An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

As Members are aware, we have agreed that for the period of the emergency only, the rapporteur's report will not be read out. We also have agreed new arrangements for the taking of objections. Are the proposed arrangements for dealing with this week's business agreed to?

Not agreed. Many people are offering. I call on Deputy Mattie McGrath. One member from each group I am afraid.

I got a call from the Business Committee today saying the debate on Covid-19 was being moved from Wednesday to Thursday to allow for new legislation to be introduced here to deal with outdoor drinking - it seems the indoor drinking will not be allowed anyway - and the appointment of judges.

That is a plethora of issues in one legislative measure. This is downright blackguarding. We need a proper, full and meaningful debate in the House to deal with the massive implications of today's decision. Last night, the Government was told by NPHET and today it says: "Yes, we will do it. How high do you want us to jump?". The Taoiseach went off on a Zoom call or something else. He is in Zoom-land anyway. Those in government will all be zoomed off. They are all zoned out because they are not listening to the people. Now, hey presto, the Government is going to engage in a social dialogue with the industry, 15 months later. It is codding nobody. We need a full, meaningful, long and detailed debate on the implications of this. Are we going to have an international investigation of the behaviour of NPHET and its bonkers advice?

I also wish to express my concern about the proposal to push the statements on the vaccine roll-out to Friday. The reports today are very concerning and we need to deal with them as soon as possible. While we all want to facilitate legislation that clarifies the position regarding outdoor dining, to include another issue relating to High Court judges in the same legislative measure is not helpful at all. Those issues should be dealt with separately. We have real concerns about this.

The other point is that the Common Agricultural Policy has finally been negotiated. This is a matter of serious concern to rural Ireland and we need time to debate it this week as well. We need clarification on those issues before we can agree to the schedule for this week.

I agree that the debate on the Covid-19 vaccination programme should happen when it was scheduled to take place, particularly in view of the important announcements that have been made.

I also object in the strongest possible terms to the guillotine being imposed on Report Stage of the Land Development Agency Bill 2021. This legislation deals with the entire public land bank and, in the view of some of us, is essentially opening that land bank to private speculators and investors. Our group has tabled approximately 60 amendments that seek to protect the public land bank from privatisation and the vast majority of those amendments will not even be reached because of the guillotine. That is absolutely unacceptable. I ask the Government to lift the guillotine so we can properly debate all the amendments on this critical issue, which relates to the provision of public and genuinely affordable housing on public land.

The Wednesday evening slot is fast becoming the guillotine slot. That is something the Business Committee has to do more work on because it is absolutely unsatisfactory. The moving of the debate on the vaccine roll-out to Friday's ghost sitting is totally unsatisfactory given everything that is happening daily and, in particular, what has been announced this afternoon. We dissent in the strongest possible terms.

The decision that has been made today on hospitality is absolutely disastrous. It will push tens of thousands of people in the State further into poverty. It is completely wrong that this decision has not yet been the subject of democratic discussion in the Chamber. Either Irish restaurants and pubs are more dangerous than their counterparts in the rest of Europe or our Government is alone in Europe in not being able to make a decision in this regard. There must be a debate on the matter this week.

I hope this is the last week we will sit in this Chamber wasting taxpayers' money. We are told it is on public health advice, yet we will sit in Leinster House on Friday. Whoever is providing the health advice is providing health advice that is as riddled with inconsistencies as the NPHET advice is on how to deal with Covid-19. I hope the Ceann Comhairle, as the Speaker and as a constitutional officer, will give a commitment that we are not going to waste any more taxpayers' money by sitting in this obscene building.

A Cheann Comhairle-----

We can only have one speaker from each group.

I call on the Government to ensure there is a debate to discuss why it is keeping the pubs in rural Ireland and rural Kerry closed indefinitely.

Please, Deputy-----

Why is it doing that? What is it hiding? What has it against them?

Deputy Healy-Rae, you are out of order.

Come out and tell us. We want an open and honest debate about this.

Resume your seat, please. You are out of order.

What the Government is doing is out of order; a Cheann Comhairle, totally out of order.

It might be, but you are out of order.

There is no rhyme or reason. I want to know the reason.

Please resume your seat. I call Deputy Cian O'Callaghan.

I also do not agree with moving the debate on the Covid-19 vaccination programme to later in the week.

I also object in the strongest possible terms to the use of the guillotine on the Land Development Agency Bill 2021. Considerable time has already been devoted to that Bill on Committee Stage, so it really is very disappointing that the Government is seeking to guillotine it now. With some more time allocated, we could do the Bill proper justice. It is significant legislation and it deserves proper scrutiny and adequate time. The use of the guillotine on such important legislation is not acceptable at all.

I thank the Deputy. Does the Minister wish to reply?

Yes, I will address various issues raised. First, the debate on Covid-19 is on Friday, and that will be timely because we are not making final decisions on this. As I said, we must consider, listen and engage and Friday will allow for that debate here, as well as for the briefing in advance. The outdoor legislation that comes before the House on Wednesday regarding our Covid-19 crisis is critical.

We also have a crisis in there being an insufficient number of High Court judges, so that aspect is being included there because we have an urgent need to get judges in place.

Jobs for cronies.

Jobs for the boys.

Deputy Mac Lochlainn raised the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, but that was debated two weeks ago. I am sure that there will be no shortage of opportunities in committees to allow us to go into the real detail of the CAP agreement, which does need to be examined and questioned. Regarding Deputies Boyd Barrett and Cian O'Callaghan and the Land Development Agency Bill 2021, I am glad there was extensive discussion on Committee Stage. Returning to Leader's Questions earlier, we were talking about the fact that we have a housing crisis. One of the key solutions to it, to my mind, is going to be the Land Development Agency, and that does drive the need for that agency to be legislated for before the summer recess to enable us to start getting that body to build houses. There is a housing crisis that necessitates the need for such urgency.

Turning to Deputy Duncan Smith and the timing of business on Wednesday, the Deputy will know that we have to do that to consolidate votes on that day. It is the ordering and it is in keeping with our measures in respect of Covid-19, which require us to order our business in an unusual way but one that is for our own health and safety. Similarly, Deputy McNamara will, I am sure, know that it has been the services department making the assessment in this regard, and, by and large, it has done a very good job. We have not had significant incidents of transmission within the Oireachtas. That is an important symbol of how as a country we have-----

We have wasted €17 million.

I do not believe we have wasted it. It was important that we set an example in ensuring-----

-----that our Parliament shows by example that we can do our business-----

Then why are we in Leinster House on Friday?

I understand that it is because the services department has made an assessment that the absence of committees sitting on Friday means that there are fewer people in the building. The Ceann Comhairle will be able to give much more clarity on this point.

It is because taxpayers' money is being wasted.

That judgment call has been made on a scientific basis, and, just as we listen to other scientific advice, we should not ignore the scientific advice coming from our own officials within the Oireachtas.

(Interruptions).

On a point of clarification, either the Minister is confused or the whole country is confused. He is telling us that what was announced today by the now absent Taoiseach, who has gone missing, is not true and is not really a fact at all but a figment of our imagination. The restaurants will be open.

That is not a point of order.

No, we need absolute clarity. We cannot have a senior Minister coming in and saying that what the Taoiseach announced only an hour ago is not true.

No, that is a political debate and not a point of order. The Deputy is out of order.

No, I want clarification, please.

I am sorry, but the Deputy is not going to get it. My apologies, but the Minister has responded and we must move on now. I will correct Deputy McNamara. I do not know where he got the figure of €17 million from or to what that is referring. Our presence here has not incurred any cost above €1.8 million, which I think is the figure, and most of that is related to broadcasting. Of that €1.8 million, much of that expenditure would have been incurred anyway if we were in Leinster House. It is not an addition and we are not going to have a debate.

The Ceann Comhairle trots that out persistently.

We are not going to have a debate.

Leinster House is still open. All the costs involved are still being met.

We are not going to have a debate, Deputy. Let me also make it clear that I do not make any unilateral decisions on these matters. The decision-making body was the Business Committee, acting on the basis of advice regarding public health from health and safety consultants, our own staff and the Houses of the Oireachtas Service.

Question put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 25; Níl, 20; Staon, 0.

  • Browne, James.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Canney, Seán.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Devlin, Cormac.
  • Dillon, Alan.
  • Duffy, Francis Noel.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Flaherty, Joe.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Higgins, Emer.
  • Lahart, John.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McAuliffe, Paul.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Sullivan, Christopher.
  • Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Smyth, Niamh.

Níl

  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Browne, Martin.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Nolan, Carol.
  • O'Callaghan, Cian.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • O'Rourke, Darren.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Murchú, Ruairí.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ryan, Patricia.
  • Smith, Duncan.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Ward, Mark.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Brendan Griffin and Jack Chambers; Níl, Deputies Mattie McGrath and Pádraig Mac Lochlainn.
Question declared carried.

The programme for Government promised an examination of the issue of defective housing in the first 12 months. The programme states that the examination will have "regard to the recommendations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing report, ‘Safe as Houses’." As the Minister knows, that report called for the introduction of a latent defects redress scheme for affected homeowners. The working group on defective buildings was announced by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, in September. It has been meeting monthly since March but it appears that its work is greatly delayed. Can the Minister confirm that the group will finish its work in time to meet the programme for Government commitment to have its report within 12 months? Can he also confirm that provision will be made in budget 2022 for a redress scheme for the affected homeowners?

My colleague, the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, was instrumental in putting that commitment in the programme for Government because she saw in her constituency, as I am sure we have all seen in our constituencies, the effects of defective building. It is seen not just counties Donegal and Mayo but right across the country. I will contact the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and try to get a specific timeline. I do not have it to hand but I will contact the Minister and ask him to forward it to the Deputy. It has to be part of a much wider approach to improve building standards and protect those affected by defects over recent years.

Given the Minister's responses to other questions on the decisions the Cabinet has just made, I think he is honestly making it up as he goes along. The fact that he came into the Dáil and said he did not believe there will be a fourth wave is absolutely extraordinary.

What parameters were set down for the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET? Generally speaking, the Government would have to advise NPHET that we are part of Europe and have EU law, we know the vaccine passport will be in place on 19 July and we do not believe in discrimination. Those would be two fairly large pillars the Government would put in front of NPHET and say that any advice should be between those two pillars. Was that done?

When was the mechanism commenced for a discriminatory process to be put in place whereby vaccinated people will have a passport to get into hospitality? I have tabled parliamentary questions in this regard. In fact, I asked the Taoiseach on the floor of this House in December what plans were in place for that and it did not seem like there was an iota. How far advanced is that?

I thank the Deputy. His time is up.

Do not tell me the Government is only starting now. Presumably-----

The time is up.

Deputy Kelly should be careful in terms of putting words in people's mouths. I did not say that I did not think there would be a fourth wave. I said that I had faith in our ability as a country to avoid the more-----

You said you did not believe in it.

Please, allow the Minister to answer without interruption.

I said I did not believe we would end up in the most pessimistic scenario, with something in the order of 1,685 people in ICU.

(Interruptions).

On the second issue, I will explain to Deputy McGrath and others why I said to be careful in saying it is decided and that we know exactly the response to the NPHET advice yesterday. To answer Deputy Kelly's question, in truth, Government made a policy decision in May that it would not operate a discriminatory system with regard to vaccines. That was a policy decision based on much detailed analysis. NPHET raised concern with the Government last night because of the Delta variant and recommended that we follow such an approach. What the Government has said in response-----

It is a discriminatory approach.

It is complete discrimination against young people.

The time is up.

This is complete discrimination.

If I can finish the point, the Government said in response that we will not ignore what NPHET is saying. We will heed the information and come up with a plan, which will make sure we avoid getting into that most pessimistic scenario.

(Interruptions).

The time is up.

I ask the Ceann Comhairle to allow me to conclude. We said that, rather than making a decision late at night on how exactly this would be implemented, because it is a change of policy and approach, it would be far better to talk to other Oireachtas Members and relevant sectors to see how we can implement the sorts of recommendations they are making in a way that is not discriminatory against younger people and will provide a range of different alternatives. That will be done before 19 July.

That is impossible.

We cannot have a detailed conversation about this. We have procedures to follow.

Yesterday, Professor John FitzGerald said the Government's plan to inflate house prices through the shared equity scheme was a bad idea for Ireland and a case of politicians doing stupid things. He pointed out that property owners and landowners would benefit from the scheme, not potential buyers. In the UK, a similar scheme led to a boom in profits for large developers. The Central Bank, the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, and officials from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform have all warned against the scheme. Given that Ireland already has some of the highest house prices in Europe and in view of the large increases in prices over the past year, will the Government scrap this scheme to inflate house prices?

The Government will look at all approaches and will not rely on any one scheme. We will introduce a series of measures that will have an effect in damping down prices. The variety of those measures will be set out in a housing for all strategy, which will be produced shortly, ahead of the national development plan, NDP, review, in recognition of the importance and priority we are putting on housing. It will not be any one solution. Yes, we have to look at the impact of individual solutions in terms of housing demand but when that is combined with other measures and done as part of a collective approach, which has a whole range of different solutions, then I believe it can be managed in a way that does not add to inflationary prices. The other measures are going to be key and they are not yet fully set out. They will be in the housing for all strategy.

Regarding the announcement on indoor dining, the idea that only people who are vaccinated will be allowed to avail of indoor dining and hospitality, but we will have young workers who are not vaccinated serving them, is absolutely nonsensical. The Government needs to address that issue. Under no circumstances should workers who are not vaccinated be told they must work in an environment we are told is unsafe for people who are not vaccinated and also told they cannot have a drink or a meal in the very same sorts of places. That makes no sense whatsoever. While the whole issue needs to be debated properly in the Dáil early this week, and should have been debated already, one thing the Government really needs to address is the question of the vaccination of workers who will be going into these environments-----

The Deputy's time is up.

-----and what we can do to ramp up the vaccination programme for them.

Through long stages of this crisis, the Deputy's party has had a consistent position in asking us to heed the public health advice and make sure we apply it. As I said earlier, the Deputy will have a chance to put such questions to our health officials. They recommended that we follow an approach that uses a whole range of different measures, not just vaccination but also use of personal protective equipment, PPE, distancing and other mechanisms. They argued that what we are proposing is safe and can be done properly, in a way that protects workers and customers. That advice is something we will have to put into action in the plan that will be devised to manage this. It is being done on the basis of that proper health advice. The Deputy and others will have a chance to question the health authorities on how it will work before any plan is put into place.

Ireland is alone now in Europe in the banning of indoor dining and drinking. Pubs and restaurants here have been closed longer than in any other European country. Tens of thousands of hospitality workers are out of work at the moment and being pushed into poverty. Many businesses are operating in a zombie state, surviving on Government supports. Young people are now being threatened with a two-tier citizenship, whereby civil rights will be for some but not for others. Then we have the ongoing problem with regards antigen testing. It looks to many people that the Government has outsourced these decisions to a third party. Who knew that the idea of a revolving Taoiseach would one day include the chief medical officer, CMO, of this State? What analysis has the Government done on the figures given by the NPHET? Finally, if the Government is alone in Europe in banning indoor dining, why is such activity more dangerous in Irish pubs and restaurants than it is in every other European country?

This is a changing situation and, as I said earlier, it is not certain. No one knows exactly what course the virus will take but it is likely, based on the evidence we were shown last night, that there will be a similar concern in other European countries about a rise in the Delta variant. How they manage that will vary from country to country. I understand the Lisbon Government has, in response to the recent increase in Delta variant numbers in Portugal, reintroduced restrictions. That is what we do not want to do. We do not want to give to businesses or young people, particularly those going to work in any business, false promise that they should come off the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, and go into a job and then it is gone the following week as the numbers rise.

Is it better to stay indoors and be afraid it may rain or walk outside because it may not rain in the future?

The Minister must be allowed to answer without interruption.

It is better for us to manage this in the way we have been successfully doing, whereby we have opened up our schools, personal services, sports events and a whole range of different workplaces, and we have kept them open.

The Minister's time is up.

That is what we are going to continue to do, including the opening of hospitality this summer. We just want to do it in a way that does not see it going backwards afterwards.

The Minister is a man with deep Tipperary roots and I know he is looking favourably at trying to get Tipperary town bypassed. I compliment Patrick O'Callaghan, a home-grown Tipperary man, on the 75 jobs announced this week, half of them in Tipperary. I ask the Minister to look at the bypass plan prior to the review of the national development plan. Spending €2 billion to €3 billion on the M20 from Cork to Limerick is a waste of money and damages the environment. We should carry on and bypass Charleville and Buttevant, have an alignment with that road and upgrade the N24 from Limerick to Waterford to motorway status. At less than €800 million, that would cost a fraction of the price, provide connectivity with the ports of Foynes and Waterford and bypass Tipperary town. Will the Minister please ensure this project happens? I am sure he does not want the big projects that are doing damage to the environment and ecology. A simple bypass would relieve congestion and allow Tipperary town to flourish and its people to have the stamina, energy and enthusiasm to live, like Patrick O'Callaghan has shown this week.

My understanding is that all the options are being looked at, including the building of rail connectivity between Cork and Limerick as a way of improving connectivity to the cities. This is not a formal position but I understand it is now less likely that the option that seemed like the best one, which colleagues of mine were promoting, of using a connection via Tipperary to the Cork-Dublin motorway to provide such connectivity is not being favoured. Whatever option is agreed, it must fit within the new NDP. One of the constraints in that regard is a financial constraint because we will have to invest massively in housing, climate, farming and forestry. We will also have to invest massively in public transport and active travel, as well as in roads. The national development plan review, as I see it, is providing us with an opportunity to consider how that money is best spent. Like the Deputy, I think it is best spent on a large number of small bypasses to see our towns restored. That will deliver the national planning framework requirement for balanced regional development and compact development.

I begin by correcting what I said earlier about the amount of money that has been wasted on sittings in the national convention centre. As the Ceann Comhairle proudly pointed out, it is indeed €1.8 million of taxpayers' money that has been spent on this place.

The Minister brought a Bill through the House dealing with the climate action plan that will, in effect, remove the ability of this House to question the priorities and the plan put in place. That is fundamentally undemocratic and how it fits with the constitutional imperative for the Government to be answerable to the Dáil remains to be seen. Last week, a new Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, budget was agreed that will see 25% of provision being moved to Pillar 2 environmental measures. I expect the Minister will agree with me that this is a positive development. However, given that we will have no control over the climate action plan, will he commit now to maximum co-funding for those environmental measures?

In particular, will he give a commitment that farmers already engaged in sustainable farming will not have to reduce their herd numbers by the same percentage as less sustainable ones, such that there will not be an across-the-board cut?

I was glad there was agreement on the revised CAP arrangements. There is good and bad in it. From an environmental perspective, many of my colleagues in Brussels are deeply disappointed it did not go further. In truth, much of the detail on how it is going to be applied is yet to be finalised and teased out. CAP and all our policy measures must fit in with out climate action plan and the legislation the Deputy referred to, which will be brought back to this House on an ongoing basis. We will be consulting in each sectoral area to get the views, opinions and the Oireachtas support for what is being done. It must be done in a way that increases incomes in agriculture and brings new, young farmers into farming and forestry and into restoring our wetlands and managing our wildlife and that also reduces emissions. I believe that can be done. There will be multiple sources of funding. Much of it has to come from the retailers and large processors, which have been taking a disproportionate share of the price. That, together with CAP, should help.

Following on from the Government's announcements today I want to make a few observations. As Chair of the Oireachtas committee which deals with tourism I am mindful this will come as devastating news to the hospitality sector. Will the Minister talk us through some of the supports the Government intends to put in place for the hospitality sector? We cannot expect people to effectively police whether customers for indoor dining are vaccinated or not. I live in a Border county and I see people leaving, understandably, to go a couple of miles up the road where there is indoor dining. We cannot have that inconsistency on this one island. I really fear we are driving people out of our own island to other jurisdictions for indoor dining and for the staycation we have been advocating for.

I share Deputy Smyth's concerns and her belief we can manage hospitality in a way that works for public health and to restore our tourism and hospitality sectors. As an interim measure, while we are devising the plans and working out the approach and the reopening plans, there will be further supports and extensions. The PUP is due to be closed to new applicants but that will be extended for a further week into early July. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, will set out the details but as I recall, there will be a two-week double Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, payment to particularly affected businesses. We need to get them back working and open, however. The Government's real, key focus is that those measures are very temporary and that they are not the answer. The answer is to get our pubs and restaurants open and we commit to making that happen.

The programme for Government commits to the development of the town centre first policy. Revitalising our towns through the town centre first model will make them more livable and viable. It will create employment and bring people back to living in the heart of our towns in line with the 15-minute city concept. The Green Party supports a sustainable and progressive vision for rural Ireland. The town centre first model is at the core of this vision. I understand the town centre first interdepartmental advisory group is due to publish its recommendations for the Government to consider this month. Will the Minister give an update on the work the interdepartmental advisory group is doing? Can he provide a timeline for when we might see the recommendations being implemented?

I absolutely agree with the Deputy on the potential benefits of the town centre first strategy. Following on from the earlier discussion, building bypasses and bringing life back into the centre of towns is such an attractive prospect because it is a wonderful way of addressing our housing crisis. Getting families and young people back living in towns means they can access services. The 15-minute city concept is also a 15-minute town concept. Refurbishing beautiful historic buildings and bringing them back in a variety of different ways is going to be a much more economical, low-carbon and socially progressive way for the State to bring back communities. That sense of living within the centre of that community, of that town, is something we can turn around. I understand the working group is due to complete at the end of July or in that time period. There are four working groups which are close to completing their work. I look forward to delivering it.

Stobart Air has let 480 workers go. It is absolutely devastating news for them and their families; the worst possible news for them at the worst possible time. The Minister does not have a plan for our aviation sector and we are starting to see the impact of it now. I have asked the Minister specifically about the former Stobart Air workers before but I do so again. Will he please liaise with his colleague in the Department of Social Protection and put in place one person who can help to guide these workers through the process? They were working away, then they could not work for public health reasons. They want to be back in work but they now have to deal with the social welfare system. They are applying for redundancies. Some of these workers are not unionised and are represented by a staff association. They need some additional help. It has been done for other workers. This is my second time asking the Minister to please put something in place for them.

I will absolutely work directly with the Minister for Social Protection to ensure that every sort of support is made from the State for the workers in Stobart. The other support that could come is the restoration of services, particularly on the two public service routes where we have a direct influence and possible control, namely, the routes to counties Donegal and Kerry. We are in the process of getting those public services back in place. Hopefully it will provide some opportunities for some of the workers from Stobart to find employment again and, with the rest of the industry, see the return of aviation from 19 July as a path through to recovery.