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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 22 Mar 2022

Vol. 1019 No. 6

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The report of the Business Committee has been circulated and can be taken as read. Are the proposed arrangements for this week's business agreed to?

They are not agreed.

We heard earlier in this session about the large numbers of refugees - those seeking international safety - who will land on our shores and we are all anxious to respond in the fullest way that we can. It is essential that the Opposition is fully briefed on Government plans for accommodation and service provision in the short, medium and long term. It is essential that the Tánaiste makes clear to the House that party leaders will be briefed and that the House in its entirety will be briefed on the specific approach that Government will take and on the specific resource that will be made available. This has to happen as a matter of urgency. People are rightly, in a sense of compassion and concern, asking how we will manage all of this and Government needs to respond.

This is an unprecedented situation and we need unanimity, throughout this House but also among the local representatives throughout the country.

We need to know what a standard resource document will look like for us to be able to deal with the problems and the issues we are facing. We are going to be running around between voluntary groups and statutory bodies and competing with ourselves sometimes in this regard and that just cannot happen. We must have an update to the House from all the Ministers to the spokespersons across all the different areas, in order that we can all work together on this.

Postmasters and postmistresses up and down the country have served this country well for decades, never more so than during the Covid pandemic in recent years. Now, they are being cast aside. We have had many reports, including the Grant Thornton report. Last night the Irish Postmasters Union, IPU, threatened strike action, which is very stiff action by it. It does not usually do this, as its members serve the people. The IPU is being ignored by the Government, and successive Governments of which the Tánaiste has been a member. This has been raised by Deputy Michael Healy-Rae and others many times. We need an urgent debate on this issue. Under the new contract, 700 to 800 post offices could disappear in January or February 2023. Then we will be crying when the horse has bolted. It is very important that we have a meaningful debate in this House regarding the treatment of postmasters and postmistresses. Postmen and postwomen also did and do great work. We must cherish them and not squeeze them out of business.

The Social Democrats and other parties have been looking for several weeks for time to be allowed for a debate on the proposals on a national maternity hospital. There is growing public concern about the fact that the Government seems to be about to sign a deal with the Religious Sisters of Charity to gift the new national maternity hospital to them. There can be no justification for this. Why on earth would we hand over a valuable asset like that to a private entity, whether religious or otherwise? We are looking for time to be made available now to have a debate on that, because we do not want any behind-the-scenes secret deals done. We want a full debate here in the House on the implications of gifting the national maternity hospital, of all hospitals, to a religious body. It is unthinkable that the Government would go ahead with this. I cannot understand why the Tánaiste is not deeply embarrassed about the very idea of doing that.

The world is rightly expressing its utter outrage and revulsion at the despotism and warmongering of Vladimir Putin in Ukraine. I have asked at the Business Committee for the Government to facilitate a debate as a matter of urgency on a crisis every bit as horrific, involving Saudi Arabia and Yemen, where the UN recently reported there are now 13 million people on the brink of starvation. This is a war where Saudi Arabia is armed to the teeth by Britain and France and their lives count every bit as much. We need to discuss that crisis, which is reaching horrifying proportions, and decide whether we are going to take action against the Saudi Government. The Tánaiste led a trade mission there in November and it has been reported that he did not even raise human rights issues. I do not know if that is true but it is something that needs to be discussed because what is happening in Yemen is absolutely horrific.

I want to return to the national maternity hospital. I also want to ask that it goes down on the agenda for a debate. This is too important to be left to secret deals behind closed doors. It is too important to us as women. It is too important symbolically and in reality that we have a public maternity hospital on a public site, owned by the State. When my colleague, Deputy Joan Collins, raised it, as did all the other Deputies on this side of the House, the Taoiseach said he was open to putting it on the agenda but it has not happened. It seems when somebody is open to put it on the agenda, that means it does not go on the agenda. I am asking again for the record. I fully support Deputy Shortall and all the other Deputies who have asked. This is too big an issue to be left to men to do a deal in secret behind closed doors.

I thank the Deputies for their contributions. In terms of post offices, the war in Yemen or the national maternity hospital, the Government has no difficulty with there being a debate or statements on these issues but that would have to be agreed by the Business Committee. I point out that there are three Private Members' slots every week-----

There are two.

We could use Government time.

-----and it is up to the Opposition to use those slots as it chooses.

If these are the items it wishes to prioritise, it can do so for at least two of those three items. Whether it does so or not is entirely its choice and not ours.


It was agreed at the Government meeting today that a detailed briefing for Opposition parties would be provided this week on the situation in Ukraine and the Government's response to it. That can be done at leader or spokesperson level, whichever parties think is the most appropriate. That will happen this week.

The national maternity hospital.

On the maternity hospital, the Tánaiste has agreed to a debate. Deputies are asking about post offices.

As I said-----

It is for Private Members' business.

It is a matter for the Business Committee but we have Private Members' business and Topical Issue debates.

For clarification, the Tánaiste has agreed to a debate, as he said, on the maternity hospital.

No, it is a matter for the Business Committee or Private Members' business. Deputies have a Private Members' business slot this week.

The Government is refusing it at the Business Committee.

On a point of order-----

Can we just-----

The Deputy has a slot this week. We can use that slot.

-----there were three Private Members' business slots.

Blaming the Business Committee again.

The Government agreed to have a public hospital on public land.

The Deputies have a slot tomorrow morning and they are not using it. They have two hours tomorrow morning and they are not using them.

You were asked to provide Government time and you are refusing to do that.

The Deputies have a two-hour slot themselves. They do not have to ask anyone-----

Are you prepared to provide Government time?

We are not going to have a debate about it here.

Question, "That the proposed arrangements for dealing with this week's business be agreed to," put and declared carried.