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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 3 Nov 2021

Vol. 1013 No. 3

Ceisteanna - Questions

Brexit Issues

Brendan Smith


1. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Brexit and Northern Ireland last met; and when it is next due to meet. [43770/21]

Mary Lou McDonald


2. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Brexit and Northern Ireland will next meet. [47863/21]

Neale Richmond


3. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Brexit will next meet. [50909/21]

Seán Haughey


4. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Brexit and Northern Ireland is next due to meet. [52350/21]

Alan Kelly


5. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Brexit and Northern Ireland will next meet. [53388/21]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, together,

The Cabinet committee on Brexit and Northern Ireland operates in accordance with established guidelines for Cabinet committees and where appropriate, substantive issues are referred to the Government for discussion and approval. In general terms, the Cabinet committee oversees implementation of relevant programme for Government commitments in the area of Brexit and Northern Ireland, and ongoing relevant developments.

The committee was formally established by the Government on 6 July 2020 and had its first meeting on 29 October 2020. The Cabinet committee last met on 4 March 2021. However, relevant issues arising on Brexit and Northern Ireland are also regularly considered at meetings of the full Cabinet. The Cabinet committee on Europe which last met on 14 October also discusses related matters. In addition to meetings of the full Cabinet and Cabinet committees, I also meet Ministers on an individual basis to focus on particular issues where required.

The next meeting of the Cabinet committee on Brexit and Northern Ireland is scheduled for 29 November.

There are growing concerns that the British Government is about to introduce legislation to deliver an amnesty for British soldiers and perpetrators of acts of violence and criminality in Ireland by its forces. As the Taoiseach knows, this has been in prospect for some time. He also knows the families, campaigners and everybody across politics island-wide are opposed to this amnesty. He will also be aware that international organisations and opinion makers have similarly expressed their absolute opposition to this comprehensive, wide-ranging and utterly disgraceful amnesty proposal. As he knows, that proposed legislation would ban inquests, stop civil actions and bring very severe limitations even in respect of judicial reviews.

I ask the Taoiseach to reiterate the stance of the Irish Government with victims and families. I also ask him to reiterate his absolute commitment to the full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement. I ask him to confirm that the Government remains 100% committed to this position and that it will not give way to any British demand to water down the Stormont House Agreement or assist in any way the British efforts to impede the delivery of truth and justice. What direct contact has he had with the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, in respect of this proposed amnesty legislation?

I thank the Taoiseach for his full response, as always. I am heartened to hear the subcommittee will meet again on 29 November but I am slightly concerned it has taken this long, taking into account what the Taoiseach has mentioned about the works of other committees and bilateral discussions between Ministers.

There are two issues hanging over this entire area of debate that are extremely concerning and they relate to the twin approach of sabre-rattling by the British Government on the one hand by constantly threatening to invoke Article 16 and on the other the comments of the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, who is now constantly threatening to collapse the Northern Ireland Assembly. That is after he withdrew his ministers, potentially unlawfully, from North-South engagement through the ministerial council.

What work is going on in advance of the subcommittee meeting and with key partners on a North-South and, crucially, an EU basis to counter these constant threats and prepare for the worrying potential they may be acted upon? That potential action would be of no benefit to anybody on this island, the island of Great Britain or across the European Union.

From the very beginning, Brexit represented a threat to the Good Friday Agreement. This led to the Northern Ireland protocol being agreed between the EU and the UK to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process and avoid the creation of a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Negotiations between the EU and the UK on the implementation of the protocol are continuing. The EU has come forward with sensible, practical proposals to deal with the matters that have arisen in respect of the protocol. European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič has consulted widely in Northern Ireland and brought forward his proposed solutions. Nonetheless, there seems to be a bit of megaphone diplomacy now under way, which is not a good sign. Writing in The Daily Telegraph recently, European Commission Vice President Šefčovič stated that he believed the UK was embarking on a path of confrontation. In response, the UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Brandon Lewis, stated that the European Commission Vice President was "wilfully misrepresenting" Britain's demands on the Northern Ireland protocol. The mood music is not good.

The UK is opposed to any role for the European Court of Justice and there is a constant threat of Article 16 being invoked. As Deputy Richmond has said, the DUP is threatening to pull down the institutions. The Taoiseach said at the weekend that the conditions are now in place for a rapid conclusion to the discussions. What does he base his optimism on in this regard and will he update the House on the state of negotiations at this stage?

Deputy McDonald raised the legacy matter. As soon as that was announced by the British I spoke to the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to say we were unequivocally opposed to such a proposal and that in our view, an amnesty is not acceptable for anybody who murdered anyone else in Northern Ireland. That applies to members of the British army, any state police or whatever. It also applies where there were victims of IRA atrocities or loyalist paramilitary atrocities. All of these must be accountable to the law and particularly with regard to the victims, who need genuine closure and efforts made to uncover what happened in individual cases. We owe it to victims and the families of victims to think about how we approach this.

There had been an agreed approach and I am against any unilateral approach, as I made clear to the British Government. That is why, at the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference on 24 June, the Irish and British Governments joined all the parties in Northern Ireland, as Members are aware, in a process of intensive engagement on these matters. That process has engaged fully with victim representatives.

On our side, we work on a continuous basis to implement the Stormont House Agreement framework as a way of assisting wider societal reconciliation to meet the legitimate needs of victims and survivors in Northern Ireland and across the island of Ireland. The Irish Government has always been very forthcoming in this respect and it will continue to be. We do not accept the British Government's proposals for a blanket statute of limitations on Troubles-related killings and attacks. We are with all the other parties in the North. On my recent visit to the North I met representatives from all parties and they confirmed to me their opposition to such an approach. Some parties indicated to me that the process involved in Operation Kenova, for example, is a model that perhaps people should give consideration to in terms of investigation and how to retrieve information. That is up to the parties involved. No party from any political perspective I met was in favour of the view advanced by the British Government.

Deputies Richmond and Haughey raised very important continuing matters concerning the protocol and the European Commission's approach. Outside the Cabinet subcommittee I have met frequently with all the main actors and during my visit to Belfast I met all the political parties on this matter. I met European Commission Vice President Šefčovič prior to him going to Northern Ireland. When he went to Northern Ireland he met all the representatives in the social, economic and political spheres. He very clearly responded then with very far-reaching proposals that went beyond what many people thought the European Union would present in respect of sanitary and phytosanitary, SPS, measures, where we would be looking at an 80% reduction in checks. There would also be a massive reduction in checks for customs and a full solution for medicines. He also said he would be open to discussions.

In Ireland, we have engaged with this entire process in good faith. We have sensitised the European Commission to Northern Ireland issues and we believe the European Commission wants the best solution. As I said at the weekend, it has been a long-standing supporter of the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process. It has supported it with substantial funding over the years and a genuine commitment to have a sustained peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. That is its main rationale for the level of detailed engagement subsequent to the agreements that the British Government signed up to.

The British Government signed up to the protocol as a condition of the trade and co-operation agreement. The trade and co-operation agreement would not have been signed off by the European Union without the protocol being signed off in advance. The British Government has knowingly signed up to that. The objective, of course, is to increase and protect jobs in Northern Ireland through access to the European Single Market. A unique solution was developed to facilitate continuing access to the Single Market for Northern Ireland with simultaneous access to the market in the United Kingdom.

The interaction between European Commission Vice President Šefčovič and the main sectors in Northern Ireland has confirmed that operational issues concerned them most, specifically checks and the operation of the protocol. We have acted in good faith and the European Commission has acted in good faith. A good faith response is required from the United Kingdom Government. It would be irresponsible, unwise and reckless to invoke Article 16 as a response to the proposals from the European Commission. If such an act was taken by the British Government, it would have far-reaching implications for the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union. It would also have implications for the relationship between the United Kingdom Government and the Irish Government as such action would not be in accordance with the spirit of partnership that has informed the peace process from the get-go and the creation of the entire architecture that underpins the Good Friday Agreement. That is my very strong view.

We are hearing, as Deputies Richmond and Haughey have outlined, similar vibes and sabre-rattling. I met with the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, at COP26 yesterday and with the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, the day before who briefed me and updated me on the discussions between the EU and the UK. They were clear on the implications that would arise if such a decision were to be taken. I spoke with other EU leaders also, including briefly with the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who was very involved in COP26. He is very aware that this issue needs to be resolved. When I said at the weekend that conditions exist for rapidly bring this to a conclusion, which Deputy Haughey raised, I meant that not in an optimistic tone but rather that the conditions do exist. Imposing the European Court of Justice, ECJ, as a response to proposals by Vice-President Šefčovič would be disingenuous and wrong. Anyone who knows about this issue will know that in regard to any issue that arises from the operation of the Single Market, it is accepted that the ECJ must be the governing body in that regard. It is in the interest of the people of Northern Ireland to have access to the Single Market.

At the COP26 summit, President Biden called me over to have a brief conversation with me after one of the sessions. He reiterated to me, in the strongest possible terms, how the Good Friday Agreement matters deeply to him and his administration. He said that he made this unequivocally clear to the British Government. I hope I have brought the Deputies up to date on the current situation. It is a very challenging and serious situation because international agreements have been entered into and signed off on. We must keep the needs of the people of Northern Ireland foremost in our minds as we proceed.

Cabinet Committees

Christopher O'Sullivan


6. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with marine and fishing will next meet. [43785/21]

Pádraig MacLochlainn


7. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet Committee which deals with marine and fishing will next meet. [47859/21]

Richard Boyd Barrett


8. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with marine and fishing will next meet. [53177/21]

Paul Murphy


9. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with marine and fishing will next meet. [53179/21]

Mick Barry


10. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with marine and fishing will next meet. [53181/21]

Alan Kelly


11. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with marine and fishing will next meet. [53390/21]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 11, inclusive, together.

Issues relevant to the marine and fishing sector are discussed, as required, at a number of Cabinet committees. This includes the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment, the Cabinet committee on the environment and climate change or the Cabinet committee on Europe, in addition to the Government co-ordination committee. These committees meet regularly. As with all policy areas, issues arising in the marine and fishing sector are also regularly discussed at full Government meetings, where all formal decisions are made. We have ongoing sectoral meetings with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and his officials on the issues pertaining to fishing and Brexit and so forth.

The marine and fishing sector covers a broad range of areas that impact on all our lives throughout the country. As an island nation, Ireland has a special relationship with the ocean. In developing the marine economy, everything must be done to protect marine biodiversity and to secure a sustainable future for the marine and fisheries sector, while supporting coastal communities. The Government works with all relevant stakeholders progress these objectives, including supporting the fisheries sector to deal with the effects of Brexit and changes to the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement; the publication of the Maritime Area Planning Bill on 1 July, which will establish a new agency responsible for regulating development in maritime area to be called the maritime area regulatory authority; the continuing work to maximise the use of offshore renewable energy resources available to us given our location at the Atlantic edge of Europe; and ensuring capability in our ports to enable them to successfully respond to the challenges arising from Brexit. In addition to meetings of the Cabinet and Cabinet committees, I regularly meet with relevant Ministers, to discuss particular issues, as well as with representatives of the sector.

I thank and congratulate the Taoiseach on his performance at, and contribution to, the COP26 summit in Glasgow. While it has been met with much cynicism by the Opposition, I firmly believe it was, by far, the best contribution by any Irish leader at any Conference of the Parties held to date. It reaffirmed our commitment to climate action. It is also important to note that we went there with a climate action Bill that has been described as best in class globally. I thank and congratulate the Taoiseach in that regard.

The seafood task force proposed a range of supports and measures for the fishing sector, part of which includes, unfortunately, a necessary decommissioning scheme. The scheme has been met with mixed responses. One area of the sector I wish the Taoiseach to focus on relates to tier 2 boats. These boats have both whitefish and mackerel fishing entitlements. The mackerel quota has been most severely impacted by Brexit. While a figure per gross tonne has been proposed for the whitefish sector, it has been proposed to apply the same gross figure to tier 2 boats, which also have a mackerel entitlement. That mackerel entitlement must be taken into account and these tier 2 boats have to be offered a larger quota amount per gross tonne under the decommissioning scheme. That is the only way the scheme, as proposed, will be availed of and will work. Will the Taoiseach consider that specific issue?

The Taoiseach basically said in his reply that there is no specific committee meeting on marine and fishing. We are the only island state, which will hopefully be a nation in the near future, in Europe. There are two junior Ministers in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, neither of whom deals specifically with fisheries and the marine. That indicates the level of commitment the Government has towards fishing communities.

Deputy O'Sullivan represents a fishing community and he should know that the view of fishermen up and down the coast is that the task force report was a fait accompli because under the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP, our fishing fleet is allocated 15% of the fish in our own waters under this policy. The fishing fleets of other EU member states get 85% of the fish in our waters. Let us analysis this further, in case there is any doubt about these figures. Some 29% of the north-east Atlantic waters are under the Irish exclusive economic zone. We receive 7.6% of the monkfish allocation, 5.3% of hake and 5.3% of haddock. Let us consider France, which has 23% of the north-east Atlantic waters. It gets 59% of monkfish, 45% of hake and 67% of haddock. This is utterly shameful. How can anyone representing the fishing community not come in here full of anger at what is happening in our coastal waters?

The Taoiseach can frown all he likes. He should have a plan for the upcoming CFP negotiations. He should stand outside the Berlaymont and say that we no longer accept what is happening to our fishing communities. He is now asking communities to decommission a further 60 vessels. Based on 2006 figures, of the vessels longer than 12 m, we will be down to one third of our fleet. This means thousands of livelihoods will be gone in addition to hundreds of millions of euro each year.

I will reiterate my comments during the pre-European Council statements last week because the Taoiseach missed them. We are the laughing stock of Europe; we have the richest fishing grounds in Europe and we are handing fishing rights away without a fight or even trying. The Taoiseach should get some fire in his belly and focus on fisheries and the immense natural resource surrounding this country. Will he set up a dedicated committee for fisheries? Will he create a plan for the upcoming negotiations on the CFP to secure our fair share of fishing quotas in our waters?

We have three other Deputies to speak.

I presume we will get the same amount of time as the two previous speakers.

Yes, but there are only 15 minutes for this slot.

It should be shared out fairly. I was going to raise the issue of the Maritime Area Planning Bill 2021, which the Taoiseach mentioned, but for the week that is in it, I will raise an issue regarding forestry, which I assume this Cabinet committee also deals with because the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the various other Departments that deal with forestry are also under its remit. As I understand it, the division that deals with fisheries and ports also deals with forestry. I will ask the Taoiseach about that.

I put it to the Taoiseach that, this week, the week of the Conference of the Parties, COP26, the Government is speaking out of both sides of its mouth on the issue of forestry. I was shocked to see the forestry dashboard figures. To be honest, I was not shocked because the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, has made this point. While we are talking about protecting the forest estate, in reality, five to ten times more trees are being cut down than are being planted every year. Five to ten times more felling licences are being issued than afforestation licences. This is happening year after year so there is net deforestation while we hear high-flown speeches in Glasgow about protecting the forest estate and expanding it to deal with climate change. That is hypocrisy. If we are seeing net deforestation, that is a serious problem.

I must raise something that was brought to my attention in this regard this week. I refer to Coillte selling off forests. I am holding an advertisement for 37 acres of forest Coillte is selling off in Enniskerry, on the Wicklow-Dublin border. Does the Government know about this? Does it think it is okay? There is a right of way through this forest, which is a public amenity forest. There are bronze age cooking pits in it. It is of great geological significance and Coillte is flogging it off. We fought, and I organised demonstrations, back in 2013 to stop the plan to sell off harvesting rights for the entire Coillte forest estate. We got commitments at the time that the forests would not be privatised. I have put in parliamentary questions on this and I contacted Coillte this week, although I have not got a response. That is absolutely shocking. Will the Taoiseach look into that? Does Coillte have to ask the Government for permission to flog off public forest? It certainly should have to. It is being advertised for €250,000, by the way. That is 36 acres of forest for €250,000. That stinks, apart from anything else. We have to do a hell of a lot better than we are doing on forestry. We are getting net deforestation and the State forestry company, which is entrusted with being the steward of the public forest estate, is flogging off public forestry. That is utterly unacceptable.

I will be very brief. In September, the ban on large trawlers fishing within Ireland's inshore waters was lifted following a Court of Appeal judgment. These trawlers are extremely damaging to our coastal environments and fish habitats. They damage our marine biodiversity. They are also damaging to the interests of small fishers. They do not practise a sustainable form of fishing and they should be banned. These massive trawlers have consistently overfished sprat in particular, killing seven times the level recommended by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea in the year before the ban came into effect. This overfishing of sprat has massive knock-on impacts as they are an essential food source for whales. We need to stop this overfishing before it is too late. The Taoiseach has known for more than a year that this ban faced being overturned. What contingency plans did he put in place to reintroduce it?

I too will be brief. I will raise the issue of migrant fishers. A review of the atypical scheme has been promised. This commitment coincided with, or possibly arose because of, recent research by Maynooth University's department of law, which catalogued ongoing abuses experienced by migrant fishers. Will the Taoiseach commit to meaningful consultation with the International Transport Workers Federation, ITWF, in the course of the review, given that it has committed personnel and resources to working with migrant fishers working on Irish flagged-vessels over the last decade and has presented their grievances to the Workplace Relations Commission and other State bodies? The ITWF has highlighted that the Department of Justice's impending scheme for the undocumented could be a means to regularise the status of the many currently undocumented fishers still operating on Irish vessels if the scheme is sufficiently inclusive. The broad parameters that have been announced include conditions that one has to be undocumented and working for four years. However, many currently undocumented fishers have been in Ireland for longer than four years but may not have had documents at some point within the last four years. Common sense dictates that they should be included and I am asking for a commitment that they will be.

The Taoiseach has only one hour - I am sorry, I mean one minute and 40 seconds - to respond-----

He would need an hour.

-----and I will have to interrupt him because we have to get to the next group of questions.

Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan spoke first and it was he who put down the basic question. I appreciate his contribution on the climate change issue because he has consistent and very strong views on the climate change agenda. We have a lot of work to do as a country to deliver upon our commitments. It will take the resolve of not only Government, but every Member of this House, to do the right thing in respect of the emergency for the world, and particularly for younger generations and children not yet born, presented by rising greenhouse gas emissions. We must do the right thing and I appreciate the Deputy's support in that regard. With regard to the seafood task force, the decommissioning scheme and tier 2 boats, the Deputy makes fair points. He has raised these on a number of occasions. I will talk to the Minister again in that regard.

Following on from Deputy Mac Lochlainn's comments, I have been very active in respect of the fishing industry. I created a structured dialogue with all of the sectors both pre and post the Brexit decision. The Deputy can go on about the Common Fisheries Policy but it is subject to ten-yearly reviews. I met with the Commissioner for fisheries when he came to Ireland. I also met with all of the fishing representatives. It is interesting that one of the reasons we suffered so much from the Brexit decision on fisheries is that the Common Fisheries Policy gave us access to British waters to a very extensive degree, particularly with regard to our mackerel quota in British waters. A no-deal Brexit would have been catastrophic for our fishing sector and that had to be avoided. Having said that, the deal that was done was unfair to Ireland and disproportionate. We received substantial funding from the Brexit adjustment reserve fund. We received approximately 20% of the overall fund, which equates to approximately €4 billion. We will obviously allocate some of that to the fishing industry and the coastal communities affected.

I am sorry; we are out of time.

May we have two minutes extra for this grouping to allow the Taoiseach to answer our questions? We kept within time.

We would really need five minutes.

We kept within our time. Could we even have a minute and a half?

Does the House agree to take two minutes from the next group of questions?

Two minutes, yes. We need it.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

That is the reality of the situation. I met with all those representing the sector even prior to becoming Taoiseach. There were a range of issues on the agenda. One was the Common Fisheries Policy but it was the Common Fisheries Policy that gave us the access to British waters which is now restricted because of the agreement between the European Union and the British Government in respect of fishing. In our meeting with the Commissioner, it was clearly signalled that, in the forthcoming review, we will be pushing for restoration and better measures to facilitate greater access to fish for Irish fishermen more generally. We will continue to push for that.

I need an answer as well.

The Deputy did a lot of sloganeering but I heard nothing by way of-----

Everything I said today was based on facts. They were absolutely 100% facts.

It is the same old stuff that has been going on for 30 years.

They are facts. He said I was sloganeering but they are facts.

The Taoiseach without interruption.

It is all sloganeering, as far as I am concerned. We need to get involved in solution mode and the Deputy is not. He is involved in politics and opposition for the sake of it.

To respond to Deputy Boyd Barrett's points, we are not speaking from both sides of our mouths. There have been many objections to tree planting in the country, which has held back the growth of forests. There is commercial forestry but we need far stronger native woodland development and growth. We need to finance that and we will. I do not know the background to the Deputy's point. He has a habit of coming in and raising an issue, and when I research-----

I have a copy of the advertisement to sell off forests.

When I research it, it turns out not to be quite the same as the Deputy presented-----


-----but I will pursue the issue he raised. I will seek responses from Coillte in respect of the issue he raised. More generally, the point I am making is that we need to grow far more trees than we are growing in this country. There are too many obstacles in the way of growing trees-----

The Taoiseach cannot see the wood for the trees.

We passed legislation in this House to try to streamline the planning processes around granting licences for afforestation, and that is the reality. The Deputy needs to be honest about that too and call it out when it comes on his doorstep.

I will pursue the issues Deputy Barry raised. I agree no quarter can be given to anybody who would abuse migrant fishers and migrant workers within the fishing industry. It is unacceptable behaviour. In respect of those who may be undocumented as a result of that, I will certainly pursue the issue that has been raised regarding affirmative action on that position.

We will take four minutes from the next group of questions.

Cabinet Committees

John Lahart


12. Deputy John Lahart asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment last met; and when it is next due to meet. [43814/21]

Mary Lou McDonald


13. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment will next meet. [44743/21]

Alan Kelly


14. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment last met and will next meet. [44765/21]

Niamh Smyth


15. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment will meet next. [48299/21]

Alan Dillon


16. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment last met. [48307/21]

Richard Boyd Barrett


17. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment will next meet. [53178/21]

Paul Murphy


18. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment will next meet. [53180/21]

Mick Barry


19. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment last met; and when it is next due to meet.. [53182/21]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 12 to 19, inclusive, together.

The Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment first met on 8 July 2020. It has met a total of 15 times, most recently on 30 September. The next meeting is scheduled for 22 November. Membership of the committee comprises the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Employment and Trade, the Ministers for the Environment, Climate and Communications and Transport, Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and Tourism, Culture, Media, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. Other Ministers and Ministers of State attend when required.

The Cabinet committee is responsible for issues relating to the economy and investment and had an initial focus last year on developing the July jobs stimulus. It has also overseen the development of the Government's economic recovery plan, as well as the review of the national development plan, NDP. Issues relating to the economy are, of course, regularly discussed at full Cabinet meetings, where all formal decisions are made.

I thank the Taoiseach and echo the words of my colleague, Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan, in respect of the Taoiseach's representation of the country at COP 26.

My question has a Dublin perspective. Covid has exposed the capital city as having been overdependent, and having grown utterly reliant, on events, hospitality and tourism, which are the oxygen that allows the city to breathe. When the Covid tide went out, many businesses were clearly exposed above the waterline. One only has to walk a couple of hundred metres in the city to see the number of retail outlets that have shut. Thankfully, some of them are opening with different businesses and that is very welcome.

While An Bord Pleanála sees fit under the strategic housing development, SHD, process to grant planning permission for residential developments of 13 storeys in Citywest close to Saggart village, no such residential permissions are being granted in the city core-----

A Cheann Comhairle, can we say one minute per question?

The Deputy took four minutes from my slot and I did not-----

It is not your slot.

Deputies, please. Deputy Lahart is speaking.

Thank you. Deputy Barry took four minutes but had been granted two minutes.

You are waffling now. Come on.

In the context of the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment, does the Taoiseach agree that we should prioritise the rejuvenation of the capital city, with assistance in de-emphasising event tourism and business tourism, even though they, along with tourism in general, are important to the city? Does he agree that with the aim of creating a living, breathing capital-----

A Cheann Comhairle, let us say one minute per question.

-----in which people can live, study and work proximate to where they are living, that is one lesson Parliament and the Government have learned as a result of the ongoing Covid challenge that faces the country?

I raise the Mercosur trade deal. Two years ago, the Taoiseach's party supported a Dáil motion that described it as a bad deal for Ireland and for the planet. The Sinn Féin motion also included a provision that this motion be binding on future governments, which includes the Taoiseach's Government.

Let us be in no doubt the Mercosur deal is still a bad deal for Ireland and for the planet. It is a trade deal that has at its core a glaring contradiction to the policies and politics set out by European leaders this week at the climate change conference. It fundamentally and spectacularly undermines climate action targets and actively encourages a hyperintensfication farming model that pushes out family farms. The deal's investment court system is a reincarnation of the much-maligned investor-state dispute settlement mechanism that prioritised global companies' profits above the public good. That public good extends to climate action by the state. Indeed, leading environmentalists, as the Taoiseach knows, have warned that the Mercosur deal will challenge the European Green Deal and others believe it is simply incompatible with European climate commitments as set out.

Speaking at COP26, the Taoiseach warned that the country's economic survival depends on what he called radical climate action. My question to him is, therefore, straightforward. If such radical action is vital to protect the economy from climate change, why has his Government not yet rejected the Mercosur deal?

Any talk of economic recovery is rendered meaningless if the cost of living skyrockets, as it is doing for ordinary working people. The amount of tax relief the Government gave them in the budget was miserable for the average worker, against a background of an increase of between €500 and €1,000 in energy costs for many households, disproportionately hitting the less well off. Moreover, waste charge bills are increasing, private operators are profit-gouging, the price of TV packages is increasing, carbon tax, of course, is loaded on top of that, and rents continue to rise. What is the Taoiseach going to do?

Profits have gone through the roof in this country during this country, exponentially increasing, but the benefit of any recovery is wiped away by inflation and profit-gouging by State actors and private actors through taxes or price increases. What is the Taoiseach going to do? Does it not justify what we have for a long time called for, namely, actual controls on rents; abandoning plans to increase carbon tax and doing something to reduce energy prices; and controlling or even abolishing charges such as property tax, or at least ensuring people are not hit with it, and waste charge increases by private companies?

The UN emissions gap report gives lie to the empty rhetoric of world leaders in Glasgow. In analysing the new nationally determined contributions, it outlines that what has been agreed thus far by various states would mean reducing carbon emissions by only 7.5% by 2030, as opposed to the 55% level that is agreed to be needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C. We are on a trajectory to 2.7°C, which would be disastrous.

The continuation of the widening of the gap between the soaring rhetoric and the disastrous inaction was epitomised by the Government's approach to the methane emissions target. It is quite incredible to say Ireland has a commitment to climate action, with the small print explaining how it is a commitment to climate action by someone else. We are happy to sign up to global targets of 30% cuts in methane by 2030, which is the absolute minimum necessary.

Then, however, the Government literally turns around the next day and says to the agribusiness sector, "No, do not worry, we do not mean you. We are only going to do 10%." Does that not reveal the absolute failure of the Taoiseach's sort of politics to address the climate crisis?

I wonder how many workers might resign their jobs in the next year. A survey was carried out recently, namely, the Workhuman fall 2021 international survey report. It surveyed workers across a range of countries. It found that 42% of workers in Ireland would consider resigning their jobs. The key issues the survey identified were the need for better pay and the need for greater flexibility. This is an international phenomenon. It is being described now as the great resignation. Four million workers in the US recently resigned from their jobs in one month. I am not sure whether it was last month or the month before. It was the highest ever number for an autumn result. This discontent is beginning to give way to other forms of expression. More than 100,000 workers went on strike in the US last month in 178 different workplaces. October is now known in the US as Striketober. A wide range of issues are involved. In McDonalds, pay and sexual harassment were key issues. What steps does the Taoiseach intend to take to address the underlying concerns that have been identified in the poll here in Ireland, particularly the question of better pay and greater flexibility?

Taoiseach, you have very little time.

I have indeed. First of all, Deputy Lahart tabled this question with other Deputies. I am somewhat taken aback by the intolerance of some Deputies who contributed already this morning in facilitating Deputy Lahart to ask a question.

I just find it extraordinary.

We all have questions tabled, and some people should not get more time than others.

As someone who was involved in Dáil reform-----

Hold on. That is just not on. On a point of order, a Cheann Comhairle.

Will you resume your seat, Deputy Boyd Barrett?

We have equal entitlement to that time allocation-----

Yes. Will you resume your seat?

-----and normally there is a one-and-a-half-minute or a one-minute restriction on the questions-----

There he goes again. He is wasting time now.

Resume your seat, Deputy Boyd Barrett.

-----so everyone gets to ask a question and the Taoiseach gets time to reply.

Resume your seat.

I just want to put my views on what I have witnessed on the record, which I am entitled to do as a Member of the House.

It is your people speaking longer than everyone else.

There he goes again. "Your people". Deputy Lahart is an elected representative of the people to Dáil Éireann.

At Deputy Lahart's first interjection today Deputy Boyd Barrett was shouting and roaring in an intolerant way.

I was not. That is rubbish.

In any event, I wish to respond to the Deputy's point. He made a very fair point about the degree to which the capital city and, indeed, cities in general across the country have suffered as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic in terms of the impact on events, hospitality and tourism. Covid has had a devastating impact on all those sectors and on aviation. As we reopen society and the economy, aviation is coming back to some degree but with nowhere near the numbers of last year. The point the Deputy raises gives rise to other issues that we have to look at in other sectors that can bring life back to the city centre. We have reopened. Cases are still very high. Vaccination has changed the nature of the situation dramatically and has been a key game changer in enabling us to reopen to the degree we have reopened while facilitating hospitality events and more tourism-related activities. As for the future meetings of the committee, the point is a very valid one as to what further steps we can take to support the economy of this city and other cities and urban centres that have suffered most because of this.

I have been consistent in saying that the Mercosur deal is not reconcilable with the climate objectives of the European Union. I have said that publicly so I am surprised that Deputy Paul Murphy posed the question. I have made it very clear. I do not agree with his broader opposition to trade deals. For example, I think CETA, the Canadian trade deal, has proven to be an exceptional deal for small to medium-sized companies in Ireland, growing jobs and growing their exports to Canada. The investor clause issue was dealt with, yet the Deputy's party seems very opposed to that, and that misses the point about enterprise.

Some of the Taoiseach's own party members were opposed to it, in fairness.

We have been very consistent on Mercosur and I have made that point at European Council meetings-----

Will you wrap up, please, a Thaoisigh?

-----about deforestation and so forth.

I dealt with the issue of rent controls earlier. To respond to Deputy Paul Murphy's points, Deputy Barry raised similar issues. I accept that a 2.7°C rise is catastrophic. That is why we need to take action. My view, however, is that the Deputies want to take down the world order as it is to solve climate action.

Capitalism is responsible for the climate crisis - sure. The Taoiseach thinks capitalism is not responsible. That is fine.

No. I think Ireland is not a capitalist State-----

-----in the Deputy's pure definition. The State intervention in Irish economic activity is enormous. You will not solve climate change by trying to take things down every day of every week when governments meeting together collectively is a positive thing. There are positives in COP 26 and there were positives in Paris. People elect different leaders-----

Thank you, a Thaoisigh. We are way over time now.

-----who do different things. To pull everybody together in itself is an achievement, and to try to get progress we should try to will it on. Instead, what Deputy Paul Murphy is doing is stoking cynicism day in and day out, which I do not think will advance climate change one iota. He sees this just as another theatre to advance his fundamentalism and his ideological perspective-----


The curtains are about to come down now on this theatre.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.