Of course, it is a good plan. It is a comprehensive plan and it is one we should proceed with to protect our marine resources and to create a proper context for what happens in our marine territory and resource. That is the purpose of the plan. We should not keep going back to the position of refusing to make decisions and refusing to move on in terms of specifics.

Nobody is refusing to make decisions. We are asking for reasonable scrutiny.

Regional public events were held in respect of the national marine planning framework as far back as 2018. There were five regional public events.

There were a further eight events, seven of them held in coastal locations throughout the country. The idea that people have not been consulted is not true. Elected representatives were invited to each of the meetings, regional and local.

The impression is then given that there was no consultation and it is being rushed through.

There has not been consultation in this Chamber or with this House.

Some of these companies are riding roughshod over these people.

There was consultation, which has been laid before the House and also approved by the Seanad. If one considers the Maritime Jurisdiction Bill, which will come forward along with the maritime area planning Bill and the national marine planning framework, NMPF, this Government is, for the first time ever, transforming the regulatory and planning framework for the proper utilisation and protection of our marine resources. It has not happened before and I want to get on with it. For God's sake, how long has the marine planning Bill been in and around this House while being developed? I am determined to get it done without hanging around or more indecision and a lack of matters being brought to a conclusion. We need all three, which will be a major suite of reform in terms of Ireland’s marine planning system, setting out a clear, long-term vision for how Ireland wants to use, enjoy and protect our precious seas. Let us get on with the work and do it.

Everybody has made their positions clear. The question is that Thursday’s business be agreed to.

Question put: "That the proposal for dealing with Thursday's business be agreed to."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 25; Níl, 20; Staon, 0.

  • Berry, Cathal.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carroll MacNeill, Jennifer.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Devlin, Cormac.
  • Duffy, Francis Noel.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Flaherty, Joe.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Higgins, Emer.
  • Lahart, John.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Matthews, Steven.
  • McAuliffe, Paul.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Connor, James.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.
  • Richmond, Neale.

Níl

  • Cairns, Holly.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Connolly, Catherine.
  • Cronin, Réada.
  • Daly, Pa.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kerrane, Claire.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Murphy, Verona.
  • Mythen, Johnny.
  • O'Callaghan, Cian.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Murchú, Ruairí.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Ryan, Patricia.
  • Smith, Duncan.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Brendan Griffin and Jack Chambers; Níl, Deputies Cian O'Callaghan and Eoin Ó Broin.
Question declared carried.

Unfortunately, time has now elapsed and we have no time to take Questions on Promised Legislation.