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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 14 Dec 2021

Vol. 1016 No. 1

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

It has been agreed that the report of the Business Committee will be taken as read. Are the proposed arrangements for this week's business agreed to?

They are not agreed. I have been asking the Taoiseach to take action on soaring energy bills for months and Cabinet has now responded with a €100 credit for electricity, which is modest but welcome. People are facing record levels of inflation and skyrocketing prices not just for electricity but for oil, gas and other fuels. This credit will bring some small relief. I ask the Taoiseach about the timing of this initiative. It is crazy and unacceptable that people are required to wait until February or March to get the benefit of this €100 relief. I ask that the Dáil meet next week. I understand that legislation is necessary for this measure. We should meet next week to legislate for this and get this modest relief delivered families now in the height of winter and not have people waiting until next spring.

I sought time for a debate on National Broadband Ireland. Both The Currency and the Business Post have published very useful articles showing the opaque nature and the level of investment by the principals that would be a cause of concern for the stability of this important project. Last Sunday the Business Post reported that a review was to happen but it appears to have concluded at this stage. It is essential that we do our job in holding the Government to account. This is a very expensive project. It is important to have a debate in this House to examine the matter. It is also important that the contract is published in full. As there was no competitor, I cannot see where the commercial sensitivity is. It was agreed by Deputy Bruton when he was the Minister. That has not happened. We need to scrutinise this at this stage.

On behalf of the Rural Independent Group, I ask for a debate on the lack of a roll-out of the national broadband plan, NBP. People are trying to operate from home and are unable to do so. The waiting times are too long and the responses we get are just futile. I ask that we sit on Friday to have a debate on it.

I also include the crazy proposal to bring water from the River Shannon up to Dublin. We are losing 35% of the water here. This will be another runaway train project like the national children's hospital and the broadband plan. This would be just as crazy and costly. We must examine it and have a proper meaningful debate on it.

Some news reports are suggesting that this €100 emergency energy payment might not be paid until March or April of next year because legislation will not be introduced until the new year. I believe €100 is too low a sum given the scale of rising energy costs. Why can this legislation not be introduced before Christmas? If it is a question of the Dáil having to sit one or two extra days, my group would strongly favour taking that step. We would ask, at the very least, that the Business Committee would meet to consider the options.

We should have a debate on the NBP. As the Taoiseach knows, the Minister of the day was kept at arm's length from the procurement process and the Department itself was responsible for the governance of the NBP. If the review of this contract is now completed, it needs to be published. Departmental officials need to be brought before the relevant committee to answer questions on the content of that review.

The assistance we are giving to people to help with their electricity bills is a good initiative. The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has developed this. We were anxious to do something in addition to the budgetary measures on tax relief, increasing the eligibility threshold for the fuel allowance as well as increasing the fuel allowance to give additional help to people faced with significantly increased electricity prices and energy costs.

This measure will be introduced. It will reduce the cost of an electricity bill. It is a good measure. It will necessitate legislation. The fact that people know it will be credited to their bill is something they will be happy with.

That is no help to people on low incomes.

It will be done very quickly on the resumption of the House.

With respect, that is no help to people on low incomes. That is insane.

On the national broadband plan - Deputy Denis Naughten probably knows more about this than most of us - the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, will be in this evening for oral questions. He will be before the House at 9.25 p.m. for 90 minutes. Obviously, it will not all be about that issue but he will take questions and will be happy to comment on that. He wanted to clarify that as part of the work, the Department engages with the legal advice of William Fry and commercial advisors EY on an ongoing basis to assist in the oversight of the national broadband plan, NBP, contract requirements since 2020. As part of this work, William Fry and EY were asked to examine the claims made in articles published by The Currency last week on the funding, ownership and control of National Broadband Ireland. The Department says that this does not constitute a review of the NBP contract as alluded to, but that it is part of the ongoing work of the NBP contract governance team and the detailed contract compliance checking that is carried out by the Department on an ongoing basis. The Minister will gladly take questions from Deputies on that this evening during oral parliamentary questions.

The Rural Independence Group raised the issue of-----

Broadband and rural Ireland.

The Deputy mentioned water as well.

I mentioned the madness of bringing the pipeline from Shannon to Dublin. There is a 45% leakage in Dublin.

What about the people of Dublin? They need a bit of water too.

There is a 45% leakage.

What about national solidarity?

It is a bonkers plan.

The poor people of Dublin will be left with no water if you keep going.


That is my position on it. On the issue of broadband, the Department and the Minister will deal with that this evening. Some 35,000 premises are currently ready for service. I have a whole list to hand but it would not be appropriate to go through it now. I make the point that the Minister will be here this evening to deal with the issue.

It is not specifically to deal with the issue.

There will be questions on it.


At the Business Committee meeting, I suggested that it be taken as a Topical Issue matter. While we have already selected matters for today and tomorrow, we could look at giving a block of time during the Topical Issue debate on this matter, if that would be of help to Members, on Thursday.

I wish to press the issue, Taoiseach. The intervention of €100 relief is modest but we welcome it. The Taoiseach cannot ask that this takes effect in February or March. Where is the sense of urgency in this?

Cad a tharla don Nollaig?

I ask that the necessary legislation goes through the House now, before Christmas. People are struggling out there. The Taoiseach knows this.

We cannot have another debate on it.

The least they can expect from the Dáil is some recognition and a sense of urgency to deliver this relief.

Can this be done before Christmas?

The Taoiseach said "No."

Question put: “That the proposal for dealing with this week's business be agreed to.”
The Dáil divided: Tá, 25; Níl, 20; Staon, 0.

  • Berry, Cathal.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Costello, Patrick.
  • Devlin, Cormac.
  • Dillon, Alan.
  • Duffy, Francis Noel.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Higgins, Emer.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
  • O'Connor, James.
  • O'Sullivan, Pádraig.
  • Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Richmond, Neale.
  • Shanahan, Matt.
  • Stanton, David.


  • Barry, Mick.
  • Brady, John.
  • Cairns, Holly.
  • Connolly, Catherine.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Farrell, Mairéad.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • O'Donoghue, Richard.
  • Ó Murchú, Ruairí.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ryan, Patricia.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Duncan.


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

Carers have had a particularly difficult road during the Covid crisis. In the early days of the emergency, respite services were withdrawn and they are still not back operating at full capacity. Before this virus ever came carers were under enormous pressure, but the curtailment in supports during the past two years has forced many of them to face real burnout. This morning carers took to the airwaves again to highlight their plight.

Incredibly, the Government has failed to prioritise carers for the booster. That happened with the initial vaccine too. It was wrong then and it is wrong now. Carers face the serious risk of passing the virus on to the vulnerable people for whom they care. Without protection, they live in virtual lockdown. When will full respite services be restored and will the Taoiseach ensure carers are made a priority group for the booster?

Generally speaking, throughout the vaccination programme the focus has always been on those who are most vulnerable to the disease and who need protection first. That is a clinical decision and it has always been the public health advice. Hence, the older age cohorts got vaccinated first, along with those with underlying conditions and those who are immunocompromised. That has always been the case. With regard to the primary dose and dose 2, it was the correct decision to move to the age cohort approach and to the vaccination centre approach once the older age cohort was vaccinated. It meant a much more speedy roll-out of the vaccination programme. It becomes far more challenging when selecting different groups who are not on any particular register. Many different groups at different times have come forward. Indeed, Deputies have come forward seeking to have different groups prioritised.

Carers are on the front line.

The system that has developed in terms of vaccine efficacy is based on prioritising those who need a vaccine most for health reasons. In the budget a number of measures were taken to support carers in the very valuable work they do and to restore respite services.

Those of us who campaigned vigorously for the repeal of the eighth amendment were told at the time that, in terms of legislation underpinning reproductive rights for women in this country, there would be a review within three years. That gave an awful lot of comfort to those who were a little disquieted by some of the elements of the legislation. That review has commenced and consultation has started but there is disquiet over the intention of the Cabinet not to revisit the legislation itself. Can I ask the Taoiseach bluntly whether he has ruled out any changes to the legislation that underpins the right to terminate a pregnancy in Ireland?

No, I certainly have not, and nobody in the Cabinet has either. Therefore, I am a bit surprised by the Deputy's comment. There is no foundation to it.

In the past two weeks we have learned that two eating disorder hubs have been delayed in Dublin. The 2018 strategy aimed for 16 specialist treatment hubs throughout the country. There are currently three operating for the entire country. As the Taoiseach knows, I have continually raised the fact there are also only three adult inpatient beds for eating disorders in the entire country. Also, no funding was allocated under the national eating disorder treatment plan for 2020. Of the €1.6 million allocated in 2019, not one cent was spent. While these delays and blatant inaction continue here, people with severe eating disorders are being forced to travel to the UK to get the treatment they desperately need. I have been assured repeatedly this is a priority area of the Government, but the reality is those intentions are not resulting in service improvements. Will the Taoiseach, in addition to the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Butler, seeing as she is here, reassure people this area will finally be prioritised?

The continued development of specialist services for eating disorders, including improved access and shorter waiting lists, remains a key priority for me and the Government. Funding was made available in 2021 to complete the three existing specialist eating disorder teams and establish three additional eating disorder teams — one in the Deputy's community healthcare organisation, CHO, namely, CHO 4, adult; another in CHO 9, adult; and another in CHO 2, child and adult mental health services.

When I entered my post last year, the money for eating disorder services had been suspended. I reinstated €3.94 million immediately to develop another three teams this year. In next year's budget, I have allocated €1.5 million to put in place another three eating disorder teams. Therefore, by the end of 2022, we will have nine full eating disorder teams and two part-time teams. I have to work incrementally because, as the Deputy knows, there are challenges with staff recruitment.

With regard to the Mount Carmel site, which the Deputy mentioned, there is a team in place. It consists of eight staff. It continues to operate and provide vital services from the existing location in St. Vincent's University Hospital. The other premises will not be ready to move into until quarter two of next year, but the multidisciplinary team is in place, with eight staff working.

Last year sales were up 14% at Tesco Ireland, and the parent company made an operating profit of more than €2.25 billion. While the company added up the pandemic profits, Tesco workers risked their health day in, day out working at the front line.

Is the Taoiseach aware that this company is now trying to remove from staff all premium payments, including payment for working Sundays, bank holidays, unsociable hours, etc.? Is the Taoiseach aware that this company is trying to persuade workers to agree to work three months of Sundays in a row in return for a one-off lump sum payment and that this overall package could result in pay losses of up to €5,000 a year for some workers? The programme for Government rightly highlights the importance of work-life balance. Will the Taoiseach join me in opposing the actions of this money-hungry corporation and in saluting the stand being made by its workforce, which, to its credit, has rejected this rotten deal, with 88% of workers voting no?

I pay tribute to the workers in Tesco and indeed workers across the country in the retail sector, who have consistently performed magnificently in the middle of the pandemic in very challenging circumstances, and to all the companies involved for the overall team effort involved. It is important in the retail sector, as in every other sector, that proper pay and conditions apply. The industrial relations framework is there to negotiate and to resolve issues arising that are put forward by either management or union representatives. I think the union in this case is there to represent the workers on this issue.

In September 2000 the Government signed the optional protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. While the Government has stated over the past 21 years that it is strongly committed to the ratification of the protocol and has enacted significant legislation to ensure Ireland is in compliance with the obligations under the protocol, the country is still not in a position to ratify it. Will the Taoiseach intervene to ensure the protocol is ratified as early as possible in 2022?

I will explore that with the Minister and we will come back to the Deputy on it. I accept his strong commitment to the issue.

The Taoiseach visited South Tipperary General Hospital recently and met with management there. They implored him to provide funding of circa €7 million to finish the refurbishment of the old St. Michael's unit, which was a wonderful institution, to create 33 extra beds. The hospital is at double the capacity it was at 15 years ago, and many patients come to it from west Waterford. The building is three quarters finished. The Taoiseach was quoted in the media as saying he could not understand why this has not been done and that it is the low-hanging fruit. Whether apples, pears or oranges - I hope not bananas - we want this fruit. It has to be delivered for the management there, the very hard-working and dedicated staff and the patients. They have the beds and the other furniture. The heating and a few other elements are to be fitted out properly. Above all, there are 80% of the staff for it, management informed me last night. When will the Government give them the low-hanging fruit?

Bananas are very good for you and you should take one a day.

They can repeat on you.

They contain plenty of potassium.

The Deputy is a bit late to this issue.

Yes. I think Deputy Cahill and others have been advocating on it, but Deputy McGrath is correct in quoting me and can rest assured that I have approached the Minister for Health and the HSE on this and we are pushing issues of additional capacity. I commend the staff in Clonmel. I was given a wonderful tour there. The staff have displayed great enthusiasm and teamwork in the midst of the pandemic and in the context of the extension we are opening and the additional facilities that have been already invested in in the form of the modular building, which has transformed the hospital, to be fair, but more work is needed now. I particularly enjoyed the visit to the paediatric ward. I got a very good presentation on the issue-----

Cad a dhéanfaimid feasta gan airgead?

-----from the head of nursing there, who knew her stuff.

We need the money.

The hospital has always required money.

Low-hanging fruit, the Taoiseach said.

This is not new.

Anyway, the Deputy should not forget the odd banana in future.

Could we move off bananas for a while and get a direct response to the Tusla review of the provision of accommodation for victims of domestic violence? Despite the Garda's very good response during Covid, the rise in numbers is frightening. This is the most basic research, being the review into the adequacy of the accommodation. It has been promised. I understand it is there. It has not been published. Can the Taoiseach give us a date as to when it will be published?

Early in the new year, I am told.

We might be safer on banana skins.

I have no doubt but that in the climate Act we have world-leading climate legislation setting out ambitious targets. Last week, however, the Climate Change Advisory Council identified a significant gap between climate action policy and climate action delivery, saying there is little evidence of necessary responses in individual Departments. Climate Case Ireland has today warned that the Government faces legal action if it does not publish the State's final long-term climate strategy by January 2022, two years after required by EU law. This morning I read reports that the ice shelf holding back Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier is destabilising and that there will be dramatic change to the front of the glacier probably in less than a decade. The loss of this glacier would result in a sea level rise measured in feet, not inches. My simple question, which I put on behalf of my children, is this: are we going far enough and fast enough in this country to live up to our climate commitments?

We are not going fast enough. We need to deliver more. This Government has brought in groundbreaking legislation in the form of the climate law. The climate action plan has been published. A detailed annexe to that plan will be published. It will include hundreds of detailed actions that have to follow from the plan. Not only do we need public buy-in, but everybody in the Houses of the Oireachtas should support the plan rather than knock it or seek to pick holes in it. We are racing against time to protect the planet for future generations in order that they will be able to have a reasonable quality of life. The time has now come to start delivering on the targets we have set ourselves and on the objectives in the climate action plan that has been published.

As Christmas approaches and we think of children at this magical time, I wish to ask the Taoiseach about child poverty. I know families in my area with children who have been moved from one school to another where the hot meals programme is in place. I feel I am addressing this issue constantly. I call for all schools to have a hot meals programme. I see people come into my clinics looking for food parcels. I ask the Taoiseach that we work on this. We cannot have children or families looking for these food parcels. We want to work with them and we have to make sure this does not happen. Where are we on the EU child guarantee?

I welcome the €100 to all households towards their electricity costs. It is a start. I know there are a lot more measures to come, but at least we are making that change. Again, I thank the Taoiseach.

I thank the Deputy for raising a key issue at this time of year and throughout the year generally. We in the Government prioritise poverty across all key social policy areas. The budget reflected that in the form of increased supports for those on low incomes, those in poverty and those at risk of poverty, including improved access to services. The hot meals programme was extended and expanded. If we can expand it further, we will, targeting it at families, children and schools that require it. There was an increase of €10 per week to the working family payment income threshold for all family sizes. There were increases in the rate of increase for a qualified child to €40 per week for children under 12 and €48 per week for children 12 years and older. There was an increase of €5 per week to the maximum rate for all working-age payments in the social protection measures in the budget, including carer's allowance, disability allowance and the one-parent family payment, with proportional increases for reduced rates and qualified adult rates. There was an increase of €10 to the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance and the increase in the fuel allowance from €28 to €33 per week.

You are over time, a Thaoisigh.

The total fuel allowance payment over 28 weeks is now €914.

The dental treatment scheme is on the verge of collapse right across the State. I raised this with the Taoiseach previously and nothing seems to have happened. All medical card holders, including people with cancer, kidney transplant patients and people with diabetes, have no access whatsoever to dental treatment. Dentists are leaving the scheme in their droves because funding for the scheme has not increased in almost 15 years. Some 80% of medical card holders right across the State have no access to dental treatment, and that has been going on for almost a year. At what stage will the Taoiseach treat this as a priority? What is the Government doing to resolve this and how long will it keep these people waiting for access to dental treatment?

The Minister of Health and the Department of Health are engaging with the representatives of dentists throughout the country on this issue. There have been ongoing issues, but resources have been provided. These are essentially contractual issues that have to be resolved.

A committee headed by Mr. Justice Charles Meenan of the High Court has recommended a vaccine compensation scheme be introduced in this country to fast-track compensation for people who have been damaged as a result of taking the vaccines. This is along the lines of schemes that have already been put in place in other countries, especially countries such as the UK, where, like Ireland, the manufacturers of those products are indemnified by the State. Are the recommendations of the Meenan committee acceptable to the Government? Is such a scheme going to be put in place? If so, when?

I am aware of the scheme. It will be given serious consideration by Government. I hope the Deputy will acknowledge the pandemic has not been the most opportune time or the optimal time for dealing with the issue in detail. It is a scheme I am particularly interested in advancing in consultation with my Government colleagues and the Attorney General.

While I know that speed is of the essence in rolling out the booster programme, are there plans to ensure the EU-compatible digital Covid certificate, which is the record of vaccination, will include information on the administration of the third dose? As the Taoiseach is aware, for example, from tomorrow, France will require people over a certain age to have had three doses before they can participate in certain activities. There will be a need for the record of this third dose.

There certainly will. To be frank, the Deputy prefaced his question with the reply in the sense that, at the moment, the focus is on getting the booster rolled out. We have administered around 1.25 million doses. It would not be fair at this stage of the booster campaign to differentiate in terms of access and so on. It is an issue and there will have to be records. The whole focus of the energy of the HSE, the Department of Health and the Minister is on maximising the administration of vaccines right now.

On page 51 of the programme for Government, it acknowledges that the impact of Covid-19 has been especially difficult for older people. It rightly states: "Learning from COVID-19, we will assess how we care for older people and examine alternatives to meet the diverse needs of our older citizens." When will the promised commission to examine care and supports for older people be established? Will the views of groups such as Sage Advocacy, ALONE and many other groups that provide support for our older people be considered in this?

I thank the Deputy for raising in the issue. In devising any strategic framework for older people, consultation will be a prerequisite, and engaging with all of the organisations the Deputy has identified will be something the Minister will be doing in due course.

In light of the publication of the cost of disability in Ireland research report last year, which showed that having a disability can cost on average between €9,500 and €11,700 extra per year, and given the commitments to the disability sector in the programme for Government and the fact the costs cut across all different sectors from transport to medicines to housing adaptations, will the Taoiseach confirm all Departments will respond with a plan to cut the costs for people with disabilities as soon as possible early in the new year?

I thank the Deputy for raising a very important issue. Certainly, the cost of disability report will be assessed by every Department and there will be a cross-departmental approach to easing the costs of disability for people. One of the critical areas will be increasing access to work for people with disabilities. That is something that we can do better as a society. The public service needs to up its game in respect of employing more people with disabilities within the public service.

There was a commitment under the programme for Government that a review of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, would be conducted. That review has happened and is sitting on someone's desk at the moment. There was a report by John Mooney in The Sunday Times this week that gave a very bleak and stark analysis of what is in that report. Will the Taoiseach commit to publishing that report immediately, warts and all, so that we can see exactly how dire the situation is for our National Parks and Wildlife Service and ensure we get the required reforms done as quickly as possible?

Ireland's provision of refuge places for women who have been victims of domestic violence is hopelessly inadequate. We signed the Istanbul Convention in 2015. Adherence to that convention means we should have 498 refuge places throughout the country. We only have 143. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown has no refuge places at all. A report produced this week suggested that, this year alone, 2,816 women and girls over the age of 15 will suffer from domestic violence. There is no refuge in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. I was also contacted by a group campaigning in County Carlow. There are two refuge places for two families for just 48 hours in the entirety of County Carlow. That is completely unacceptable. Groups campaigning for refuges in both those areas have contacted me to ask the Taoiseach about this, given his Department is involved in this area. One of the problems is there are about three Departments involved in this, including the Department of Justice, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Department of the Taoiseach, and nobody is really responsible. Who is going to deliver on our commitment and requirement to have refuge places in adequate numbers?

First, I thank Deputy Whitmore for raising the issue of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. We came into government and put into the programme for Government that we were determined to change and enhance substantially the resourcing for the National Parks and Wildlife Service. In opposition, I engaged on this issue with interested groups. The Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Malcolm Noonan, has secured additional moneys already in the 2020 July stimulus without having to await the review, and he significantly increased NPWS funding by almost 50% in budget 2021. I want to make that point. In October the Minister of State announced that funding would increase again to more than €47 million in 2022, bringing it back to a level not seen since before the financial crisis. There has been very good work done very quickly to resource the NPWS.

Review, Reflect, Renew is a strategic action plan for the future of the NPWS . The review part has been done, the reflect part is under way, as I understand it, and the renew part will follow. Some people put things together in a certain way. Suffice to say it will be published. It is not complete in terms of all three phases, but a lot is being done. Some 3,000 people were consulted, which is fantastic. Ultimately, what will happen is that Review, Reflect, Renew: A Strategic Action Plan for the Future of NPWS will equip-----

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his patience and tolerance. In fairness, he did the wildflowers in Leinster House, which is part of this.

I did. I did not sow them myself, but they grew well.

On Deputy Boyd Barrett's question, in fairness, the issue in terms of Carlow has been raised consistently by Deputy Murnane O'Connor. Three core Departments, namely, the Departments of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Justice, and Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, are involved. The audit has been completed. Resourcing will be provided to cover those areas where there is no provision or too little provision in respect of refuges for victims of domestic violence. It is a key issue that is being led on by the Department of Justice. It is ongoing and the Department is working on a new strategy.