Ceisteanna - Questions

Departmental Projects

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

1. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the resource efficiency action plan for 2021 of his Department. [28338/21]

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

2. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the resource efficiency action plan for 2021 of his Department. [23896/21]

Bríd Smith

Question:

3. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the resource efficiency action plan for 2021 of his Department. [26510/21]

Paul Murphy

Question:

4. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the resource efficiency action plan for 2021 of his Department. [26513/21]

Mick Barry

Question:

5. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the resource efficiency action plan for 2021 of his Department. [27889/21]

Alan Kelly

Question:

6. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the resource efficiency action plan for 2021 of his Department. [27890/21]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, together.

My Department's 2021 resource efficiency action plan sets out a range of actions to improve the management of energy, water, material and waste resources within the Department and to increase sustainability awareness among staff. It also includes levels of energy and water usage and waste produced by the Department so that improvements can be tracked and measured following implementation of planned actions. The 2021 plan was developed in line with guidance published by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications and was published last month on gov.ie.

Implementation of the actions set out in the plan will be overseen by the Department's green team, which comprises staff with responsibility for and-or an interest in driving progress in this area. This will build on progress made to date, including retrofit of lighting to LED bulbs in Government Buildings, sensor lighting installed in bathrooms, increasing staff awareness and promoting positive behaviours, elimination of single use plastics and single use drinking cups, installation of mains drinking water, sensor taps installed in main bathroom areas, and brown waste bins and recycling stations installed.

My Department also reports annually on energy efficiency initiatives and savings achieved through the SEAI monitoring and reporting portal. These results are published annually.

Deputy O'Callaghan is not here so I am taking his position.

Has each Department produced its resource-efficiency action plan for this year? When does each one intend to publish its plan?

Much of the heavy lifting associated with biodiversity and climate action is being done by local authorities. They are doing a fantastic job in many instances but they claim they are not being funded. Can we fund them to appoint more biodiversity officers, in particular, to take the pressure off all the staff who are carrying the weight in this regard? When does the Taoiseach intend to extend the process to the State Departments?

All Departments are required to prepare resource-efficiency action plans. In the area of waste, these plans reflect wider changes implemented by previous Governments in terms of how businesses and households manage their waste. Departments must increase the number of facilities for recycling and composting and discontinue the use of single-use plastics throughout the organisation.

Households have been separating out their recyclables and compostable waste for some time but the reality is that there is no clarity on where this waste goes exactly. We are aware that some local authorities across the country still operate an any-bag, any-bin policy and that some private operators incinerate all waste collected from the black bin, the blue bin, or even the brown bin. Practices across the public and private sectors are in direct conflict with the Government's current roadmap for waste planning and management, limited as that plan is. There are firm commitments to the circular economy, yet the mass production of unnecessary plastics by very profitable companies continues. There is no coherent and measured strategy to deal with planned obsolescence. Does the Taoiseach know where his Department's compostable waste goes? If not, he is not alone because Ireland simply does not have the industrial composting facilities needed to meet waste-separation needs.

What accountability mechanism has the Taoiseach put in place to ensure the programme for Government commitment to a new national waste action plan comprehensively addresses the existing shortfalls in the existing strategies?

Covid, probably more than anything else, has shown us how people, particularly workers, are our best resource. Workers, not only those on the front line but also others of all hues, beaver away doing essential tasks and allowing society to tick over. While we sit here debating the greater things in life, we rarely think of the centrality of workers in our society. We rarely think of them as a resource that could make our society much more efficient. In this regard, what does the Taoiseach think of the Fórsa campaign for a four-day week, Fórsa being the trade union leading the campaign? How might Ireland use a four-day week, as Spain is doing, to become one of the first countries in the world to lead a trial that would show how the associated work practice changes could have a double-whammy impact in that they would improve both the environment and levels of equality? The four-day week would improve the environment because, as studies have shown, changing to a four-day week can help to reduce emissions. It would improve our equality agenda because studies have shown that where a four-day week is implemented, fathers and partners, particularly men in relationships, can play a more caring role, a role that women are normally forced to play. There is a double benefit. Could the Taoiseach consider and comment on the dividends in terms of the green agenda and the equality agenda, in addition to the human improvement that a four-day week would afford?

I also want to follow up on the question of the four-day week. The Four Day Week Ireland coalition has highlighted how moving to a four-day week could reduce carbon emissions by up to 16% while also improving people's work-life balance and mental health. It is an important demand raised by the trade unions and the environmental movement and it constitutes an important part of the eco-socialist green new deal that we advocate. Earlier this month the Tánaiste said the four-day week was not something his Department was even considering. Are the Taoiseach and his Department considering it? If not, will they? Too often, tackling climate change is presented as being a matter of eco-austerity, greenwashing, new taxes on workers and cutting back on people's living standards but it does not have to be, and must not be, that way. Instead, an eco-socialist approach is about raising the quality of people's lives and tackling climate change together, transforming people's lives for the better and avoiding the climate catastrophe that is on the way. The demand for a four-day week without loss of pay is a perfect example of the approach. The approach allows the workers' movement and the environmental movement to come together to fight for this objective.

When it comes to managing waste, I do not want to let this opportunity go without talking about the scenes of litter and waste in Dublin city, as have been profiled in recent days, particularly online. Some of the reasons for consternation and blaming young people are outrageous and wrong. Young people have suffered so much over the past 18 months. We have a genuine issue in that we are telling everyone to enjoy an outdoor summer but we need to prepare for it, not just in Dublin. Luckily enough, I come from near Lough Derg on the River Shannon. Ms Maura Boyle of Larkin's in Garrykennedy was on to me about the volume of people down enjoying the area at the weekend. It is fantastic. It is a question of the level of waste left behind by some people. It is very difficult at times for some people because bins may be full and children and everything else may need to be managed. Across the country, in both urban and rural areas, as we face another bank holiday weekend, we do not need to close streets or anything like that. That just pushes people in other directions. We need to ensure, as my colleague Senator Bacik said eloquently earlier, we need more bins, more benches and more bogs for people. We need them pretty rapidly for an outdoor summer. We can all be safer and it can be enjoyed more. Local authorities need to provide them.

Local authorities need to respond. I agree with Deputy Kelly on that. We are successfully reopening society and the economy. The vaccination programme is making that possible, as is the adherence of the vast majority of people to guidelines for a prolonged period of time, which has had the desired impact of suppressing the virus or keeping it at reasonable levels. The vaccination programme, in particular, has reduced ill health and mortality and kept hospitalisations at a reasonable level. The number of intensive care unit admissions is down.

Regarding the preparation for outdoor activity, particularly for young people, outdoor facilities must be provided proactively by local authorities. Some local authorities have been very proactive regarding the pedestrianisation of streets. They have accelerated their pedestrianisation programmes. The Ministers responsible for tourism and housing, Deputy Catherine Martin and Deputy Darragh O'Brien, respectively, have provided funding for outdoor facilities so both establishments and councils can enhance the public space for people. That is the way to go.

I agree with Deputy Gannon's point that local authorities have been particularly effective. They have to make a decision based on the allocation and resources they get. With regard to biodiversity officers, I encourage their appointment. I would have been at the forefront of the appointment of archaeological officers in my time on the council. The appointment of a biodiversity officer is a key appointment. Most local authorities are embracing biodiversity. It is the cumulative impact of all the little things we do regarding biodiversity that will have the biggest impact. The wild garden that is being developed on Leinster House lawn, as opposed to the manicured lawn, is delightful to see. That is the type of initiative we need across the country. I will talk to the relevant Minister about the appointment of biodiversity officers specifically.

On Deputy McDonald's questions, the Cabinet sub-committee on the environment and climate change met yesterday in respect of the circular economy and objectives associated with expanding it. Ireland can do far better than it has been doing in that respect relative to other countries. I outlined earlier the significant progress made in my Department in terms of energy savings, waste disposal and the elimination-----

Taoiseach, we are over time. Please finish the reply to the questions.

-----of single-use plastic and a range of other waste.

Deputies Paul Murphy and Bríd Smith raised issues in respect of a four-day week. Again, I would love to see the economic model for this and a presentation on it. There is one major question that the Deputies did not put forward. Who would pay for all of this? How would all of this be facilitated? In politics we will be a long way before we get to a six-day week, never mind a seven-day week. There is a five-day week at the moment. There have been moves to try to improve working hours and so on. The remote working strategy is being promoted by the Government and will be legislated for to facilitate reduction in carbon emissions so workers will not have to go on a five-day basis into the town or city or wherever. Where possible, they can do some of the work at home. There is a great deal of work to be done to flesh out the proposal that has been put forward by the Deputies.

I am afraid we are not going to get to the three rounds of questions because of the time. I am simply forewarning Deputies.

Urban Development

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

7. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the role of his Department in Dublin's north east inner city initiative. [23898/21]

Alan Kelly

Question:

8. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the role of his Department in the north east inner city initiative. [26503/21]

Gary Gannon

Question:

9. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the role of his Department in the north east inner city initiative. [28387/21]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 to 9, inclusive, together.

The Mulvey report, Dublin North East Inner City: Creating a Brighter Future, was commissioned by the Government and published in February 2017. The report contained recommendations for the social and economic regeneration of Dublin's north east inner city. The report has been further supplemented by the publishing of the next strategic plan, which runs from 2020 to 2022. Both documents are available on the Dublin north east inner city, NEIC, website.

In June 2017 an independent chairperson was appointed by Government to the NEIC programme implementation board. Members of the board include representatives from relevant Government Departments and agencies, business and the local community. The board is assisted in its work by six subgroups: enhanced policing; maximising educational training and employment opportunities; family well-being; enhancing community well-being and the physical landscape; substance use misuse and inclusion health; and alignment of services.

The board and its subgroups continue to meet on a monthly basis to oversee and progress the implementation of the Mulvey report and the NEIC strategic plan. Officials from the Department of the Taoiseach work closely with the board, the subgroups and the dedicated programme office based in Seán MacDermott Street. The chairperson of the board reports to an oversight group of senior officials chaired by the Secretary General of my Department. This group, which has met 11 times to date, ensures strong and active participation by all relevant Departments and agencies and deals with any barriers or issues highlighted by the board. The Cabinet committee on social affairs and equality provides political oversight of the NEIC initiative. The Government is committed to supporting and investing in the north east inner city community and ensuring the board has the necessary resources to achieve its targets and fulfil its ambition. To this end the Government has made available €6.5 million in funding for the initiative in 2021.

I will set out some highlights of what the initiative has delivered to date in 2021. There is strong support, both financial and otherwise, for the recently launched north inner city local community safety partnership. There is an increased Garda presence in the area with the Garda community support van supporting a focus on community policing, particularly throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. A Garda project focused on drug-related intimidation continues to have positive benefits. Funding has been provided for the training of local gardaí and local community-based practitioners in addressing domestic violence and child protection issues. There is the ongoing roll-out of the P-TECH initiative in secondary schools - the pathways in technology programme - in the NEIC area. A highly successful work experience programme in flash mentoring has been delivered for second level students in the NEIC. Funding has been provided to develop an adult and community education strategy for the area. Substantial funding has been provided for a community case management team that will work with the most vulnerable and high-risk families in the area. The funding of a dedicated parenting support co-ordinator post has been provided. There is funding to provide access to fast-track counselling for children and young people in the area. A significant investment has been made in a bespoke sport, recreation and well-being programme for the area. Dedicated community events and arts programmes have been funded for 2021. A full-time intercultural development co-ordinator is employed for the area. Funding has been provided for a recovery case manager and recovery coach internships. We have seen the continued operation in the NEIC of Ireland's first social inclusion hub. Funding is provided for a homeless case management team. Funding is provided for a residential stabilisation programme. Funding is provided for the City Connects programme. Funding is provided to the local early learning initiative and the refurbishment of the swimming pool on Seán MacDermott Street. Finally, there is a multidisciplinary team of psychologists, occupational speech and language therapists. I will read the rest into the record.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Funding is provided to support the SWAN detached youth programme. A green ribbon project has been rolled out with an environmental clean-up and litter prevention measures in partnership with local residents. There has been the purchase of almost 500 laptops and devices to support students in NEIC schools with home learning through the worst of the pandemic.

In 2021, some €1 million of the €6.5 million NEIC budget has been allocated to the social employment fund, through which 55 posts have been filled in community projects providing childcare, youth services, elder care, cultural and environmental services.

This responsive and innovative initiative has been widely welcomed within the community.

The programme implementation board will continue to implement the remaining actions set out in the Mulvey report and the NEIC strategic plan 2020-22 as well as adopting a greater focus on long-term sustainable outcomes which operate in an integrated framework and add value to the existing service infrastructure. Progress reports on the NEIC initiative are available on the NEIC website for 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

The Government remains committed to supporting and investing in the north east inner city community and ensuring the chairperson and programme implementation board have the necessary resources to help to make the area a better place to work and live.

Of course the neglect and poverty in the inner city of Dublin, as in other inner city and other areas throughout the State, is not accidental. It has happened on the watch of successive Governments and is in fact the consequence of bad policy, as the Taoiseach knows.

To create the brighter future to which the Taoiseach referred, it is imperative that we invest in our children and in early education. That is what I wish to raise with the Taoiseach today. Early education providers in Dublin's north inner city have been adversely affected by the new national childcare scheme. In fact, up to 80% of children attending the early learning settings that cater for the most disadvantaged children are now in difficulties because of this new scheme. The viability and sustainability of these centres is under question. The parents of children attending these services are currently unemployed. Therefore, the subvention is reduced.

The providers in the inner city have raised these real concerns with the Department. They have spent months trying to resolve this issue. Their single wish is to ensure that children in the inner city, especially the most disadvantaged children, have access to early education. Yet, they have found no solution. They have suggested the implementation of a DEIS model to sustain these children. I implore the Taoiseach to intervene on the matter and not allow these children to be failed again.

The north east inner city task force has done extraordinarily good work but there is more work to be done. How much is the Taoiseach engaged in the programme of implementation? Has the Department or the Taoiseach been briefed on whether the Rutland Street School community hub project has gone to tender yet? When is work expected to start? If the Taoiseach is engaged, he will be able to reply and answer that. The plans for this were announced in 2016. It is now five years later. It was originally believed that it would be funded by central government but now much of it is from the resources of the council. There are numerous competing projects, as the Taoiseach can appreciate. Is it being funded under the urban regeneration fund? If not, why not?

The Labour Party has called for a Mulvey-style commission or task force on the north side of Dublin and another in Drogheda. My colleagues, Senator Marie Sherlock, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and Deputy Ged Nash, have campaigned for this for a long time. We do not believe we can simply police our way out of crime alone. We agree that the plan put in place some years ago had some merit but it needs a great deal of work.

It seems from the evidence that this Government's commitment needs to be renewed. A task force or Mulvey-style commission would really help to deal with many of the ingrained problems in the area. In the Taoiseach's reply he might respond directly about the Rutland Street school community hub project.

In the north inner city, sport has always been a great leveller and a great outlet for young people. Yet, in the Mulvey report, sport seems to be the great omission. The Taoiseach read out the list of funding initiatives but there is little that pertains to sport. There are two great soccer clubs in the north inner city, Sheriff Youth Club and Belvedere FC. Both play on an astroturf pitch in Clontarf. The pitch is completely outdated. The pitch has a lifespan of approximately seven years but it has been at the grounds now for 11 years. It is outdated and needs investment. That needs to happen. There is no GAA club currently in the north inner city. That is something we need to factor in to our considerations because there is a great desire for GAA in the north inner city. It is in the shadows of Croke Park. The local boxing club in the heart of Dublin 1 applied for a grant for female changing facilities some weeks ago. Those involved were turned down. The boxing club is flourishing but there are no facilities for-----

Who was turned down?

It was Corinthians Boxing Club. It is in the heart of the north inner city. They need a female changing room.

Who turned down the club?

I think it was the council. That will need to be addressed because there is a great desire for boxing in the north inner city.

The Seán MacDermott Street swimming pool remains closed. It has been closed for two years. The students in the Central Model Senior School in sixth class are running their own campaign.

I would love to see them supported in this campaign to get the pool open so that they can have a swim in it over the summer. It is a really viable facility.

Funding has been provided to assist in the refurbishment of the swimming pool on Sean McDermott Street. Other supports are going into the area. I refer to the SWAN Youth Service, the detached youth work programme and the Green Ribbon Project, through which environmental clean-up and litter prevention measures are being rolled out. I refer also to the purchase of almost 500 laptops and devices to support students in north-east inner-city area schools with the home learning that has been ongoing during the pandemic. A sum of €1 million has been allocated to the social employment fund, through which 55 posts have been filled in community projects providing childcare, youth services, elder care and cultural and environmental services. These measures have been broadly welcomed.

I will address some of the issues that have been raised. With regard to the Rutland Street School site, Part 8 planning approval was granted by Dublin City Council in October 2019 and an enabling works contract to the value of €780,000 was completed in 2019. This was a lead-in contract to assess structural loading, asbestos volumes and so on in advance of main contract works. Tender documents for the main construction contract were issued in July 2020. The main construction contract for the Rutland Street School redevelopment is in the final stages of the public procurement process. Following completion of restricted procedure stage 1 in the fourth quarter of 2020, a number of shortlisted firms were invited to submit tenders for stage 2. Evaluation of these tender submissions is currently under way and it is anticipated that this process will be completed in the coming weeks. That is good news for this particular development. I agree with Deputy Gannon.

Deputy Kelly made the point that we need to create area-based partnerships such as that created in the north-east inner city elsewhere. I have tasked my Department to work with the Cabinet subcommittee on social affairs to identify a number of areas of disadvantage or areas with particular challenges for which to prioritise supports. This was the approach of the old revitalising areas through planning, investment and development, RAPID, programme which we created years ago when I was last in government. The idea is that clubs and organisations in those communities are to be given higher ratings when applying for funding. This would mean that Corinthians Boxing Club, for example, would be more highly prioritised. I will ask the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media to look at the area of boxing because some clubs need support both in making applications and in making sure that they are successful in getting the supports they urgently need in partnership with local authorities, the county and city councils. Such clubs do great work.

I would like the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media to work with Dublin North East Inner City and with the sporting groups in the community in respect of soccer, GAA, which the Deputy mentioned, and other sports. This is where investment should go. I have no difficulty in working with Government to provide capital investment in these areas for sporting facilities, particularly AstroTurf pitches and so on in inner-city locations.

With regard to childcare, I will speak to the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth in respect of investment. There has, however, been sustained investment in childcare in inner-city areas. There has also been sustained investment in education. Going way back, I was involved in providing funding for Larkin Community College. There has been consistent engagement and support. I take the point made in respect of housing. I will engage with the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, with regard to the issues pertaining to childcare. More generally, housing has a role to play in the revitalisation of the area. In addition to supporting the existing community, we have to work to ensure that younger generations can aspire to housing within the community. We have to work to refurbish existing housing stock and to create new housing provision in the area. The early years are important but, as I pointed out in my earlier reply, I am very committed to the provision of multidisciplinary supports from physiotherapy to speech and language therapy and occupational therapy for children. A multidisciplinary team-based approach is vital.

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

10. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his latest engagement with the social partners. [28339/21]

Alan Kelly

Question:

11. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent engagements with the social partners. [26235/21]

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

12. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent engagements with the social partners. [28066/21]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

13. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent engagements with the social partners. [29779/21]

Paul Murphy

Question:

14. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent engagements with the social partners. [29782/21]

Bríd Smith

Question:

15. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent engagements with the social partners. [29785/21]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 to 15, inclusive, together.

The Government recognises the importance of regular and open engagement with all sectors of society. As we enter the early stages of recovery from the pandemic and as we work towards reopening our economy and society we need to work together on a shared common purpose. This is particularly important as we face the enormous challenges ahead, including climate action, digital transition, disruption to the labour market and housing.

There are many different fora in place for these conversations, including the National Economic Dialogue, the National Economic and Social Council, various sectoral groups and initiatives such as the citizens' assemblies. There is also regular bilateral engagement at official and ministerial level, of which I am very supportive.

As committed to in the programme for Government, a social dialogue unit has been established within the economic division of my Department. Its initial focus is on supporting and enhancing engagement with the social partners, including through existing mechanisms such as the labour employer economic forum, LEEF, which deals with labour market issues. LEEF helped ensure useful discussions between Government, employers and trade unions during the Covid-19 pandemic and I chaired the most recent meeting in February where, along with Brexit and Covid-19 issues, we discussed ways to strengthen social dialogue and engagement with civil society and representative groups. A further meeting of LEEF will take place shortly.

In addition, I met with the environmental pillar on 21 May, and will meet with the community and voluntary pillar and the farming and agriculture pillar in the coming weeks, to discuss how social dialogue can be strengthened and to exchange views on issues pertaining to those particular sectors. We had a very progressive and constructive engagement with the environmental pillar on a whole range of issues from climate change legislation to the circular economy and biodiversity.

I want to divert the Taoiseach's attention to the report from the Irish Youth Foundation issued today, which I am sure he has seen. This report finds that young people in disadvantaged communities are those most disproportionately affected by the pandemic. This will not come as a surprise to many of us. The report talks about poor mental health as a consequence of the pandemic. We need a youth trauma task force to deal with the wave of mental health issues and problems which have been exacerbated by this pandemic, particularly among young people and disadvantaged communities. Would the Taoiseach's Department be willing to champion this proposal, which is desperately needed?

I will raise two key issues with the Taoiseach. My colleague, Senator Bacik, has introduced a Bill in the Seanad to provide for paid reproductive leave. This would provide for up to 20 days of paid leave for early miscarriage and ten days for those availing of IVF treatment and fertility programmes. Will the Taoiseach confirm that this Government will support this Bill, address this issue or work with us to deal with it? Many of the Taoiseach's colleagues have come out in support of the Bill, which they feel is an excellent initiative. New Zealand has successfully introduced such provisions. We would appreciate the Taoiseach's support.

Will the Taoiseach confirm that his Government will bring forward proposals for statutory sick pay this year? From the Tánaiste's comments in particular, it sounds like we are always nearly there but the announcement never quite comes. Is it being held up because of lobbying? It has been nine months since the Labour Party published its Bill. We hope that we are coming to the tail end of the pandemic but this provision is still not in place. We were originally told that the Government's plans would be announced in March. There was then a delay. We have delayed our Bill deliberately because the Taoiseach said in all sincerity that he was going to address the matter. That was postponed again and the Taoiseach said the announcement would come in May. The Tánaiste said yesterday that he would bring a memo to Cabinet in June and wants to have the provisions in place by the end of the year. It does not sound like this issue is being treated with great urgency. Will the Taoiseach confirm his Government's stance on both of these issues, namely, Senator Bacik's Bill relating to miscarriage and IVF and the matter of statutory sick pay?

In asking a previous question, I told the Taoiseach that the design of the new national childcare scheme is jeopardising early education opportunities for some of the most deprived and vulnerable children in the north inner city. I am sure this situation is mirrored across the State. The Taoiseach responded to me by listing investments made in education and childcare generally in the north inner city. In case he harbours the delusion that there has been deep investment in early education or, in fact, in any education in our inner cities, I will tell him that he is wrong.

There is much more that needs to be done. On the immediate issue, I repeat, up to 80% of children attending specific early learning settings in the inner city are children who are deeply disadvantaged. The Government's new scheme threatens the capacity of those services to survive. I would like to hear a more solid commitment from the Taoiseach than that he will engage with the Minister and the Department because the providers have been doing that for months. I would like a commitment from the Taoiseach that these children, the most disadvantaged children in the community, will not be further disadvantaged and find themselves in a position of having no childcare provider to go to. That is what they are facing into.

Some employers are using the pandemic to launch a one-sided class war against their workforce. One such employer is Aer Lingus. It has given its workers a deadline of today to respond to proposals which include, a five-year pay freeze, pay cuts, lower starting rates for new staff, cuts to duty allowances, cuts to sick pay arrangements and more. For those who are interested in knowing what more is involved I have posted the details on my Twitter account. These proposals are shocking. They are unacceptable and they would set a terrible precedent for trade unionists throughout the country and beyond. I sincerely hope the workers resist them. I want to know what the Government, which provides Aer Lingus with State support through the EWSS, intends to do to protect these workers and to prevent assaults of this type on living standards.

Last week, I questioned the Tánaiste about the double rent hike facing renters this July as landlords attempt to impose two year's worth of rent increases in one fell swoop, which is allowed under the legislation introduced by the Government. The Tánaiste seemed genuinely surprised and unaware that this was possible and he said that it was not the Government's intention to allow for such percentage increases in rent. Will the Taoiseach and the Government bring forth this month the emergency legislation needed to stop this happening? For the average renter in Dublin, an 8% rent increase would be an increase of €140 per month, an incredible amount of money that is unaffordable for many, especially considering the cuts coming down the line in terms of the PUP. We should be extending the rent freeze. We should be taking action to bring rents down. At the very least, we need emergency legislation to stop this double rent hike happening. If the Government refuses to do that, People Before Profit will bring forward legislation and we will make sure that it is a major issue in the by-election in Dublin Bay South. Which will it be, Taoiseach? Will the Government bring forward the legislation that is needed or will it again abandon renters to landlords?

Deputy Gannon raised the issue of mental health and wellbeing. I agree with the points he made. We discussed this earlier in the House. Again, it is a key issue, particularly in terms of young people. Any supports we can give, we will give. We will work with the Deputy and others in respect of that particular issue.

Deputy Kelly raised a number of issues. We will work with the Deputy's party in respect of the Organisation of Working Time (Reproductive Health Related Leave) Bill 2021 in relation to supporting those who have gone through the trauma of miscarriage. On statutory sick pay, the Government is examining the issue and is positively disposed to such a scheme. Work is ongoing in that regard. This question was on the social dialogue and on the leave programme. We have made considerable progress on a number of fronts. This is an issue on which we want to make progress. We have work to do in regard to the living wage as well, which is provided for within the programme for Government and also in terms of other initiatives that we can take and lessons that we can learn from the pandemic in regard to sick pay, illness benefit more generally and supporting workers more broadly into the future.

On the new national childcare scheme, I reiterate what I said earlier, that is, significant and substantial resources have been provided to childcare providers during the pandemic and that will continue. Our aim is to provide for children in very disadvantaged settings and to provide good quality childcare for children in those environments. That has been the commitment of the Minister and of the Government during the Covid-19 pandemic. As we emerge from Covid-19 we want to establish a strong, supportive situation for childcare and for the early years sector. The most important years in the development of any child are the formative development years when children learn an awful lot that is key to their development. We will work on that.

On the wider issue of the EWSS and the supports we provide, from which companies like Aer Lingus have benefited significantly, last week we had a number of Deputies in the House saying that the Government was not providing supports to aviation or to the airlines. The reality, of course, is that through EWSS and other supports Government has provided substantial supports to employers to keep employees working and to keep their companies viable so that when the reopening and the restart happen they will be in a position to retain that employment and to grow the numbers working in those companies into the future. That is the raison d'être of the supports that we have introduced for businesses. Up to 315,000 workers are currently being supported by EWSS. Many more have been supported over the last two years, but currently the number of workers being supported is 315,000. More workers are being supported through the Covid restrictions support scheme and other schemes introduced by Government. We will continue to do that.

With respect to proposals from a particular private sector company, the Government has made clear to the companies it supports that it expects all agreements to be honoured. There are industrial relations mechanisms in place to facilitate resolution of any issues that employees might have with their companies. We have made a number of things clear to companies in that respect. In terms of aviation, we want connectivity, including regional connectivity. We want flights operating again from Shannon Airport. We want to see the return of early flights to London, transatlantic flights and flights from Cork. We believe in strong regional growth and development and we have made that clear to Aer Lingus and to the airlines, both in terms of employment creation and FDI. Under the urban regeneration development funding, the Government provided over €1.2 billion for locations across the length and breadth of the country to build up the regional cities and to build up towns. We will continue to do that. There has to be reciprocation from companies given the nature of State support in terms of maintaining good pay and conditions for workers and the broader economic goals and objectives of Government in respect of a balanced economic development across the regions. We have made that clear in any engagement we have had with companies, not just in aviation, but in other sectors as well.

The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, is examining the situation with regard to the possibility of landlords doubling up in respect of rent increases, which we do not want to see happening. As we speak, that situation is being actively considered by the Minister. We will do what we can to support tenants through the legislation already enacted to protect people from eviction, to protect tenants in terms of security of tenure, to build more houses and make them available for people across the length and breadth of the country, to make sure that councils can get housing projects through planning and passed so that the housing can be built because there has been too much delay in some councils and, in my view, too much negativity and too many projects gathering dust for far too long.

There are only four minutes remaining, which leaves little time for the next group of questions. If Members are in agreement, we will move on to the next business. Is that agreed? Agreed.