Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Health and Safety

Paul Murphy

Question:

6. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the steps his Department is taking to protect workers’ health and safety in view of the reopening of the hospitality sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30240/21]

What actions are being taken by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to protect workers' health and safety in view of the reopening of the hospitality sector?

All workers, regardless of the sector of the economy in which they work, are covered by the provisions of the Work Safely Protocol. The Work Safely Protocol, which was published last month, is a revision of the Return to Work Safely Protocol, which was first published in May 2020. The revised protocol incorporates the most up-to-date advice on relevant public health measures and reflects new knowledge and better understanding of these measures.

The protocol provides a framework for all businesses to operate safely and to protect workers. It sets out the measures required in every place of work to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The protocol also contains links directing employers and employees to a range of Government Departments and agencies where more detailed information can be sourced and a comprehensive range of guidance and checklists is available for both employers and employees.

The Health and Safety Authority, HSA, will remain the lead agency in co-ordinated compliance with the work safety protocol. More than 34,000 protocol inspections have been carried out by inspectors from a range of Departments and State bodies, including environmental health officers who inspect food outlets in the hospitality sector. Fáilte Ireland has produced operational guidelines for, and in conjunction with, that sector. The guidelines set out comprehensive advice on reopening with an emphasis on protecting the safety and well-being of employers, employees and customers to help instil public confidence in the sector. The implementation of these guidelines and compliance with the work safety protocol can offer robust protection to all workers in the hospitality sector, especially against a background where the number of people in the general population being vaccinated continues to increase.

It is important to emphasis these protocols were developed in conjunction with our social partners over the past year. They have been of great assistance to companies and businesses. I compliment the approach taken by business owners, who have gone to great lengths to protect their staff, themselves and, more important, their customers. That is why the sector is reopening this week in a positive environment. The confidence is there that they are following protocols and best practice, which will help stop the spread of the virus and protect everybody involved.

I was coming into this place this morning and listening to the radio news. The invitation was being put out for 43-year-olds to contact the HSE about arranging vaccination. The next item was about hospitality. It struck me that a majority - probably a vast majority - of people going back to work in hospitality are under the age of 43 and will go back to work unvaccinated. This is at a time the virus is in the community, there is a new variant, which is significantly more infectious, and they are operating on the basis of a lesser social distancing rule now. I do not say workers should not go back or anything like that. It is an important step but health and safety is paramount. The Minister of State talked about the Fáilte Ireland guidelines. Who will police the guidelines? Who will be on the job to ensure health and safety for our hospitality workers?

We all share these concerns and it is important to remind everybody that, while we are still waiting for everybody to be vaccinated, we have to follow the protocols and public health advice from all the authorities. These protocols were originally designed when there was no vaccine and no roll-out. They have been updated on two occasions since then to reflect the benefits of the vaccination programme. We know that by July approximately 60% of our population will have received their second vaccine. The majority will be in that place come September. We can see the benefits of the vaccination roll-out but we have to remind everybody in the coming weeks and months of this cautious reopening to follow the advice, make sure we keep the virus under control and protect everybody. That is why the protocols are there and why everybody follows them. They are monitored by all the relevant agencies. Employees who have concerns can contact the HSA and their queries are dealt with. We monitor that as well.

If the Deputy has any concerns, I am happy to engage with him directly on them. Employees in general are complimentary of their employers, their organisations and implementing these rules.

The majority of hospitality workers will be vaccinated later in the year, hopefully later in the summer. However, hospitality is opening now, when the vast majority of those workers have not been vaccinated. That puts a strong onus on ensuring that quality health and safety provisions are in place. How many of the labour inspectors – we were told earlier on that 53 out of a target of 90 are in place – are detailed to monitoring the hospitality industry over the coming weeks. Fáilte Ireland put down the guidelines. Do the HSA and HIQA have any roles in terms of the follow-up in hospitality? There are to be nominated workers reps in every hospitality outlet, which I welcome. Does the Minister of State support the idea that, if health and safety is not followed in a workplace and issues raised are not being attended to, those workers would be entirely right to walk off the job to defend the health and safety of hospitality workers?

The Deputy is making assumptions on the age of people working on the sector which he has not backed up by evidence. There is a great range of age cohorts working in that sector. It is a positive environment because there are opportunities for all age groups to work in it, similar to retail and other areas. There is strong regional balance, as well.

On the work safety protocol, the HSA is the lead agency in co-ordinating the response across all Government agencies in dealing with that protocol and the enforcement of it. The feedback is quite positive on the inspections. Over 34,000 have been carried out over the last year. It is open to anyone with concerns to bring them to the HSA and they are dealt with. There is a hotline to do that. On top of that, there is the Covid-19 safety charter, which the majority of the hospitality sector has signed up to and is implementing. I am confident because the bookings from customers for the months ahead would not be in the numbers they are if the confidence was not there among the population in general.

Digital Hubs

James O'Connor

Question:

7. Deputy James O'Connor asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the status of the development of the Youghal digital hub; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29875/21]

I ask the Tánaiste and Ministers of State about the potential for a remote working hub or digital working hub in the town of Youghal in the constituency of Cork East. Youghal is a large town, which has struggled for many years to attract employment and industry. The Government should consider this location for a remote working hub.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue, which he has brought to my attention on a number of occasions.

On 15 January last, the Tánaiste published Ireland's first national remote working strategy to make remote working a viable and sustainable option for all after the pandemic. A key action within the strategy is to extend the mapping and classifications of hubs. Earlier this week, my colleague, the Minister for Community and Rural Development, Deputy Humphreys, launched the national connected hubs network, which includes a booking platform, brand and remote working hubs.

I am pleased that Youghal was successful in securing €4 million in funding under the Government's Project Ireland 2040 rural regeneration and development fund, RRDF. This funding will transform a derelict site on the main street in Youghal into a new library, incorporating a digital learning suite and community space.

The Department of Rural and Community Development is investing in new hubs through further calls under both the RRDF and the town and village renewal scheme. The €15 million town and village renewal call launched on 30 May 2021. This will assist in bringing vacant properties in town centres back into use or repurposing existing community or publicly owned buildings as remote working hubs. The third call for category 2 applications to the RRDF is open and will close on 16 July. Category 2 funding will enable projects at an early stage to be developed to a high standard and be ready to commence.

To date, my Department has provided funding of €250 million for the establishment of approximately 270 enterprise centres throughout Ireland, administered by Enterprise Ireland, EI, including for Enterprise Youghal Centre, Emmet Place. This investment has enabled the establishment of physical space for entrepreneurs, start-ups, scaling companies, SMEs and a balance of small scale FDI. This enables the delivery of enterprise-related programmes to companies and provision of physical space to support remote working.

I thank the Minister of State for his response and look forward to meeting him later today in the chamber of commerce in Youghal to discuss this issue. Is that funding sufficient in the post-Covid era? My position is that it is probably not. It is something Government should give a greater priority to. To the full suite of Ministers and the Tánaiste present, I say that their Department has a huge opportunity to step in with the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, to further invest in remote working centres that have the capacity in towns like Youghal with 8,000 or 9,000 people living in them to provide 100 or 50 work spaces with high-speed, good quality broadband.

Many towns, including Youghal, will suffer greatly through the closure of branches by our main banks, including Bank of Ireland, which will close its branch in Youghal shortly. Why not use such buildings in our towns that already have many of the features required, including broadband, to provide such a facility?

My thanks to Deputy O'Connor. I look forward to engaging with the representatives from Youghal on the Zoom call later on today.

There is a feasibility grant of €15,000, or 15% of the eligible costs, available to community groups if they wish to bring forward a proposal for a remote working hub, as alluded to by the Deputy.

My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy English, is working on the south-west regional enterprise plan. That work has already commenced. It is a unique plan for the specific area to address the challenges and exploit the opportunities as part of the regional enterprise plans that the Minister of State, Deputy English, and I are working on. There will be a new funding stream and a call out for funding under that proposal. Perhaps the best way to go is to look at the feasibility study and come forward with a concrete proposal to avail of funding that will be coming down the stream later this year.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, for his co-operation and above all for his interest. It is great that he will be meeting representatives from the town's enterprise and business sectors.

I will put this in context. Youghal is a town that suffered greatly from the loss of manufacturing jobs towards the start of the Celtic tiger, unfortunately. There were 4,000 people working in Youghal in the 1980s and 1990s in manufacturing and low-skill labour. Many of those jobs were let go because people were working in areas like textiles. Unfortunately, we never saw any real direct State support going to Youghal following those job losses, which is completely unacceptable. As the Minister of State can imagine, the loss of jobs to that extent in a small town in rural Ireland decimated the local economy. Youghal is on the up. A remote working centre for this town is something our Government should look at providing for the people of Youghal. It is the least they deserve.

I wish to use this opportunity to call for IDA Ireland to take a greater interest in Youghal. There are many opportunities to invest in the region and plenty of free space. We should definitely do it.

I wish to advise the Deputy that public consultation has commenced on the south-west regional plan. There is an opportunity for all stakeholders and public representatives, including Members, to make submissions on what they would like to see achieved in that plan. The plan will be unique for the south-west area. As I have said, it will address the challenges faced in that area and exploit the opportunities.

IDA Ireland published a new strategy in January this year to bring the strategy up to 2024. A key part of that strategy, which I was pleased to see and highly vocal on, is that 50% of any new IDA Ireland investment in the coming years has to be in the regions. We want to see greater investment in the regions. A key theme across every Department is greater investment in the regions to support job creation. I look forward to engaging with the Youghal Chamber later today.

EU Meetings

Neale Richmond

Question:

8. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will report on his recent meeting of EU trade ministers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29421/21]

As we all know, a dynamic and opening trading policy is vital for the country with and through the European Union. Will the Tánaiste and the Ministers of State present give a report on the recent trade Council meeting of European trade ministers?

The EU trade ministers met in person in Council on 20 May in Brussels. I was pleased to participate in my capacity as Minister with responsibility for trade. The meeting had a full agenda, which included debate and draft conclusions on the EU trade policy review, preparations for the World Trade Organization ministerial conference later this year, EU-US trade relations, updates on the EU steel safeguards and the EU Mercosur agreement and progress with the negotiations on an EU international procurement instrument.

We discussed the Union's contribution to the reform of the World Trade Organization and preparations for the next Ministerial Conference, known as MC12. This is scheduled to take place from 30 November to 3 December this year. MC12 will chart the course of work for the member-led organisations for the succeeding 18 to 24 months.

Ministers and the European Commission, which lead the international trade negotiations for the European Union 27, agreed that we would seek to play a leadership role in pursuing outcomes on a range of files, including trade and health and trade and sustainability as well as a roadmap for urgent reform of the World Trade Organization. The restoration of the dispute settlement function is an objective for Ireland.

We debated EU-US trade relations and the prospect for a more positive transatlantic relationship with the new US Biden-Harris administration. We focused on progress in resolving the transatlantic trade disputes relating to Airbus and Boeing as well as steel and aluminium disputes, which are adversely affecting several sectors in Ireland given our strong trade volumes with the US. I believe Ireland can act as a bridge between the US and Europe in solving some of these issues.

We held separate discussions with the US trade representative, Katherine Tai, by videoconference and the new WTO Director-General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, in person. While held in private, the meetings encouraged me to believe that we are back on a pathway to restoring the WTO to the heart of a multilateral rules based international order when it comes to trade. The US is seeking to work in partnership with the EU again to make that happen and to remove barriers to open rules-based free trade, especially insofar as anti-competitive practices by non-market economies are concerned.

I am encouraged to hear the Tánaiste's response in respect of the clear shift in the global approach to trade following the change of administration in the USA, especially the opportunities presented by a closer trading relationship between the EU and the US. We should acknowledge that the EU member state set to proportionately benefit the most from a closer trading and investment relationship is, of course, Ireland. It is good to see the WTO put back at the heart of global trade. It is vital for a rules-based democracy like Ireland and a rules-based union like the European Union.

Is it possible to give an update on negotiations or pre-negotiations between the EU and other third party countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia? I fundamentally believe those markets provide great opportunities for Irish exporters, especially in the wake of Brexit.

The Deputy's initial comments are spot on. If we can restore and improve the EU-US trading relationship, deal with some of the issues around steel and aviation and so on and get on with building a stronger trading relationship, then one of the countries that will benefit from that most is, of course, our country, Ireland. That is because of our strong trading links with the US and our political position as a country at the heart of the European Union and close to America.

At the meeting there was not much focus on trade relations with other third countries like Australia, New Zealand, Singapore or Malaysia. Progress is being made but it is pretty slow. Talks are under way with Australia and New Zealand. There are sensitivities because these are big agricultural economies. There are real sensitivities about opening up European markets to agricultural imports for reasons the Deputy will understand. There are also environmental concerns relating to Australia. We very much support trade and investment agreements with those countries if they can be made.

I will use this opportunity to pivot to discussions on transatlantic trade opportunities, given that was the main focus, and the opportunity to have the US trade representative contribute via videoconference. All these things present great opportunities for the European Union as a whole. The Tánaiste talks understandably about the logjams in respect of the steel sector and aviation. It is not necessarily a big issue for Irish manufacturers but a closer US-EU trade relationship matters. I do not imagine we will get back to the resurgence of transatlantic trade and investment partnership or some formal trade agreement at this stage, but I would appreciate if the Tánaiste could lay out the strategy for Irish trade with North America in light of the positive trade council and the sectors where we could look, post-pandemic, to stress our ability to export to the United States. Maybe we could get trade missions going where there are great opportunities for workers throughout the country.

I think the Deputy's assessment is correct. We are unlikely to be getting back to something like TTIP anytime soon. However, we are on a better path now with the USA. No matter what happens at EU level, Ireland will continue to seek investment from the US. It goes both ways now. Nearly 100,000 Americans are employed in Irish owned firms in America. That has been the big change in the past ten years.

It is very much a two-way relationship now in investment and trade. We fully endorsed the EU's approach to EU-US trade relations. That was set out in the new EU-US agenda for global change that involves stronger multilateral action and institutions, the pursuit of common interests and leveraging the collective strength of the Union and the US, and looking for solutions that respect the common values of fairness, openness and competition. We also proposed to the ambassador, Katherine Tai, that we should establish an EU-US trade technology council, and the ambassador has said she will give this consideration.

Question No. 9 replied to with Written Answers.

Trade Agreements

Neale Richmond

Question:

10. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will report on the impact of the EU-UK Trade Cooperation Agreement to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29420/21]

Despite the affirmations by certain politicians and commentators, Brexit is not "done". Indeed, Brexit has just started. Will the Tánaiste and the Minister of State report on the impact of the trade and co-operation agreement between the EU and the UK on Ireland after six months of its operation?

In the first five months post Brexit, businesses have been coming to terms with the new trading environment involving customs procedures and other regulatory checks at the ports. In addition, rules of origin issues have arisen in some instances, leading businesses to seek out suppliers in different markets. Businesses are adjusting to the new trading realities, finding alternative supply chains and are being encouraged to find new markets for their products.

Preparations by Government in the lead-up to Brexit have paid dividends and Departments and State bodies have engaged directly with businesses, hauliers, shipping companies, trade and representative bodies to help them on all Brexit-related issues. This has ranged from the provision of 24/7 in-person support at the ports, ready-for-customs grants to help businesses build in-house customs capacity, which are still available for businesses that are in need of them, and technical webinars and online guidance on a targeted, sector-specific basis.

The Government is committed to ensuring that the most Brexit-impacted sectors, areas and regions in the economy will be supported through the Brexit adjustment reserve. The proposed allocation of €1.1 billion to Ireland from this EU fund recognises that Ireland is one of the most Brexit-impacted member states.

It is too early, based on CSO trade statistics for the first quarter of 2021, to assess and draw any firm conclusions on trade flows between Ireland and Great Britain resulting from Brexit. Other factors are at play, not least Covid-19, as well as the temporary derogations and grace periods under the trade and co-operation agreement and the Ireland-Northern Ireland protocol. The Government is committed to a post-implementation analysis of the impact of Brexit on the economy once a sufficient period has elapsed to allow a full analysis to be undertaken.

There is quite a lot to take out from the Minister of State's response. I will try to break it up into a couple of areas. I pay credit to him, to colleagues and everyone in his Department and relevant Departments such as Revenue and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine for the extensive preparatory work that was done ahead of Brexit. We can see that it was necessary.

The Minister of State said that Ireland was one of the member states most impacted by Brexit. It is quite clear that we are the most impacted. This is why it is vital that the entire €1.1 billion in the Brexit adjustment reserve is awarded to Ireland, and that Ireland does get a proportional share.

On trade flows, he said it is too early to draw conclusions based on CSO statistics, but we do see some statistics from the UK. I would appreciate if he could elaborate on the key sectors that have seen either a decline in exports to the UK or, more pertinently, a decline in imports from the UK. What efforts can be made to mitigate those issues that present themselves?

I will give a flavour of some of the figures that are available. The most recent CSO statistical data released for the first quarter of 2021 show the exports of goods to Great Britain were €3.03 billion, which is a decrease of €82 million, or 3%, on the first quarter in 2020. Exports to the EU were also down 12% on the first quarter 2020 figures. Imports of goods from Great Britain in quarter 1 this year were down 48% to €2.2 billion, compared with quarter 1 in 2020. Imports from the EU were down 6% on quarter 1 2020 figures. It is likely that a number of factors contributed to the large reduction in imports from Great Britain, including the challenges of complying with customs requirements, pre-Brexit stockpiling, and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Freight movements into Ireland from Great Britain increased sixfold between the first week in January and the end of May. This is up from 1,423 movements to 8,257 movements.

I appreciate the reply. The Minister of State said it is a flavour of the figures, but it gives us a stark idea of the challenges ahead, even though most of those challenges are masked by the impact of the pandemic.

My supplementary question is on the development of new markets, to which the Minister of State alluded. In the previous questions we talked about the potential new markets through EU trade deals with third-party countries, but in the context of supply chain and imports, I particularly and crucially want to refer to the potential for developing existing markets within the Union and developing our established partnerships with countries such as France and Germany. We must also look at the opportunities provided by countries in central and eastern Europe, the Nordic region and southern Europe for imports and exports. What efforts are the Department, agencies and partners going to make to maximise every potential presented to us by the Single Market?

I too pay tribute to all of the officials for the hard work they have done in the preparation for Brexit and since Brexit in trying to help and assist the businesses that have been so challenged by disruption. The Deputy is correct that the UK remains a strategically important market for Irish companies. We can never ignore that but we also need to look to diversify into new markets. EI has been hampered by Covid-19 in its capacity to carry out physical trade missions, but work has been done virtually. Now, thankfully, as we go back into a more normal situation and with travel opening up again, EI is looking at working with enterprise clients to support them into diversifying into new markets. Trade missions will recommence. EI is determined to ensure that we support companies into new markets.

Question No. 11 replied to with Written Answers.
Question No. 13 replied to with Written Answers.

Flexible Work Practices

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill

Question:

14. Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the progress on the moves to ensure the option of remote working post-Covid-19; the details of his work with remote working hubs to enable greater flexibility in work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30106/21]

Michael Moynihan

Question:

51. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the status of the remote working strategy. [30059/21]

David Stanton

Question:

106. Deputy David Stanton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the progress being made by his Department to ensure that remote working remains a viable option for employees when Covid-19 restrictions are lifted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29904/21]

As we see light now at the end of the post-pandemic tunnel, we have all learned different ways of working. Will the Tánaiste update the House on progress to secure remote working for the future or the option of partial remote working for employees for the future? What steps have been taken to try to advance remote working hubs around the country? There is a big opportunity in my town of Dún Laoghaire in this regard and I am very interested to hear the Tánaiste's progress on this so far.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 14, 51 and 106 together.

I thank Deputy Carroll MacNeill for raising the important issue of remote working and the move towards a blended working model post pandemic. As I have said previously, I believe the pandemic has changed the world of work forever. Many of us will return to work but videoconferences will be more common and travelling for work much less so. While some people will work full time from the office or from home, many of us will be blended workers, working sometimes from the office and other times from home, or perhaps from a hub or on the go.

The remote working strategy, which I published in January, aims to ensure that remote work is a permanent feature in the Irish workplace of the future in a way that maximises economic, social and environmental benefits. Among the main actions we will take are mandating that home and remote work should be the norm for 20% of public sector employment; reviewing the treatment of remote working for the purposes of tax and expenditure in the next budget; mapping and investing in a network of remote working hubs across Ireland; legislating for the right to request remote working; developing a code of practice for the right to disconnect; and doing what we can to accelerate the provision of high-speed broadband to all parts of Ireland. My Department is leading on the implementation of the strategy.

Members will be aware that on 1 April I signed a the code of practice on the right to disconnect, and that a public consultation on the right to request remote working concluded on 7 May. I am very aware of the importance of infrastructure for the development of remote work. Under this strategy, significant investment will be made in remote work hubs and infrastructure in underserved areas to underpin the development of the national hub network.

The Department of Rural and Community Development, under the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, is leading the interdepartmental national hub networking programme, on which my Department is represented. Recently, it launched a €5 million call for funding for connected hubs. Earlier this week, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, launched connectedhubs.ie, which will provide a shared booking platform for hubs throughout the country. It is Ireland's first ever digital hub network and 66 hubs throughout the country are on board and accessible to remote workers via an online map. The number will rise to 100 by the end of 2021 and the overall target is for 400.

I thank the Tánaiste. This is great progress. It is not just about rural communities. In my town of Dún Laoghaire, 140,000 people live within ten minutes of a major urban town in the greater Dublin area, 34% of whom are under 30 and want to be in businesses driven by innovation and knowledge. George's Street, which is the main street, is 1.2 km long and has 264 shopfronts, many of which have been vacant for a very long time. There is an opportunity for the people of Dún Laoghaire to be able to work in jobs that have a city centre presence partially from hubs in Dún Laoghaire, with the support of very good broadband and the creation of these facilities. There is a very strong climate argument to it. Instead of creating large corporate hubs around the periphery of Dublin, we will be able to have facilities whereby people can be closer to home and have less travel and driving. This will involve less creation of new commercial space and the repurposing of existing space. I will be really interested to hear how the Tánaiste thinks we can revitalise our urban centres as well as remote working hubs in the country.

I thank the Deputy. I should add that prior to the return to offices, which I hope will be in September or October, I plan to launch a publicity campaign on remote working. The information campaign will provide information and advice to employers and employees alike. I have a concern we might just drift back to the old normal. We have a window of opportunity to grab and I am determined we should grab it and begin the conversation in the workplace about what things will look like when we work from home, not when we have to but when there is a choice. We really need employers and employees to have this conversation now.

I very much agree with what the Deputy said. We tend to talk about this in the context of rural communities and moving away from the old adage there are no jobs there. This is no longer true. There are 50,000 remote jobs on offer throughout Europe and they can be anywhere, including anywhere in rural Ireland. We also have urban streets that have a lot of vacancy. There is a future for bricks and mortar retail and banks but there will be fewer of them. Just as it is true that those buildings are vacant in rural Ireland, they are also vacant in urban areas and we need to seize the opportunity to repurpose them.

I thank the Tánaiste. Again, I appreciate his response and I go back to the climate imperative on using the structures we have, and there is a big opportunity to do so. The Tánaiste is absolutely right that we will have concrete retail spaces and new businesses, and we already see this coming into Dún Laoghaire and it is very exciting. We still have all of this vacancy and over the shop vacancy. We had the living city initiative in the past and it ran into difficulties with fire exits and additional insurance with regard to treating residential and commercial spaces differently. We have all this space and we are under pressure to revitalise our towns and get people living in them and working there. Everything the Government can do to try to drive the revitalisation of towns, through the living city initiatives, repurposing buildings, looking at the insurance elements and driving hubs back into our towns, also has a strong climate imperative. I thank the Tánaiste for his work on it.

I thank the Deputy. The climate benefits of this are very real. When we look at reducing emissions from transport in our cities, it is interesting to note that moving people from cars to trains and buses unfortunately does not make a huge amount of difference because a 5 km or 10 km journey by car versus a 5 km or 10 km journey by a diesel-powered bus or train does not reduce emissions very much. What really makes a difference is people walking or cycling to work. This is much more possible if they are able to work near their homes. This is why our suburban areas and urban towns and villages can present a real opportunity for people being able to work closer to home if we seize this opportunity.

The vacancy above the shop is very tricky for Ireland because generally the access, unlike in other European cities, tends not to be from a door at the side of the big building but through the shop. It is very hard to turn upstairs into an apartment if it means having to walk through the Spar or the Abrakebabra every time people want to go home. Some things are tricky but they are not impossible.

Industrial Development

Dara Calleary

Question:

12. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the way IDA Ireland's property division plans to work in partnership with Mayo County Council to develop access infrastructure to lands in Ballina, County Mayo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30035/21]

I am asking about the situation with regard to the proposed IDA Ireland industrial park in Ballina. The project has been under way for almost 30 years and we are really no further on. Planning permission was allowed to lapse in recent years. My most recent update from the Tánaiste last January was that we would be ready for a new planning application in the third quarter of this year and I would like to know whether we are still on schedule.

I thank the Deputy for raising the question. IDA Ireland actively promotes available buildings and land in IDA Ireland business parks and high-quality buildings in private ownership through its network of overseas offices. IDA Ireland owns approximately 10.6 ha of industrial zoned land on the Sligo road in Ballina. The site has been masterplanned by the agency to demonstrate its potential to investors.

Planning permission was previously obtained for infrastructural development, although this has since expired. IDA Ireland continues to market the site to existing and prospective investors that may be interested in expanding or locating in County Mayo. IDA Ireland has appointed an engineering firm to undertake detailed technical due diligence, review the master plan design and submit a stage one infrastructure planning application to Mayo County Council, which IDA Ireland anticipates will be ready for submission in the third quarter of 2021, subject to ongoing review.

IDA Ireland will work with Mayo County Council to ensure that the infrastructural development will be complementary to the wider development plans for Ballina and that the site, once developed, will be positioned and marketed as a suitable location for indigenous and foreign direct investment developments.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. I am huge fan of IDA Ireland. It does extraordinary work. However, its handling of this issue has been less than satisfactory. The fact that planning was allowed to lapse in the first place does not suggest priority or urgency. As the Minister of State said, we know it is marketing the site but marketing an industrial site without planning is not necessarily the best way to sell the site as a location to potential investors.

Will the Minister of State confirm that the planning application is on track for submission in the third quarter of this year and that there have been no delays since January as a consequence of Covid restrictions? I invite the Minister of State to come down to see the site. Will he engage with IDA Ireland on potentially building an advanced solution on it, similar to what was built in Castlebar, which was essential to attracting the Meissner investment? Having a walk-in unit that is ready to go will make the site much more sellable than a site with planning permission.

I agree with the Deputy that IDA Ireland is doing remarkable work in promoting Ireland internationally. It has been hugely successful over many decades in attracting foreign direct investment to Ireland. I concur that it is regrettable that the planning permission for the site was allowed to expire. I commit to the Deputy that I will engage with IDA Ireland to make sure that the commitment for the third quarter is honoured and that planning permission will be resubmitted at that stage.

The Deputy is aware that IDA Ireland has launched its new strategy for 2021 to 2024, Driving Recovery and Sustainable Growth. A key part of this is regional development, which is at the very heart of the strategy. There is a commitment that of the 800 targeted investments to be completed by the end of 2024, 400 of them must be in the regions. From the Deputy's perspective, I can see the need to have the planning permission obtained and buildings constructed to enhance the marketability of Ballina for some of this investment.

I thank the Minister of State. I reiterate that Ballina is delivering for some of the biggest corporate names in the world, including Coca-Cola, Hollister and Lionbridge. If we are given the opportunity our workforce will deliver. We cannot be part of this regional effort unless planning permission is granted. It would be even better if, once the planning permission is granted, the IDA Ireland would commit to an advanced unit. We are located between Sligo, Castlebar and Galway. We are at the centre of the catchment area of the proposed technological university for Connacht and Ulster.

There are many advantages to Ballina as an investment location and we have proven time and again our ability to deliver for any investor. What we need is for the passion of our employees and the passion of our community to be matched by IDA Ireland in terms of proactively developing this site for Ballina and then marketing it and ensuring that it is not be left on the shelf, as it has been, for nearly 30 years. We are a long way down the road on this and we still have no progress.

I reiterate my commitment to engage directly with IDA Ireland on behalf of the Deputy and seek assurances in relation to the plans for the site in Ballina. IDA Ireland, as part of its strategy for 2021-2024, has targeted 76 investments for the west region. No doubt part of that will include targeted investment for Ballina. I will work with both IDA Ireland and Deputy Calleary to advance this proposal.

Flexible Work Practices

Colm Burke

Question:

15. Deputy Colm Burke asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the status of the national remote work strategy; the details of the implementation of the strategy; the progress being made to ensure that remote working will be a viable option post-Covid-19; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30177/21]

My question is in relation to the status of the national remote work strategy, the details of the implementation of the strategy and the progress being made to ensure that remote working will be a viable option post-Covid-19.

My answer would be the same as the answer I gave to Deputy Carroll MacNeill a little earlier but if the Deputy has any supplementary questions, I would be happy to use the time to answer them.

I raise the issue of remote working. We now have a problem where we have new housing estates being built where we do not have connection to broadband for anything up to 12 months after estates are completed, and in some cases up to two to three years. If we are talking about remote working then surely when building estates we should be looking to have broadband connected at the same time as houses are completed. For instance, one will not get a broadband connection until there is a postal code and there is a gap of seven-to-eight months before a postal code is assigned.

That has not been raised with me previously. In some parts of the country broadband is not available but I would have thought that anywhere a new housing estate or housing development is being built and if there is broadband in the area, it should be connected from day one. It is the fourth utility, as they say, water, electricity, sewerage, and telecommunications, and that is now broadband or fibre. It is something I can take up with the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, or the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien. Maybe it should be a planning condition that it is available early on or from day one, provided it is possible.

The issue raises the assignment of the postal code. Why does it take so much time to have a postal code assigned? Broadband will not be connected until there is a postal code assigned and the postal code is not assigned until the person physically moves into the house. Postal codes should be assigned before houses are completed. It is a simple matter to do. Once someone has signed a contract and the houses are substantially constructed, postal codes should be assigned.

The Deputy is correct. If I understand the technology correctly, there is no reason an Eircode could not be ascribed to a new home or a new building before it is occupied. It is a unique place identifier, not a person identifier. I do not see why that cannot be done.

It is not something that falls under my remit. It is under the remit of the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, but I will certainly follow up on it. It does not make any sense to me and perhaps it is something we can fix easily enough.

If we want to have remote working, then we must have all of the boxes ticked so that we can facilitate it in the fastest possible timeframe. I would urge that these technicalities would be resolved. They can be resolved.

Question No. 16 replied to with Written Answers.

Company Law

Catherine Connolly

Question:

17. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the status of the review by the Company Law Review Group of legal provisions on liquidations and the rights of employees in the context of company law; when the report will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30198/21]

It is a straightforward question on the status of the review by the Company Law Review Group of legal provisions on liquidations and the rights of employees in the context of company law.

The Company Law Review Group, CLRG, is a statutory advisory body charged with advising the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment on matters pertaining to company law. Its membership is broad and representative of all stakeholders, including employee and employer representative groups, the Revenue Commissioners, insolvency and legal practitioners as well as regulators. The members have an expertise in company law and provide a well-rounded analysis on the issues that come before them for consideration.

As part of the CLRG work programme, the Tánaiste requested they consider whether the legal provisions on collective redundancies and the liquidation of companies effectively protect the rights of workers as a matter of priority. A report was submitted to the Tánaiste, the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, and me on 5 March 2021, which included an Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, minority report. The recommendation included a revisit by the CLRG of some of the provisions of its previous analysis of the issue. The CLRG report has now been published on the group's website following its consideration by our officials.

I and the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, have jointly looked at the legislative provisions that deal with redundancy and insolvency from both a company law and an employment perspective which come under our respective remits. The report submitted by the CLRG along with the ICTU minority report were considered by our officials and both our community law unit and employment law unit as part of the development of a plan for action on collective redundancies following insolvency.

Both the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, and I discussed this plan with stakeholders last week. It was well received and we had a good long discussion on it as well. We intend for the plan to be published shortly after the Tánaiste brings it through Cabinet.

The plan details short-term and medium-term measures that will further enhance the protection of employees in a way that does not overly impede businesses and their operations. In preparing the plan, both the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, and I, and the Department officials, consulted with trade unions and business representative bodies in identifying gaps or deficiencies in company employment laws that could improve the position of employees who find themselves in a redundancy situation due to a company insolvency.

The Government stands ready to respond as the plan progresses, as we committed to both in the programme for Government but also in July last when the Tánaiste met with Mandate and some of the Members in relation to Debenhams. At the time we committed to, if we could at all, strengthening the legal position in relation to the protection of employees in these situations. That is what we are trying to do.

I have the reply in my hand. I welcome that there is a plan and I welcome that it will be published. Perhaps the Minister of State can give a date. I will give the background to this. Duffy Cahill dates back to March 2016. Six years and a couple of months later, we witnessed the Debenhams workers. I managed to stand with them only on a few occasions. Certainly, they were the most impressive group, mostly women.

I ask the Minister of State, Deputy English, not to stand up and tell me it would not have helped the Debenhams workers because it arose from previous debacles in relation to Clerys and Connollys. That was the Duffy Cahill report. Perhaps it would not specifically have helped the Debenhams workers but it would have given some hope that the Government was serious about employee rights.

There were six recommendations then. All of them had to do with employment law, except one which was company law. The Government then got a review. What is the status of the review? Has it been completely published or are there parts still to be completed?

The plan of action has been discussed with the unions and stakeholders and they are happy with our plans on this. Once it goes through Cabinet, we can discuss it fully here.

To be clear, we have had many discussions around Debenhams and the Duffy Cahill report. The authors of that report have not made the assertion that the Deputies keep making in here that it would have assisted or would have prevented the situation in Debenhams. The Duffy Cahill report was written in response to a situation in Clerys which is not the same as Debenhams. It is wrong that, repeatedly, Members come in here and make that link without any evidence or any connection. They are not similar situations.

Of course, we committed to the Debenhams workers and to many others to review this situation and to see how we could strengthen the legal position, not only to look at Duffy Cahill, although that was part of our work, but at the overall area from both a company law and employment law point of view, and we are making changes in that respect.

Some of the work from the CLRG is not yet completed. That will come forward in the autumn. We will act on that as well. We are in a position to strengthen the protections and certainly enhance the guidance there and work with all involved. The unions are happy with our approach on that as well and that is an important point.

I tried to be careful with my words. I said clearly that it probably would not have helped the Debenhams workers.

The Minister of State should please not use his minute to be disingenuous.

There were six recommendations. Why were they not implemented? I asked that question in the context of confidence in this or any Government. I welcome the plan and that the Government will give us a date, but the Minister of State is telling me that there are other parts to be completed by the CLRG in September. Given various Government approaches to the Duffy Cahill report, I cannot have confidence that the review will be published in September. I want to work with the Minister of State, but his using his minute to misrepresent what I said is unacceptable. Have we learned anything from what happened to the Debenhams workers, the Connolly debacle, the Clerys debacle and many more besides?

I understand that Marks & Spencer is negotiating an agreement on redundancies. I will ask a specific question on the exclusion of people who were on sick leave for more than six months. Someone who has been out with Covid is excluded from participating in the voluntary redundancy scheme at Marks & Spencer. The Minister of State might reflect on that.

If the Deputy reads back over my answer, I did not say that she specifically was making that link. I said that Deputies in general had repeatedly come to the Chamber and tried to link the Debenhams and Clerys situations together. That is not based on the evidence presented to the Dáil or the courts. I wish to be clear on that. I will happily engage if people present the evidence they claim to have, but none has been.

Regarding the Marks & Spencer case, I will examine it. It is not something that I can discuss with the Deputy in the Chamber, but I would be happy to discuss it with her offline.

The Duffy Cahill report was examined by the previous Government and reviewed by various Departments. The decision was formally taken that it did not need to be implemented. At the time, it was not felt that the report's recommendations would strengthen the position. At the Tánaiste's direction, we undertook to review the matter, including the legislation in this space, to determine whether we could do anything to strengthen the position. A part of our plan will involve some of the recommendations of the Duffy Cahill report, but not all six. I want to be clear on that. I will be happy to engage with the Deputy once the Cabinet has concluded its work on this matter.

We are in a position to strengthen the rights of workers, which we are committed to doing in everything we do in the Department, in particular in terms of redundancies and insolvencies.