Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 30 Nov 2021

Vol. 1014 No. 7

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The next item is the least contentious. As Deputies know, the House has agreed that for the duration of the Covid-19 emergency, the rapporteur's report will not be read out. There is just one question to be put. Are the proposed arrangements for the week's business agreed to?

Not agreed. The Planning and Development (Amendment)(Large-scale Residential Development) Bill 2021 will finish Second Stage at 4 p.m. tomorrow and will begin Committee Stage at 6 p.m. Meanwhile, Report on Final Stages of the Maritime Area Planning Bill, involving exactly the same spokespersons, will be on in the Dáil Chamber between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. That is completely unacceptable and people cannot be in two places at the same time.

It is also unacceptable that the time allocated for the Maritime Area Planning Bill, which deals with offshore development, has been guillotined to three hours, which will not allow many of the amendments to this incredibly important Bill to be discussed. We still have not seen Thursday's Bill to deal with mandatory quarantine but it will also be guillotined. Friday's health and criminal justice Bill is to give sweeping powers to the Minister and his Government but there has been no pre-legislative scrutiny of that, despite demands from the committee that there should be.

We are being asked to guillotine legislation to restrict the rights of citizens in this country and this must be balanced against the scale of the threat posed by this virus. It is important we see the legislation and we have not as yet. There is no proposal whatever to discuss the advice that primary school children should now wear masks or a mechanism to have this reviewed, as was advocated by the Ombudsman for Children this morning. He has also raised a legitimate point about the treatment of children if their parents do not support measures around wearing masks. We need clarity on the guidance now being issued by the Government.

Home care assistants are reeling from the news that the travel allowance element of their pay will not be paid to them before Christmas and they will instead have to wait until January or February. We in the Rural Independent Group have sought for the relevant Minister to come before the House this week and explain this. Every Member of this House knows and appreciates the excellent work that home care assistants do throughout our country, taking care of older and vulnerable people. That they must wait until after Christmas for the travel element of their money is fundamentally wrong. We want the Minister to explain to those people why it is happening and to rectify that wrong as a matter of urgency.

The Taoiseach has heard from Deputies Doherty and Pringle.

I can tell him that there are serious concerns coming from Donegal and other counties in the west of Ireland on the square foot issue. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, urgently needs to come before the House to make a statement and take questions about this. He needs to give urgent clarification. There is serious concern coming from families in the affected counties already. The Taoiseach avoided answering questions from Deputies Doherty and Pringle. The Minister needs to come in and urgently deal with this issue today or tomorrow.

On the Order of Business, I call Deputy Pringle.

I refer to the Health (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill, which is proposed to go through all stages on Thursday, and the Health and Criminal Justice (Covid-19) (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, which is scheduled for Friday. Neither of these Bills has been published yet so we do not even know what is in them, and amendments were to have been submitted last week. What is the situation with them? The debates should be adjourned to allow for proper scrutiny of them.

Unless you have a time machine.

I object to the Order of Business. First, many of us have amendments down for the planning Bill, which certainly fails to address the reduced standards in planning in recent years. It is not acceptable that such an important Bill should have Committee Stage rushed in the House. It should go to the committee for proper consideration and amendment. Second, the Health (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill has not been published yet. We do not know what is in it. It is only reasonable that we should be given an opportunity to consider it and adequate notice from the point of view of tabling amendments. The handling of both of these Bills is not acceptable.

First of all, as a general point nothing at all is rushed in this House. It takes a very long time to get things done in this House and to get legislation through this House. I make no apologies on housing because we have had too much delay on housing right across-----

It is planning actually.

That is related. Members of the Opposition are having an each-way bet every day and every week on a whole range of issues. It seems to me that it suits the Opposition at times that there is paralysis in getting things done. Let us consider the Maritime Area Planning Bill, which is essential. Last week, Deputies were complaining that a major wind energy company was pulling out because we did not have our planning frameworks through. The Bill has been given a fair degree of consideration-----

It has been sitting there for five years.

-----and it will be given more consideration, but it needs to be dealt with. They have been talking about it for years.

The same spokespersons cannot be in two places at one time.

When I became Taoiseach, I was determined to get it published and through the House in order to create a landscape for the next ten years so that people who want to develop wind energy in this country, and fulfil our climate change objectives, can get on with it. I make no apologies for that either.

It is directly clashing.

The planning Bill will go to the committee. On mandatory quarantine, the Deputies know what that is. It was not so long ago that they were all screaming for it in a previous phase of the pandemic. We could not bring it in fast enough.

It is the same Bill almost coming back in. Now, the Deputies are claiming that it is outrageous that they have not seen it. The same principles apply. Likewise, on the public health measures, which way do the Deputies want it?

They wanted a zero Covid approach at one time. Now, they are saying we are bringing in legislation that will be restrictive of citizens' rights. It is more incoherence and inconsistency. They label the Government with that from time to time. Every single month it changes in here. I am simply saying that the public health measures have to be extended. That is all we are doing. The Deputies are familiar with them. We debate and discuss them at committees and the plenary session. They are not the third secret of Fatima. That is all that is being put forward. What is happening is the consolidation of existing different pieces of legislation. The Health (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill will be published and that is what is in it essentially. We want to have the mandatory quarantine capacity on the Statute Book again. There was an expiry date in the previous measures.

What about home care assistants?

The Minister will check that out. Perhaps the Deputy will put down a Topical Issue. We will follow that through. I take the Deputy's point.

Will we hear from the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien?

The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, will look at these, but we will have to see whether it can be fitted in this week's schedule. We have no difficulty with this. Deputy Mac Lochlainn knows the Minister is prepared to come before the House and debate that.

I am moving on. Are the proposed arrangements-----

Can the Business Committee convene to sort these issues out?

May I speak very briefly? It is not a political point. It is actually about-----

The question is on the Order of Business.

Yes, I am speaking on the Order of Business.

The Deputy has had a chance, as has everyone. The Taoiseach has responded.

He did not respond to the question I asked.

Honestly, he did not.

Have we agreed to schedule a meeting of the committee?

He did not respond to the question I asked about two things being set against each other where the same people are-----

The committee has discretion in that regard.

There is the Deputy's answer. We are moving on.

Question put: "That the proposal for this week's business be agreed to."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 24; Níl, 20; Staon, 0.

  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Browne, James.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Costello, Patrick.
  • Crowe, Cathal.
  • Devlin, Cormac.
  • Dillon, Alan.
  • Duffy, Francis Noel.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Sullivan, Christopher.
  • Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.
  • Richmond, Neale.
  • Smyth, Niamh.

Níl

  • Andrews, Chris.
  • Brady, John.
  • Browne, Martin.
  • Carthy, Matt.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Daly, Pa.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Healy-Rae, Danny.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kerrane, Claire.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • O'Callaghan, Cian.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Bríd.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Tully, Pauline.

Staon

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

Last Tuesday, the Tánaiste said a memorandum would be brought to the Cabinet last week or early this week on the subsidisation of antigen testing. It did not happen on either occasion. Last Wednesday, the Taoiseach said his Government was committed to providing subsidised antigen testing and, yesterday, the Minister for Health said he is ditching plans to subsidise antigen testing because the market has solved the problem for the Government. However, the price of an antigen test in many places is still anything up to €8. Does the Taoiseach acknowledge this is out of the reach of struggling families, particularly if they have three or four children and want to follow the advice of the Government, which is to use antigen testing? Does the Taoiseach believe antigen testing should be made convenient, accessible and affordable to those who are asymptomatic? Does he believe that €5, €6 or, indeed, €8, which is charged in many outlets, is unaffordable to such families? What is he going to do about it?

First, €2 to €3 is the cost in quite a lot of multiples. I am not going to name them all. It is not €8, and the Deputy should not be putting that out as an average cost. It is not-----

The Government is outsourcing health policy to Lidl.

We do not all live beside the multiples.

Your colleague was asked on radio what-----

Can we do this through the Chair because we are going to try to keep to the time?

On the basis of the Government working with the multiples, the cost is down to €2 to €3. The colleague of the Deputy opposite was asked whether Sinn Féin had costed its scheme. I believe the party was advocating a free scheme, costing approximately €500 million per year. Those are the choices.

(Interruptions).

We are giving out free antigen tests. More than 100,000 close contacts have received one. More than 130,000 in the agriculture sector received free antigen tests when required as part of serial testing. A total of 22,000 people in third-level colleges have received free antigen tests while there were 8,000 yesterday for schools. We are averaging 4,000 free close-contact antigen tests per day.

My question was on what is affordable.

After the discovery of the Omicron variant, one would have to wonder whether other countries are going to do the right thing and behave like South Africa. It has been turned into a pariah. In fairness, it did its job on behalf of all the rest of us. We do not even know whether the variant came from South Africa because there is community transition across Europe and the rest of the world.

What are we doing as regards genomic sequencing? The Minister said we have a rate of 10% but, according to figures we have seen, 344 cases have been sent to GISAID. What is the real volume of tests we are sequencing and sending on? Will the Taoiseach stand up for Europe, including this country, and ensure we give a TRIPS waiver? The European Commission's position on this is not tenable so the Taoiseach should stand up for us and this country and say that we do not agree with it, we will not stand over it and it will be waived.

I agree with the Deputy on South Africa. We must pay tribute to the South African authorities for the honesty, transparency and speed with which they have responded to Omicron.

They should not be punished. We have to develop mechanisms to support countries that identify very quickly and in a transparent way such variants. The Omicron variant is likely to be in this country. There are now a number of cases on which work will have to be done to identify and to confirm whether or not they are Omicron. They could have been right throughout November or indeed in October and there is a look back going on now in terms of people who have travelled in from various locations. There are cases emerging all over Europe, at very low levels it must be said. Delta is the predominant variant here. On the last occasion, with Alpha and so on, we enhanced genomic sequencing capacity here. I will get the details for the Deputy.

The European Union has been the best continent so far in exporting vaccines to over 150 countries.

We need the TRIPS-----

I do not think TRIPS is as neat a solution as people put forward.

We should be more positive in proposing it.

I want to ask the Taoiseach about people trying to buy homes competing with investors. This is a message I received from a constituent:

Today I went...to...look at an apartment to buy. The estate agent automatically assumed I was an investor. The other person at the viewing was bidding on this particular apartment and another upstairs in the same building - with a view to buying both.... I have a well paid permanent job. How does anyone stand a chance...

A German investor is reported today as buying up 72 homes in Clonskeagh. In explaining its decision, it said, "Compared with other European ... [countries], rental yields are higher in Ireland." In Spain the government has taken measures to limit the roles of investors and investment funds. In Amsterdam measures have been brought in requiring people who buy homes to live in them. Will the Government consider similar measures here?

A whole range of measures have been taken to restrain investor funds from buying whole estates of housing, for example. It cannot be done-----

I referred to apartments.

-----through planning regulations that have been introduced. Housing for All and the investment we have put in provides for very substantial social housing to be bought, affordable housing to enable people to afford to buy a house and cost-rental to enable people to get housing at an affordable rent. Through the Land Development Agency and other initiatives, a full range of measures has been introduced to deal with the housing issue.

South Africa has done the world a favour by identifying the Omicron variant, and the way we repay them is that the European Union, with the support of the Taoiseach's Government, has consistently refused the calls from South Africa and many other nations, almost the entire global scientific community and many non-governmental organisations for the lifting of the intellectual property restrictions on Covid vaccines so that countries such as South Africa and other poorer countries can get the right to produce vaccines themselves, which they have been screaming for. It is utterly disgraceful now, as we face Omicron, that the European Commission continues with this position and the Irish Government supports it, putting the profits of the pharmaceutical companies ahead of the need to vaccinate the world. Will the Taoiseach revisit that position?

The Deputy always puts ideology before the practical business of getting vaccines into the arms of people. That is the bottom line. A TRIPS waiver does not put extra vaccines into people's arms-----

-----but licensing arrangements and agreements and manufacturing capacity can. The European Union is working progressively with South Africa, Senegal and others in Africa to give them, first of all, long-standing sustainable capacity to manufacture but also, through licensing arrangements and agreements, the ability to get the vaccines.

South Africa is asking for the waiver, not me.

Let the Taoiseach respond, Deputy.

The bottom line is that it is always the same with certain Opposition Deputies.

South Africa is asking for the waiver, not me.

Through the Chair, it is always condemnation of the European Union. They condemn nobody else-----

South Africa is asking for the waiver. Will the Government give it to them?

-----who have done very little when it comes to the export of vaccines. I refer to over 150 countries and 800 million vaccines being exported by the European Union. I would argue with the Deputy that the European Union is the most progressive entity in respect of global supply of vaccines. It is about time he gave it some acknowledgement.

On one hand, the Government is calling on parents to reduce children's social and human interaction and, on the other hand, it has refused to provide for timely PCR tests, free antigen tests or any contact tracing at all in the childcare and early learning sectors. Staff are currently waiting for five days for PCR tests, which is leading to wholesale absences in that sector. They are still forced to buy the antigen tests for around €8 because the discount stores are selling out within 20 or 30 minutes at the price of €3. There is no contact tracing at all in the sector, which means that the illness is spreading in the sector. Some parents are so desperate to go to work that they are sending their kids in with Calpol and hoping for the best. This is incredible. Other parents are being told they cannot send in their children. As a result, they are refusing to pay the sector and the sector in some cases is closing, which is causing massive stress and strain in the sector. I am told that the sector is threatening to walk out at the moment, such is the strain.

Thank you, Deputy. Please observe the time.

I ask the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, to meet-----

Let the Taoiseach respond. You are over time.

-----with the stakeholders within the sector.

To be fair to the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, he has a very good relationship with the sector and engages regularly with it on a whole range of issues. As for children more generally, I do not know whether or not the Deputy accepts the public health advice or the importance of it, but the public health advice is such that the rates among five-to-11-year-olds and their parents are very high at the moment. The CMO and deputy CMO have therefore advised on reducing socialisation and inter-household mixing.

But the Government is not contact-tracing in childcare.

Let me finish, please. In the context of contact tracing, that was public health advice. We need to make up our minds on these matters. Are we to become the public health experts on everything? I take it we can interrogate and deal with the advice. In respect of children, 8,000 free antigen tests were given out and dispatched yesterday free in schools.

Denmark was giving out 500,000 a day.

Regarding the spread of the virus, an awful lot of attention is now being directed towards children attending national school. Nine-year-olds must wear masks all day and five-to-11-year-olds may be vaccinated. Parents are very worried about this. Today there is no PCR test available in Kerry. The nearest place to take a test today is Shannon Airport. There is no booster available in Killarney, only Tralee, so all the people from south and east Kerry must go to Tralee. A family of seven were quoted €700 to go to the Bon Secours, in Tralee, to get private PCR tests. Where is logic in all this? The people must go to Shannon Airport to get a PCR test. That is the truth.

It is not the truth.

They are not available in Cork either today.

It is a great mystery that we gave out 212,000 PCR tests last week and no one got them, apparently, and no one can get them in Kerry. Is that what the Deputy is saying? We need a bit of balance.

I am not telling lies. That is the story today. A family of seven would have to pay €700 in the Bon Secours hospital.

The Deputy needs to come off the stage, for God's sake.

Today, outside the gates of Leinster House, the People's Vaccine Alliance Ireland held a protest calling on the Government to support the TRIPS waiver - to be helpful, I will give him a chance to answer the question again - and get Europe to actually do something to help end the global vaccine inequity that is hampering our fight against Covid-19. Over 100 nations support this position, yet it has effectively been blocked by the US and the EU. We know that it has been public money that developed these vaccines. For example, less than 2% of the identified funding for the AstraZeneca vaccine came from private industry. These are our vaccines. As Mike Ryan has said, we have been brought to our knees by a virus not because the virus is smart but because we are stupid. We have not been able to use groundbreaking tools in the smartest way we could have. The issue is to be discussed at the World Trade Organization TRIPS council this week. As a nation we have an opportunity to be on the right side of history on this. I ask the Taoiseach to go to that council and support us and support the TRIPS waiver being given to the rest of the world, as it has been asked for by the South African Government.

I have no issue with discussing this in considerable detail. I do object to the sloganisation and the ideology around it because I am not convinced at all that it produces one extra vaccine. In the case of BioNTech or any other company that has produced vaccines in record time, if you waive the intellectual property, who will do the next vaccine in six months' time for the next variant?

Ninety-eight per cent of the funding for the AstraZeneca vaccine was public funding.

The point is that what has happened in the world did not happen the last time we had close to a pandemic with SARS. They were all over the place at European level and globally in terms of production of vaccines.

I accept that we need to get vaccines to less developed countries. There are many issues involved. Some of those countries refused the Pfizer and other mRNA vaccines initially because they thought AstraZeneca was going to be the vaccine at the time. The Deputy will recall all the issues with the manufacture and supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine. There is a whole range of issues. I would argue that Europe has been the most progressive contributor on policy and the mechanics of getting this done.

I am delighted that counties Carlow and Kilkenny will get walk-in booster clinics from the end of next week in the Woodford Dolmen Hotel, Carlow and the Cillín Hill Conference Centre, Kilkenny. However, there is some confusion and people have been ringing me. My understanding is that there must be a five-month interval following vaccination before someone can get the booster. I ask the Taoiseach to clarify that. There is a bit of confusion about it.

I also want to raise the issue of GPs. There is no permanent GP in the family medical centre in Tullow. I have contacted the HSE and I have been told that it is in the process of recruiting a GP. There is a locum in place but it is only temporary. A lady came to my office yesterday and told me that she had been to five GP surgeries as a private patient, which were unable to take her because they are so full. It is a concern.

I am delighted that the walk-in booster clinics are opening there. According to clinical and medical advice from NIAC, there must be a five-month interval between the vaccination and booster vaccination. The EMA has also stated that the optimal time to get the booster is five months after the second mRNA vaccination. For the Janssen vaccine, it is three months after the administration of the vaccine. That is the current position. That is something that is kept under review.

In respect of GPs, there has been a challenge over the years securing GPs for rural Ireland. That is clearly manifesting itself in Tullow, which is an area of significant population. I can understand the difficulties there. That is an issue that I will work with the HSE and the Minister on.

I would like to start by indulging in some parochialism by congratulating St. Patrick's Athletic on their win at the weekend in the FAI League Cup.

I ask the Deputy to focus on promised legislation.

I am getting there. What we saw at the weekend was a packed Aviva Stadium, which shows the potential of the League of Ireland. What we have, in reality, is a League of Ireland that is struggling day to day. What we need is meaningful support for the league. We need better facilities and investment in academies. Post-Brexit, young people who are looking to improve themselves and build a career in football can no longer access academies in the UK. We need to reform the unrealistic target of 30% matched funding for the sports capital grants, which many of these clubs and facilities cannot meet. What will the Government do to provide meaningful supports to the League of Ireland?

In the first instance, I support the strengthening of the League of Ireland. I believe, under the current leadership within the FAI, that there is a genuine agenda, working with the Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Chambers, to develop long-term plans for the strengthening of League of Ireland football. It should be acknowledged that there has been a considerable investment over the years in League of Ireland facilities, including Tallaght Stadium and Turner's Cross Stadium in Cork city, where I have witnessed a fantastic transformation over the years. However, sustainability is needed.

I want to congratulate St. Patrick's Athletic on a very good win. Tradition comes through. I take the Deputy's point and I will follow through on it.

The Taoiseach constantly refers to the satisfaction level with the old mica redress scheme. Within one month of the announcement of the intention to introduce a new scheme, we, in County Mayo, submitted 18 different suggested changes to make it workable. The Taoiseach is not correct to say that we did not submit suggestions. We went through the old scheme painstakingly.

I want to clarify some points. Does the 100% redress mean 100% redress to rebuild? Will that exclude nobody impacted by pyrite? Does it include the planning, demolition, engineering and architect costs? Homeowners who have been forced to emigrate are now returning home. Will they be included in the scheme? Is there retrospective provision for the small number of homeowners who had to rebuild before the scheme came into effect? I ask the Taoiseach to clear up as many of those questions as possible.

The Minister of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has outlined the scheme in great detail. It will cost more than €2.2 billion, over a protracted period admittedly, because not all the houses will come on stream together. The scheme has been expanded in an unprecedented way to cover rental properties as well. There has to be a framework. Decisions have to be taken. All of the upfront costs, which originally, householders had to take on board, will now be dealt with by the Housing Agency. There is €20,000 being allocated to cover rent and storage. This is a far more expansive scheme than its predecessor. That should be acknowledged. I believe we now need to get on with doing the work.

There is a five-year waiting list for a first appointment at the adult diabetic clinic at the University Hospital Limerick. In addition to that, the UL Hospitals Group is the only hospital group in the country that does not have a dose adjustment for normal eating, DAFNE, clinic, which is now recognised as an essential part of the care for adult diabetics suffering from type 1 diabetes. The reason for that is that despite the fact the funding was approved about 12 months ago to recruit specialist staff, they have not been recruited as yet. When are those staff going to be recruited? I realise that the Taoiseach may not have the information to hand, but I would appreciate it if he would check the matter out and get back to me.

My understanding is that they are recruiting staff as we speak, but I accept that there is challenge overall in terms of recruitment, notwithstanding that 4,500 staff members were recruited last year. The funding was provided and it is frustrating that staff for key posts such as those referred to by the Deputy are not recruited in a more timely manner. I will take the issue up with the HSE.

I was speaking to leaving certificate students and their parents last week. They are very concerned about what is happening at the moment. They have no teachers. We know there is an issue with substitute teachers, and teachers are out sick with Covid. One parent told me that five teachers were absent from her daughter's school one day.

I ask the Deputy to ask the question at this point.

They are not being taught. Will the Minister for Education consider an alternative leaving certificate for these students? They have been affected by the school closures in previous years and they are being affected now by the lack of substitute teachers.

At this stage, an alternative leaving certificate is not being envisaged. The inspectorate will keep under review the marking schemes and the type of leaving certificate papers that are developed, and the State Examinations Commission will take on board the challenges that students have faced this year and indeed, last year, in respect of preparing for the leaving certificate.

Top
Share