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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 22 Mar 2022

Vol. 1019 No. 6

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

We will take Leaders' Questions under Standing Order 36, with Deputy Mary Lou McDonald first.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Ceann Comhairle. Last week, Bord Gáis announced massive price hikes for gas and electricity that will add a further €350 per year to the average gas bill and an €340 to electricity bills. This is the Government credit wiped out before it even arrives. Meanwhile, nothing has been done to cut the cost of home heating oil, which has doubled in 12 months. Workers and families have been hit by a barrage of energy hikes, with more than 30 in the past year. They are already struggling to keep up and have been left absolutely stunned by the scale of the latest increases.

Russia's criminal invasion of Ukraine has brought massive disruption and volatility to global energy markets. Everything that can be done should be done and must be done to mitigate the impact and to cut bills for hard-pressed households. The Tánaiste's Fine Gael colleague, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, has stated that the Government has no plan to intervene with further measures before October's budget. October is seven months away. That is a very long time for households when every single euro counts and when the sky-high bills for rent, mortgages, groceries, childcare and insurance just keep coming. It is endless. Everything is going up and up, and nothing is coming down. People are living under real stress and pressure. Research from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul shows that many people are cutting back on essential heating and electricity use. Families are forgoing other necessities, including food. The head of the charity ALONE has said that many older people now choose between heating or eating. Nobody should have to make a choice like that.

We are aware that this is not the end and that there are more energy hikes coming down the tracks. The real impact of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on energy costs will not be felt until the back end of the year. We need to get ahead of this. We need to get on top of this crisis. People expect the Government to respond with a speed and urgency that matches the unprecedented difficulties they now face and to intervene with measures that will work in the context of getting energy bills down, keeping money in people's pockets and giving some breathing space. People need us and they need the Tánaiste to do this now. I understand that the Government cannot do everything, but it can do more. It must go further in order to cushion households from these hikes. Expecting people to wait for seven more months is just a non-runner.

Ní féidir le hoibrithe agus teaghlaigh coinneáil suas leis na harduithe fuinnimh seo. Tá sé ráite ag an Aire Airgeadais go mbeidh ar dhaoine fanacht go dtí an buiséad i nDeireadh Fómhair sula ndéanann an Rialtas gníomhú. Tá sé sin do-ghlactha. Caithfidh an Rialtas gníomhú inniu chun na billí fuinnimh a ísliú.

I am asking that the Government do two things, and do them urgently. First, I ask that it engage with the European Commission and remove VAT on energy bills for at least three months. Second, I ask that the excise duty on home heating oil be removed. These are two specific measures that will bring the cost of energy and fuel down for struggling households and businesses.

At the outset, I acknowledge the fact that energy prices are rising in Ireland. We are seeing an unprecedented increase in the cost of energy, not just in Ireland but also around the world. We see that in the increase in the cost of petrol, diesel, natural gas, electricity and home heating oil. That is really squeezing people. It is making bills very hard to pay and squeezing many households. It is affecting businesses as well, and those on the lowest incomes in particular. As the Deputy acknowledged, this increase is largely, if not entirely, being caused by factors beyond the control of those of us in this House or the Government. It is being driven by supply chain difficulties and a supply and demand mismatch linked to the pandemic. This has been exacerbated in the past few weeks because of Russia's war on Ukraine. The Government will do whatever it can to help people ease the burden. We cannot do everything, but we will do what we can.

So far, we have committed €1 billion to help people with the cost of fuel and energy. That includes the increase in the fuel allowance back in October. There was an additional increase of €125 for anyone in receipt of the fuel allowance, which people would have received in the past week. There was a reduction in excise on green diesel, diesel and petrol of 15 to 20 cent, which was done only last week. Over the course of the next few weeks, people will have €200 deducted from their electricity bill.

And 2 cent for the farmers.

That is €1 billion that has already been dedicated to helping people with the cost of fuel and energy. That is significant. Contrast that with Northern Ireland, where Michelle O'Neill has praised Sinn Féin for giving a €200 deduction to low-income households only, and nothing to those on middle incomes. Our response here has been much greater than the response in Northern Ireland, and by Sinn Féin in particular. It is pertinent to make that point given the contrast between what Sinn Féin does in the North, where it has to make decisions, and what it calls for south of the Border, where it does not have to make decisions, make anything add up, or even know whether something is legal. That contrast is apparent to anyone.

Of course the Government will give consideration to further actions we can take to help people and businesses with their bills. However, we need to be honest with people. We have already set aside €1 billion to reduce the cost of energy. That is already happening. We have to see what we can do beyond that that is affordable. There are many other demands on the public purse, as people will know. The budget is still in deficit so we have to bear that in mind as well. We also have to consult with the European Commission and our European partners because the VAT directive does not allow us to do what the Deputy has called for, which would have to be agreed at European level. As the Deputy will have learned a few weeks ago, what she has called for in the context of excise is also not possible because of the energy tax directive.

Yes, this is global. Yes, it is squeezing those on lower incomes in particular. Yes, there are international factors beyond the Government's control. Yes, yes, yes - but no, the Government should not sit on its hands. The Minister for Finance has said the Government will do nothing additional for the next seven months. I would like the Tánaiste to clarify that that is not the case and that the Government is going to do more. I have given the Tánaiste two concrete proposals on VAT and the excise duty on home heating oil. Both of these things can be done. The proposal in respect of VAT would have to be done in conjunction with the European Commission, but the Tánaiste should bear in mind that as far back as October 2021, and then again this month, the European Commission was very clear that it was providing toolkits to allow member states to intervene in precisely the way I am outlining.

I asked the Tánaiste to ensure the removal of VAT and of all excise on home heating oil. As the Tánaiste knows, there is excise on home heating oil. The homework has been done on that on this side of the floor. It is important the Government takes action because we all agree that people are struggling. I am making two clear proposals and I would like an assurance that, contrary to the assertion of the Minister for Finance, the Government will pursue these actions.

We all agree that households, families and businesses are suffering from the increase in energy costs. The Deputy mentioned the measures the Government has already approved and we all agree that this is greater than anything Sinn Féin has done in Northern Ireland. That is being seen in the reduction in excise on petrol and diesel; in the €200 being taken off people's electricity bills; and in the increase in the fuel allowance that people have received in recent weeks. Some €1 billion has been allocated to help families and ease the burden of the cost of high energy and that is what we have done to date. We need to be honest with people about this; all we can do is ease the burden. We will examine additional measures, in co-operation with the European Commission and the European Union, to help families and businesses a little bit more, and that is part of the discussions that will take place in Brussels later on this week.

The horrors being unleashed by Putin’s regime in Ukraine are grotesque and we would all agree they are totally inhumane. The suffering of the Ukrainian people is increasing with every passing day as Putin’s campaign of terror intensifies. We also agree that the unprecedented exodus of refugees from Ukraine demands an unprecedented response by this State. It is being reported that up to 200,000 refugees, and potentially even more, could ultimately seek safety in Ireland. That is a number that would pose truly unprecedented challenges. While we must do everything we can to ensure we can help as many people as possible, it is important that detailed and clear plans are put in place to enable us to do so. I fully acknowledge that the situation is fast-moving and in flux but I hope the Tánaiste is in a position to update the House on some of those preparatory plans and I have a number of questions in that regard.

Is a single Government Department and a single Minister going to lead on the national response? Numerous Government Departments will clearly be involved so will there be a cross-departmental task force established to co-ordinate the overarching Government response? Responses in local areas are terrific but they must be also co-ordinated to ensure refugees are receiving the necessary treatment services and entitlements and that these are similar, regardless of in what part of the country they are housed. For example, the Community Call initiative linked local and national government with the community and voluntary sectors and it provided an effective network. It worked extremely well during Covid. Will that be revived to streamline local responses?

I commend the generosity of the tens of thousands of Irish people who have volunteered to house refugees but a huge amount of additional supply will be required. Today’s edition of the Irish Examiner has reported that a nationwide sweep of vacant houses is being undertaken, with estate agents being asked to identify units. While I regret that such a proactive approach to identifying vacant housing was not taken previously, I welcome that the Government is finally acting in this regard. It is reported that owners of hotels, bed and breakfast accommodation, community centres and properties of religious orders are also being approached. Can the Tánaiste advise the House how many rooms or properties the State is attempting to acquire? It is also being reported that emergency planning powers will be used to provide emergency accommodation. Can the Tánaiste advise if locations for this emergency accommodation have been identified and the nature of the accommodation envisaged? For example, will it be modular housing or some other type of emergency housing?

As of this morning, more than 10,000 Ukrainians had arrived in Ireland and registered for international protection. We expect that number will rise to 20,000 by the end of the month. It is reasonable to assume that figure will probably hit approximately 40,000 by the end of next month, although nobody can know for sure. What we are seeing is effectively a 1% increase in our population in the course of a few weeks. That is going to have serious impacts on education, healthcare, housing, social protection, the public finances and even on things like greenhouse gas emissions. Absolutely all calculations change when the population increases by 1% or 2% in the course of a few weeks.

To put this in context, when homelessness was at its worst, we had about 10,000 people in emergency accommodation. We have approximately 7,000 people in direct provision at present. We now have 10,000 Ukrainians seeking international protection. That figure will probably be 20,000 by the end of the month and 40,000 by the end of the following month. This is the scale of the crisis we are dealing with. I need to be honest with the House and the Irish people: it will not be possible to provide what we would like to provide, namely, self-catering, own-door accommodation for everyone in the space of a few weeks or even a few months. This will be a very difficult crisis to deal with. Every country in Europe will be in the same boat in having to provide as good accommodation as we possibly can given the circumstances.

The response is being led by the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, and involves a number of Departments including the Departments of Education, Social Protection, Justice, Foreign Affairs and Health. There is a cross-Government group that involves almost every Department.

In terms of hotels, so far we had managed to retain 2,260 rooms as of 19 March for 4,341 people. County councils have in the region of 1,800 emergency beds that they can mobilise. Large venues are being identified, including the Green Glens Arena in Millstreet, Citywest, and Gormanston. The latter is owned by the Defence Forces and accommodation will be provided there, although, unfortunately, it will be very basic accommodation. We have approximately 20,000 pledges from members of the public who are offering to provide accommodation. That effort is being led by the Irish Red Cross. Of these 20,000 pledges, for which we are very grateful to the public for its generosity in making those pledges, 4,000 are for independent own-door units or vacant properties. They are being assessed and we hope to bring them into use as soon as possible. That is the priority. After that, we will move on to people who can offer a spare room, particularly those with access to public transport.

That is the response we are dealing with at the moment. It is an enormous crisis. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, was in Poland a few days ago and he will tell Deputies what he experienced. Entire conference and exhibition centres there are being used to accommodate millions of refugees. The scale of what we are going to have to deal with is unprecedented in our experience, but it will not be on the scale of what other European countries are experiencing. We will just have to do our best in the coming weeks, be as generous as we can and provide as good a standard of accommodation as we can. However, we have to be honest and realistic about what is going to be possible and what is not.

We all accept that the scale of this is absolutely unprecedented. It is very difficult to comprehend the nature and scale of the response that will be required. I am glad to hear about the cross-Government group that has been set up. I would like the Tánaiste to answer the question about the co-ordination of the local response and whether consideration have been given to reviving the community call network that was so effective. It has been reported that the Covid contingency fund of approximately €3.5 billion may be used to fund the response to this humanitarian crisis. Can the Tánaiste confirm if any decisions have been made in that regard, about short-term and medium-term funding?

I have been informed by the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, that the community call initiative will be reactivated, as suggested by the Deputy, to mobilise the generosity and capacity of the nation to help with this enormous international crisis.

Consideration is being given to using section 181(2) of the Planning and Development Act 2000, which confers emergency powers. However, when we tried modular housing before, it was not the solution people make it out to be. If it was all that easy to build houses that quickly, we would have done it a long time ago. We need to be realistic about what can be achieved.

Before you build modular housing, you need a serviced site and as people know, we have a shortage of serviced sites in the country. That requires roads, power cables and water, all of which takes not months but years. That is, unfortunately, the position we are in at the moment. I am sorry; the Deputy had another question.

I asked about the Covid contingency funding.

We have set aside funding for the Covid-19 contingency. The pandemic is not over yet, so we may need that money for Covid-19. We are not yet in a position to dedicate that to this response. We need also to bear in mind that was to be a one-off spend for this year. I expect whatever we will have to do to help Ukrainians will be a recurring spend for a number of years because tens of thousands of Ukrainians will be with us for a long time, if not indefinitely. We will have to do a budget assessment of that, which is under way.

Friday is Daffodil Day, which is perhaps the most iconic and recognised annual fundraising campaign in the world. Cancer does not distinguish between location, age, status or circumstances. Cancer makes its own rules. Sadly, this year, almost 45,000 people will hear the news that they have cancer and their journey will begin. Sadly, that journey will take them down the road of endless hospital and medical appointments. It will also take them down roads with obstacles that only reveal themselves as their journey progresses. Very soon, cancer patients will discover that their illness is not the only challenge they face. They must also contend with the costs associated with their treatment, which can be as high as €1,000 per month. The everyday costs associated with a cancer diagnosis have been raised many times. The financial struggles at a time when a person can be at his or her most vulnerable are a burden he or she should not have to carry.

What is not generally known is that a cancer diagnosis can present a lifelong financial burden for patients long after they have recovered. New research from the Irish Cancer Society has revealed that many people affected by cancer at any time during their lives face being refused financial products, which include both insurance and mortgage protection cover. Even if the adult individual was diagnosed with cancer as a child or teenager, he or she can still face challenges when trying to access financial protection for the future. People who have a cancer diagnosis in their past are three times more likely to have difficulties getting insurance than the general population. They are twice as likely to have problems obtaining a mortgage. It seems that their past diagnosis is being used as a stick to beat them financially. Despite the fact that more and more people are now cancer survivors, they continue to be discriminated against.

The Irish Cancer Society is calling on the Government to implement the right to be forgotten into legislation in order that people do not have to declare a cancer diagnosis five years after recovery. This has been implemented by many other European Union countries. People who have been diagnosed with cancer in the past are simply asking that their future lives are not defined by cancer. They have completed their cancer journey. They have navigated the endless issues that cancer patients face and struggled with the loss of income due to an inability to work. Many do not qualify for a medical card, which subjects them to hospital charges, the cost of travel and parking and many other associated bills. Many have had the pressure and embarrassment of debt collectors arriving at their doors demanding payment for unpaid medical expenses. Their journey with cancer itself may be over. They have been blessed to have survived. Penalising them further is both cruel and heartless. They deserve the right to forget. Will the Tánaiste please enable a Government decision to grant them this right?

I acknowledge Deputy Lowry for raising this important issue and for his ongoing advocacy for people who have cancer and those who have survived it. Friday is Daffodil Day, and I commend the Irish Cancer Society on its decades of advocacy and service provision to people with cancer and cancer survivors.

Successive national cancer strategies have delivered continuing improvements in outcomes for Irish cancer patients in terms of earlier diagnosis, better treatment and improved survival. The five-year net survival for all invasive cancers averaged 65% for diagnoses between 2014 and 2018. This is a substantial increase from only 42% in the 1990s. We are now in a situation in Ireland where a person is more likely to survive cancer than die from it, and there are more cancer survivors than people who have cancer. That is an important step in the right direction.

Treatment for our medical oncology, radiation oncology and surgical oncology services also continues to improve, with an estimated 200,000 people living with and beyond cancer in Ireland.

On the issue the Deputy raised in regard to insurance, I want to acknowledge that this a real problem and it is being considered by the Government at the moment. I also have to acknowledge that insurance is ultimately about the calculation of risk. That is how premiums are calculated, but they must be calculated in a way that is fair. I also want to acknowledge the sensitivity of the matter and to assure the Deputy that officials are now engaging with stakeholders and colleagues across Europe to better understand how they have dealt with this issue. We are aware of the Irish Cancer Society’s report, The Right to be Forgotten beyond cancer: Access to financial products and services, which was published in February. The Government is also aware that a number of EU member states have implemented such a policy. On foot of that, officials are now examining the approach taken in these jurisdictions. It appears to be inconsistent across jurisdictions. It is done differently, in different ways, so we now need consider what might work best in an Irish context.

The issue is also being considered at an EU level. The European Commission’s Beating Cancer Plan includes an initiative to address fairer access for cancer survivors to financial services, including insurance, via a code of conduct and a reflection on long-term solutions. As I indicated earlier, we acknowledge that this is an issue that needs some work and that other EU countries have acted on this. For that reason, the Department of Finance is doing some work on this. Hopefully, we will be able to make some proposals in the coming months.

I welcome the fact that the Government is taking the matter seriously. The Tánaiste, who is a qualified doctor, will be aware that it takes enormous strength, courage and willpower to overcome and to conquer cancer. The journey is long and arduous. It is an endurance test that stretches both the mind and the body. A medical all-clear is greeted with an overwhelming sense of relief and joy. It is a happy release from the burden of a debilitating, prolonged illness. As a survivor, to be told years later that you do not qualify, or that you are ineligible to access products because you have previously had cancer, is a hammer blow. This unfair approach undermines a survivor’s confidence, and it creates a doubt. It segregates and categorises former cancer patients. It is a blatant form of discrimination, which causes untold further and unnecessary hardship. I am asking for the Government to expedite this matter, to follow the example of other European countries and to make this part of legislation.

As I indicated earlier, the Government is examining this matter to see what is being done in other European jurisdictions and how we might do something similar here in the Irish context. Officials from the Department of Finance have met with Insurance Ireland on this. They will also be willing to meet with the Irish Cancer Society to pursue it further.

Insurance Ireland advises that life insurance must be underwritten on a case-by-case basis, and that different types of cancers present different types of risk of recurrence, which has to be reflected in its underwriting practices. Insurers use statistical, medical and actuarial data to make underwriting decisions to ensure the terms and conditions of insurance are appropriate and that they are in the interest of all policyholders. Any rating that may be applied is usually time-bound. Generally speaking, subject to no further complications, a rating would apply for no longer than ten years.

We will now go to the Rural Independent Group. I call Deputy Michael Healy-Rae.

When the Tánaiste said he was against the Shannon liquefied natural gas, LNG, project, he was nearly the cause of a car accident. I say this because a number of Fine Gael Deputies and councillors headed to the land bank in Tarbert to stand there and to say that they were in support of it. Do his Deputies and councillors have that little influence over him, or does he pay so little heed to them that he ignores them as he is ignoring the people of north Kerry, south Kerry, east Kerry and west Kerry, who desperately want the Shannon LNG project to go ahead?

The events over the last number of weeks have shown us that now more than ever we should be trying to produce energy ourselves. We should be trying to produce gas ourselves and trying to make ourselves as self-sufficient as we can possibly be. As the Tánaiste knows, in 2019, natural gas made up 41% of the total of the country’s heat requirements. Last year, 42% of the country’s electricity was generated through gas-fired plants. Some 73% of Ireland’s natural gas is imported from the UK. While Ireland does not rely on Russia for gas or oil, the situation remains volatile and subject to upward pressures for as long as the conflict continues.

All we have seen from the Government is it telling us we should use more and more electricity and, at the same time, it is doing less and less about producing it. It shut Bord na Móna, it is telling people they cannot go to the bog to save their own turf and that it does not want them to cut timber, and it is pandering to the green agenda continuously. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have sold their souls to the Green Party. They stand for absolutely nothing now and the people are no longer saying it is only the Green Party. They are saying Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are only dancing to the Green Party tune. An LNG plant would provide security during a transition period, and once the time comes to move to away from natural gas, the terminal could be repurposed. Instead, the Government is going along with this agenda, as I outlined.

The Tánaiste stands in the Chamber and treats people with contempt, because he is saying nothing of any meaning to them. He answered Deputy McDonald earlier and said nothing in response to a sound question. I am going to ask him a straight question. Is he going to come in here in the month of May, and are his backbenchers going to come in here in the month of May, and seriously tell the people the Government is going to impose further carbon taxes on them, which will further increase the cost of their oil, further increase the cost of their electricity and make it harder for them to make ends meet and to clothe their children, send them to school, heat their homes and travel to and from work? Is the Tánaiste just going to deny them the right to live, quite simply because he is following the green agenda, because he sold his soul to the Green Party to become Tánaiste and to become Taoiseach? It is a case of anything for power; power at all costs.

I believe the record will reflect I gave a substantive reply to Deputy McDonald, to Deputy Shortall and to Deputy Lowry-----

(Interruptions).

The fact the Deputy did not like or understand the reply is more of a reflection on him than it is on me, quite frankly.

In respect of the programme for Government, it is there in black and white. Anyone can read it. It is clear what the programme for Government states on LNG, and that programme for Government was approved after a democratic vote by the Oireachtas Members of my party, our councillors and our members, and everyone in Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. Everyone in the three parties was very aware of what they were signing up for when they personally voted for that programme for Government, which they did.

There is currently a planning application lodged with respect to the proposed LNG terminal in Tarbert. As I have said before in this House, the planning application is live and is with An Bord Pleanála. If that terminal is granted planning permission and if the developers and promoters can build it, they can proceed and the Government will not block it. However, we believe that the future, the future we stand for, when it comes to energy has to be about price stability and energy security. We do not believe importing natural gas or fracked gas, or importing any fuel in fact, is going to provide us with energy security and price stability. We are facing the problems we now face precisely because we have to import oil, coal and gas from Russia, the Middle East, Venezuela and other parts of the world. It is not a good position to be in.

The Deputy seems to be advocating we should continue that forever. We do not think that is right; things need to change. We believe the future is in renewables, not in producing electricity from coal, oil, gas or turf but in producing offshore wind, which provides the electricity we need, coupled with interconnection, and turning offshore wind into hydrogen. Hydrogen is the fuel of the future because it can replace natural gas, power trucks and be dispatchable, and can even be used in power plants instead of natural gas. That is the vision we have, particularly for the Shannon Estuary and for sites such as Moneypoint, Foynes and Tarbert. That is the solution, producing our own energy in that region along the Shannon Estuary, with renewable energy from wind backed up with batteries and interconnection, and turning it into hydrogen, which will turn us from being an energy importer to being an energy exporter. That is the vision I have for Clare, Limerick and Kerry. We should make energy something we produce and sell abroad, not something we invest in and just store. That is why I stand for the future and the Deputy stands for the past.

I am delighted the Tánaiste gave the little dig that I stand for the past. If he had been listening to my question or understood it, he would have heard me say the terminal could be repurposed at a future date, but he chose to ignore that.

When the Tánaiste speaks about An Bord Pleanála, he must remember it will always adhere to and look at Government policy, so he should not try to cod the people of Kerry or the people of Ireland by saying the Government is against it but at the same time that if the promoters get it in spite of the Government, then they will miraculously get it. The Tánaiste purposely chose to ignore the fact there were Fine Gael Deputies and councillors out there trying to cover over the mess the Tánaiste created for them, locally and electorally.

The one thing I want to take the Tánaiste up on was when he got in a little dig. He asked whether I understood the answer he gave to Deputy McDonald and others. I will say one thing clearly to the Tánaiste. When it comes to understanding the electorate and the people of Ireland and what they want and what they require, the people can look at the Tánaiste and listen to him or they can look at me and listen to me. Let the people decide who they think is more in tune with what the people of Ireland require.

Thank you, Deputy.

When I hear some of the nonsense the Tánaiste comes out with, my goodness-----

The Deputy is branching out.

The time is up.

-----he is no man to look down his nose at me as if I am something he stood up on top of.

The Deputy has gone national.

I am elected every bit as good as the Tánaiste is-----

Thank you, Deputy. The time is up.

-----and maybe a lot better than he is. The funny thing about it is that I would not dare to look down my nose at the Tánaiste or anyone else because I do not do that, but maybe he does because he is a bit of a big shot.

Thank you, Deputy. Please now, the time is up.

Like I say, off with you with the airy fairies and see how far it will get you. But you can be sure of one thing, it is not a nice thing to look down your nose at me and say what you said to me a while ago. Not nice.

And it is not nice what you said to me either, Deputy, just there, quite frankly. Reflect on it and think about it. Just think about what you said.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

Think about what you said.

I know exactly what I said.

No. Please now.

Reflect on it, think about it and come back here tomorrow or the next day and take it back, if you want to.

The truth is the Deputy looks down on me. The Deputy thinks that because I am from Dublin, I am middle-class and I do not talk the way the Deputy talks and I have the accent I have, somehow I do not understand real people but he is wrong. I am elected just as much as the Deputy is. Everyone in this House has a mandate. We have a mandate because real people elect us. That is precisely why we stand here.

I know as well as Deputy Michael Healy-Rae does that he had the opportunity to serve in government. I was there in 2016 when the opportunity was there for the Deputy to serve in government and for him to be a Cabinet Minister but the Deputy turned it down. The truth is the Deputy would rather come in here-----

(Interruptions).

The Deputy would rather come in here and make personalised digs about people in government than make hard decisions that might cost him a few votes in Kerry.

Is it something the Tánaiste cannot realise right here?

Please, Deputy.

If the Deputy entered Government as an Independent, he would have to make hard decisions and just like every Independent who enters Government, he would lose votes. That is why the Deputy runs a mile from Government and that is exactly what the Deputy did in 2016.

The Tánaiste is misleading the House.

Thank you, Tánaiste. The time is up.

Finally, to address Deputy Michael Healy-Rae's point, as I said, there is a planning application extant on this particular terminal. If it is the case that it can be repurposed for hydrogen, that adds merit to the proposal, but that is something that is disputed. It is not as straightforward as using the same pipes and the same silos and containers for hydrogen as is the case for natural gas. That is one of the issues An Bord Pleanála will have to consider.

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