Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

Yesterday, a very dangerous and provocative march by thousands of flag-bearing Israeli ultra-nationalists and pro-settlers in East Jerusalem once again caused tensions to flare. This march was undoubtedly a show of force, with chanting of anti-Palestinian slogans, some of them deeply disturbing, such as "Death to Arabs" and "May your village burn". Unsurprisingly, this led to violence once again in Gaza and Israeli airstrikes have resumed. This is very troubling because the current ceasefire must be maintained and the violence must end. Has the Government engaged with the new Israeli Administration to relay the view of this Dáil, as recently expressed, regarding illegal settlement-building in Palestine and that these actions amount to de facto annexation and must cease? What progress has been made on that?

I am aware of the airstrikes overnight in response to the incendiary balloons launched from Gaza. We want all sides to respect the ceasefire. It is important that the ceasefire is made permanent and is long-term in nature, for the benefit of all the people across the entire region. All efforts must be made to ensure that is the case and we will be communicating that to the new Israeli Government. We wish the new Prime Minister and his Government the very best and hope their election will mark a change of direction. We want, as a country, to have a constructive engagement with the Israeli Government but we have been very consistent in our views, which we articulated to the previous Government and will articulate to the new Government, in respect of the resolution of the long-standing conflict in Palestine and the need for a two-state solution.

I want to raise the issue of community employment, CE, schemes. In my county, Tipperary, I have had a range of people contact me on this issue. Last week, David Mulvaney in Ballynacargy, County Westmeath, eloquently outlined the situation there to me whereby if these schemes are not extended, many people whom the ESB is pushing towards getting major awards under the CE programme will simply not have enough time to complete their training. Given that this issue affects thousands of people, will the Taoiseach consider extending the programme in order that people can finish their training, get their awards and complete their year? They have not been able to do so because of Covid. As part of this, will the Taoiseach consider the provision of more resources temporarily while the schemes get restarted in the new environment under Covid? Finally, will he look at the whole package to ensure we can have consistency in the CE schemes and the work they do in communities across Ireland, which we all acknowledge is very valuable?

I will certainly engage with the Minister on the issues the Deputy has raised. I have been a long-standing supporter of CE schemes, which have had a huge impact on communities the length and breadth of the country. I will certainly revert back to the Deputy.

Does the Government stand over the report of the Commission of Investigation into the Mother and Baby Homes report, as it claims it does in the High Court, or does it believe there are such fundamental problems with it that it is now necessary to authorise a separate review of the report, as the Minister has now said? The Chief State Solicitor's office submitted statements opposing judicial reviews being granted because it says these women seeking judicial reviews are not identifiable in the report. The Taoiseach can obviously see the inherent and very blatant contradiction in the Government's approach. It cannot simultaneously defend the report and suggest it is so fundamentally flawed that a separate review of the report is now required. Which is it?

First, I do not support or accept the Deputy's assertions in terms of-----

Does he accept that the Chief State Solicitor-----

I did not interrupt Deputy Cairns. I am entitled to the right of reply. I answer people as they ask questions here. I do not accept the assertion the Deputy made. I make the point that the commission was established by this House. Her party supported the establishment of the commission. Her party supported the legislative framework that governed the establishment of the commission-----

Will he answer the question, please?

This is the key. This is the core of the issue. The more fundamental point-----

My question is does the Taoiseach stand over the report or does he believe it is so fundamentally flawed we need a fundamental review.

You have asked your question Deputy Cairns. Please let the Taoiseach answer without interruption.

This is affecting people's judicial review hearings.

What is important here is we do not have the wherewithal. We created these commissions of investigation into a whole range of issues. The Mother and Baby Homes investigation was under the aegis of a commission of investigation. It is independent of the Oireachtas and of the Government with respect to its findings and its content. We may disagree on the content of any given report-----

With two reports that potentially contradict each other, which one does the Taoiseach stand over?

The Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, is going to deal with this in terms of ensuring a voice for the survivors in respect of those testimonies contained in the confidential report.

The time is up Taoiseach, I am sorry.

That should be acknowledged in the High Court because that is not what the Chief State Solicitor is saying.

No, the Deputy is being disingenuous on this. That is what I have to say now on that.

I am sorry but we must conclude on this matter.

I do not want any conflict on this. We want to try to get to a solution-----

Yes, can we conclude please?

------and we are going to implement the key recommendations which we have already made great progress on------

The Government cannot stand over-----

-----in terms of information and tracing with the report.

It is so fundamentally flawed that the Government needs a separate review.

I am sorry Deputy. It is not in order to continue to hector the Taoiseach. Can we please adhere to the timelines? I call Deputy Paul Murphy.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle. That was a cop-out by the Taoiseach.

Last week's details of a so-called rental protection Bill suggested this would be a plan to stop the double rent hikes many tenants are facing in the next month, but the details of the plan fail to address the actual scale of the problem. Hundreds of thousands of tenants are living in fear of rent hikes of €150 or €200 per month but the Government's proposal will only protect a few hundred. Worse still, even for those few hundred, it kicks the can down the road to January and does not stop landlords imposing this year's rent hikes, and last year's, at that point in time by up to 12%. If one accepts an 8% rent increase is unaffordable then surely one can see the problem with a triple hike. As well as a wave of rent increases we are seeing a wave of evictions now the eviction ban is lifted. Over 1,000 households have been given an eviction notice in the past ten months. That will become a tsunami of evictions unless real action is taken. Will the Taoiseach take action to deal with this issue?

Yes. As I said earlier, the Minister with responsibility for housing will be extending the legislation to protect tenants and protect those who are vulnerable because of Covid-19 and its impact on their incomes, with 475 people having availed of that protection to date. It is not open to the Minister, either constitutionally or legally, to have a blanket ban on rent increases. It simply is not open to him. However, he will be bringing proposals before the House in relation to these rental issues.

There is currently a detailed and constructive submission with the Department seeking funding under the National Development Plan, NDP, to ensure the future of residential care at Dean Maxwell Community Nursing Unit, Roscrea. Doubts continue to loom over this valued and cherished facility. I appreciate that the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have acknowledged the need of Roscrea and that it deserves a residential elderly care unit. Its future is dependent on the successful outcome to the community submission under the NDP. That will determine if those in need of elderly care will be able to access a facility in their own town with daily visits from family and friends. Exclusion from the plan will force elderly care out of Roscrea to Nenagh, with all the disruption and inconvenience that entails. What is the status and the timeline for the NDP review? Can the Taoiseach ensure Roscrea will be included in the plan? Is it the case that each Department receives an allocation under the plan and is subsequently responsible for the determination of which projects will be selected for funding?

I thank the Deputy for raising this very important and pertinent issue. He, along with other Deputies from County Tipperary, has been consistent on its importance. Obviously, high-quality public investment is key to enhancing health services and the broader economic recovery in locations across the country. Basically, the NDP review is continuing. I know the Roscrea Community Development Council has made a submission to the public consultation on the review of the NDP. Copies were sent to a number of Government Departments so Ministers are aware of this project. The submission proposes capital investment be made to build a new Dean Maxwell care home and community hub, and there are a number of Oireachtas Members from County Tipperary who support this proposal. I understand the eagerness and advocacy from the Deputy and from all the local representative who want progress on this new facility. Yes, the allocation will go to Government Departments and agencies. Suffice it to say those agencies and Departments are well aware of the interest in this facility.

On this issue of community halls the Taoiseach addressed earlier, Newcastle Community Hall had an excellent submission for funding under urban and village renewal, under the stewardship of Ms Marian O'Dwyer. The hall got 80% funding in late 2018. The 20%, which was €35,000, then had to be made up. With sterling work and ingenuity the €35,000 has been raised. Now the dilemma is that because of the delay the group must retender the project. As the Taoiseach knows, thanks to many Government policies the cost of building material and works has escalated hugely, so there is still a shortfall. I raised this with the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Humphreys, before and she gave me no solace. The group raised the money itself, in the teeth of Covid, and it is a credit to them. However, now it is out to tender and the group is worried the prices coming back will probably be 30% to 40% above the original cost. We must support those communities. Ní neart go cur le chéile. The hall is there since 1973, since the late Bridie Coleman bought if off the vocational educational committee, VEC, and set up a community centre. Extra funding is needed for these facilities in order to have them for the community's use.

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. I think I was in that hall.

He was. I brought him in and gave him tea.

I think the Deputy invited me, at that time.

I did, and he agreed to come.

The tea was very good.

Did he drink it?

I hope it was green.

As Deputy Mattie McGrath said, 80% of the funding was allocated and to be fair to the community, they raised €35,000. We will keep the situation under review in terms of what the tender price comes in at. We will see what can happen and work with the local authority there as well.

In response to between 300 and 500 jobs being at risk at Lufthansa Technik in Shannon, the Minister for Transport announced another task force for Shannon. That comes 12 months after the aviation task force reported, with none of its recommendations being implemented in the interim.

Meanwhile, we are implementing the EU digital green certificate without the use of antigen testing and we are an outlier in the European Union in that regard. The Ferguson report, prepared by the Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government the Taoiseach leads, has not even been discussed by NPHET. According to NPHET's minutes, it was never tabled nor discussed. At the same time, tens of millions of euro are being paid every month to a laboratory for PCR testing, the director of which laboratory sits on NPHET. I ask the Taoiseach who is running this country and for whose benefit?

The task force on Shannon was advocated long before the most recent employment issues. Something was committed to on the Government's formation, and it is a wider issue, particularly in the context of developing the entire estuary. We are conscious of the policies on fossil fuels and non-provision of fossil fuel infrastructure so we want to look at alternative infrastructure that can generate employment and help economic recovery in the Shannon area.

Offshore wind is an example, along with other developments of that kind. That genuinely is the reason we are setting up the task force for the Shannon region. It can be helpful as a catalyst for economic recovery in the region and projecting ahead for the future.

On the question of antigen testing, the chief scientific adviser has concluded a report and the majority was in favour of the more widespread use of antigen testing. The Deputy is correct that public health authorities are less enthused by it. At the same time we are rolling that out in different sectors of society. There is a pilot project in higher education.

Following the murder of Keane Mulready-Woods in Drogheda a year ago, there was a major Garda response that has been very successful, with a significant increase in the number of full-time gardaí in our town. At the same time an inquiry was set up by Mr. Vivian Geiran, the former head of the Probation Service, into what needs to change in our area to provide resources to beat criminals and put them away as long as possible.

One of the resource issues identified was inadequate Garda support in east Meath, with more than 20,000 people having no access to a full-time Garda station. Members of the Garda there operate from a bungalow and if there is an issue, they must ring Ashbourne or Duleek to get support. It is not that the Garda does not wish to get the service but rather that resources are not there.

Recently, over two weekends there were very serious public order incidents, with a serious assault of a young person. The Garda must be able to respond. The Garda Commissioner is aware of this.

The point has been made.

We need action on the Geiran report. We need a full-time Garda station in east Meath.

I fully accept that issues have arisen, particularly with regard to the horrific murder of Keane Mulready-Woods. It is important to point out that Garda resources have increased significantly in the area over the past number of years. There are now 331 gardaí in the area as of March this year, compared with 277 in 2015. There has been an increase in Garda resources.

There must be a multi-agency response to questions not just of crime but assistance to young people who are facing difficult challenges. It is something the Government is committed to and we will examine it further. We will keep in touch with the Deputy on that.

On 28 January, I raised with the Tánaiste the question of reservoirs in Enfield, Longwood and Ballivor, County Meath, and every week since there have been water interruptions in all these villages. Even this week in Ballivor there were interruptions in the water supply three or four times, meaning the kids were going to school with uniforms being wiped down rather than washed and people are unable to have showers. People are also spending a lot of money on water from the shops.

This has gone on for years. In fairness to Meath County Council, it has planning in place for these three new reservoirs. There is a design in place and a contractor in place. The council is waiting on Irish Water to release €1.5 million for the project. People are sick and tired of the standard response from Irish Water. Will the Taoiseach write to Irish Water and ask it to release the funding for these three reservoirs in Longwood, Enfield and Ballivor as a matter of urgency? Access to water is a basic human right.

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, allocated significant additional resources to Irish Water in 2020, particularly in the July stimulus programme, as well as in the Estimates for 2021. Of course, the objective of the allocation of those resources was to enhance water infrastructure, including reservoir provision, waste water treatment plants and so forth. I hope that those resources can be provided in this case in order that the necessary work can get the green light.

There are people aged between 60 and 69 who have received an initial dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine and they are very concerned that they remain exposed and not fully vaccinated, especially as they have seen the Delta variant ravaging the UK. These people have been very careful during the various lockdowns but are very concerned they could be exposed. They are asking for this concern to be recognised so they could be prioritised to be fully vaccinated.

Changing the interval between doses would be helpful but it still means many people will not be fully vaccinated until late in July. It is a real worry, especially when we consider many of these are vulnerable older people. They are asking if the mixing of vaccines, including the likes of the Pfizer vaccine, could be considered so they could be fully vaccinated sooner.

I thank the Deputy for raising what is a very important question. I urge everybody called for their second vaccine dose to take that dose. It is the best protection we can give to one another and it is extremely important that this happens. The HSE has brought forward the interval for the second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine so by mid-July, all that age cohort should have their second dose of AstraZeneca. That is a significant advance on what was originally planned. It will give up to 92% protection against the Delta variant, which is important.

The national immunisation advisory committee, NIAC, has not recommended the mixing of vaccines and the committee has said it is important that people take the vaccine available to them as soon as that is offered. Once the AstraZeneca programme is concluded, we will be down to the two mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.

The Taoiseach knows that next Monday will mark a year from the tragic death of Noah Donohoe, whose body was found in Belfast and whose families have had no answers about his death. This was a teenager tragically found dead after a long search. I know the family has requested a meeting with the Taoiseach and People Before Profit stands squarely behind the family's pursuit of justice and an inquiry. We also stand behind the campaigners, who are called "Noah's army". Today the Dáil should demonstrate its solidarity with the Donohoe family and the campaign. Will the Taoiseach tell us what progress he is making in responding to the family's request for a meeting? Will he expedite the request so the campaign and family can finally see a full, thorough and accountable investigation into the tragic circumstances that led to the death of Noah Donohoe last year?

Noah Donohoe's death was very sad and tragic. My understanding is the authorities in Northern Ireland have been pursuing this investigation and the degree to which this jurisdiction can have an impact on that investigation is clearly limited. I will revert on seeing what we can do to expedite a meeting with the family.

In view of the critical role played by the agrifood sector in this country in the economic recovery following the financial crash, will due regard now be given to the sustainability of the dairy and beef sector in this country and the need to ensure it can be protected through the Common Agricultural Policy and other means and that the proposed Mercosur agreement or the related importation of food into Europe will not undermine the sustainability of Irish products?

The Mercosur agreement as it currently stands is not consistent with European Union climate change objectives and trade deals must be consistent with those objectives. Given the rampant deforestation of the land in the Amazon region, it seems clear the Brazilian Government is not serious about addressing climate issues.

The dairy industry is a strong industry in Ireland. It provides thousands of jobs in rural Ireland and across the regions. It produces high-quality output in milk and baby formula, which provide great sustenance across the world for many families. We will continue to support the industry.

Last week, the Alzheimer Society of Ireland published its research report on caring and coping with dementia during Covid-19. The report found family carers to be at breaking point, with their mental and physical well-being seriously affected. More than half of family carers were worried about how they would continue to cope. Carers spoke about the loss of day services, about community services being cut off overnight and of feeling like they were being left at the back of the queue for vaccines. Family carers have made enormous sacrifices to keep those they care for safe during this time. Many of the report's recommendations were mirrored in the Sinn Féin motion that was passed in this House at the end of March. They include the need for emotional supports such as counselling, as well as the need to prioritise the resumption of day care services and double expenditure for respite to ensure carers can access these vital supports. Will the Taoiseach act on the motion passed in this House at the end of March, with the support of his Government, to immediately support family carers who are at breaking point?

I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Mary Butler, on the very proactive role she has played in dealing with dementia. She has followed through on the role she played while in opposition when she did some great work with former Senator Colette Kelleher in producing a groundbreaking report. The Minister of State has followed through in implementing the report's recommendations in her first year in her role.

I always regret that attempts were made to politicise the vaccination programme. Sinn Féin has never resiled from endeavouring to do that. No one was left behind in the vaccination programme and it is wrong to say that. The Deputy's party seems absolutely hell-bent on undermining the genuine efforts that everybody is making to vaccinate the population for crass political reasons. I regret that. It is a consistent theme of Sinn Féin and it is not right.

Every year, families are dragged through the courts at significant personal and financial cost to them and to each and every one of us, as citizens, just because they are trying to get answers on medical mistakes. We have had promise after promise to introduce medical disclosure legislation. The Patient Safety (Notifiable Patient Safety Incidents) Bill 2019 was eventually referred, 18 months ago, to Committee Stage with the Select Committee on Health. The Bill has, however, lain there since. This legislation would allow families to get to the truth of what happened to loved ones. It would allow those dealing with the consequences of a medical mistake or misdiagnosis to get redress. The State is continuing to fork out large sums of money for legal fees when we should be providing people with the truth. Where is this legislation and when will it be enacted?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The purpose of the Patient Safety (Notifiable Patient Safety Incidents) Bill 2019 is to set out the legislative framework for a number of important patient safety measures, including mandatory open disclosure of specified serious patient safety incidents, including a process to designate other patient safety incidents by regulation in line with advancements in clinical practice, the notification of these serious incidents externally to the Health Information and Quality Authority, and so forth. Work on drafting amendments was delayed in 2020 but it has now progressed and is currently being finalised in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. It is anticipated that this work will conclude in the coming weeks and that the Bill will be ready to come to Committee Stage early in the autumn session.

Despite words, commitments and supposed agreements, maternity restrictions remain in place. These are real women and real-time experiences, and a real solution is needed. Yesterday, I spoke with a lady who is having her second baby under these restrictions. Extenuating circumstances apply because this will be the last baby the couple in question will have. In the period since the first child was born, this woman has gone through the unendurable pain of losing twins to miscarriage. Again, she was alone because of maternity restrictions. This couple are now pleading, in writing, to their local hospital to facilitate the father to be there for just this one birth. That is all he is asking for. It is clear the hospital is not listening. If the Taoiseach does not have the authority to fix this, who does?

The clinicians are responsible in the hospital. The guidelines have been issued nationally. This should not be happening and that family should be facilitated by the hospital. The vaccinations have worked in hospital settings. The incidence of the disease is very low in hospitals because of the positive impact of vaccinations. I do not know which hospital it is-----

It is the Regional Hospital Mullingar.

If the Deputy sends the details to my office, I will follow through with the Health Service Executive with regard to what is happening at the hospital, what the policy is and exactly why the clinical guidance issued nationally is not being followed, if that is the case.

As the Taoiseach is aware, it is policy on all sides of the House that people who are elderly or ill and need care should be allowed to live in and enjoy the comfort of their own homes, insofar as possible. Despite this, there are thousands of people in nursing homes in this country, funded under the fair deal scheme at huge cost to the taxpayer, who would prefer to be living at home with their families and whose families would prefer them to be at home. This is not possible because we do not have a proper statutory system of home care. There is a definite commitment in the programme for Government to introduce such a scheme. Has work commenced on the preparation of this extremely urgent legislation? When can we expect to see it?

In the last few seconds remaining to me, I will follow on from the question asked by the previous Deputy. I, too, have a particular problem with a maternity hospital in my constituency which is flagrantly disobeying the directive of the Minister for Health. I will be in touch with the Taoiseach about that.

I thank the Deputy for the issue he has raised. I know he is a long-time advocate for statutory home care. There is a commitment to do that and I will revert to the Deputy with an update on the progression of that legislation.

Through the Minister for Health, the HSE and its CEO, we have given very clear direction on what should happen in maternity hospitals around partners being allowed in for all the scans and for births. That also applies in respect of Limerick.

There are three Deputies remaining, whose questions I will take if they are each prepared to put their questions in 30 seconds. We will then ask the Taoiseach to answer all three questions.

The Irish fishing industry has stumbled from one crisis to another in the past 12 months, with penalty points, the terrible Brexit deal for the industry and, in recent weeks, the weighing crisis that the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, and Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine have known about since Christmas but did not inform the sector of until 16 April. Now we find out that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and SFPA have made an agreement with French, British and Belgian vessels landing in Ireland that their fish can be landed into the back of lorries and the catch landed does not have to be sampled, weighed or checked. I ask the Taoiseach and Minister to direct the SFPA to revoke this underhand agreement and to ensure that any foreign fishing trawler landing fish in Ireland be subject to the same checks as Irish fishing vessels.

I have written to the Taoiseach and the Departments of Justice and Foreign Affairs about the independent commission on information retrieval, which is an integral part of the various agreements on Northern Ireland, including the Stormont House and New Decade, New Approach agreements. The agreement setting up the commission was signed in 2015 and was laid before the House in January 2016. It requires legislation here. Every reply I receive indicates that the commission will be established as the legislation is passed in Dublin and London. When will the legislation be passed in Dublin? What is blocking it? Why can we not just move ahead, even if the British do not?

My question is on children's respite services in Galway. Crannóg respite service caters for children with complex medical needs. It is only open for 19 nights each month and needs to be expanded to include more children. Crannmór respite centre for children with autism needs an alternative location. Currently, if children require emergency respite, the only option available for parents is to bring their child to an accident and emergency department, which is crazy. Will the Taoiseach commit to extending children's respite services in the Galway area?

I will meet representatives from the fishing industry next week on a broad range of significant issues that face the industry. I am not in a position to direct the SFPA because of legislation passed in this House which separates the executive function from the operational enforcement obligations on the SFPA.

I thank the Taoiseach.

To respond to Deputy Costello, again the wider legacy issues of the Stormont House Agreement have to be dealt with in concert. We will work to see whether we can do it independently but there is a need for all parties to the agreement to move and follow through on it and we are committed to doing so. I will contact the HSE in respect of additional resources and what the situation is with regard to respite for children in both centres identified.

I thank the Taoiseach for taking those questions.