Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 26 Apr 2022

Vol. 1021 No. 1

Ceisteanna - Questions

North-South Implementation Bodies

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

1. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the Shared Island dialogue all-island women's forum civic initiative. [13967/22]

Seán Haughey

Question:

2. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the latest Shared Island dialogue initiatives. [14205/22]

Brendan Smith

Question:

3. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the latest Shared Island dialogue initiatives. [14208/22]

Mick Barry

Question:

4. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the Shared Island dialogue on sport. [16697/22]

Ivana Bacik

Question:

5. Deputy Ivana Bacik asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the latest Shared Island dialogue initiatives. [17877/22]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

6. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the latest Shared Island dialogue initiatives. [17986/22]

Paul Murphy

Question:

7. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the latest Shared Island dialogue initiatives. [17989/22]

Ruairí Ó Murchú

Question:

8. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the latest Shared Island dialogue initiatives. [18040/22]

Neale Richmond

Question:

9. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the Shared Island unit of his Department. [18297/22]

Paul McAuliffe

Question:

10. Deputy Paul McAuliffe asked the Taoiseach the details of the recently published National Economic and Social Council report, Shared Island: Shared Opportunity. [20364/22]

Neale Richmond

Question:

11. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the National Economic and Social Council comprehensive report on Shared Island: Shared Opportunity. [21062/22]

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

12. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of his Department's Shared Island initiative. [21125/22]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 12, inclusive, together.

Through the Government's Shared Island initiative, we are engaging with all communities and traditions to build consensus around a shared future and to deliver tangible benefits for the whole island, underpinned by the Good Friday Agreement. The Shared Island dialogue series is a key part of our approach, bringing together more than 1,300 civic leaders so far from across all communities, traditions and regions to discuss how we can work for a shared future on this island in practical and meaningful ways.

Nine Shared Island dialogues have been convened to date, including on tourism and sport this year. Most recently, a dialogue was convened on 24 February by the Minister of State with responsibility for sport, Deputy Jack Chambers, at the Sport Ireland campus. This brought together over 120 stakeholders to discuss the role that sport plays in building trust and understanding across communities, and how we can enhance sports co-operation on the island.

Dialogues will be held throughout this year, now on an in-person and regional basis, focusing both on sectoral issues and wider societal concerns for the whole island. The next dialogue will be convened by the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Humphreys, on "enabling rural and community development on a shared island" on 20 May in Monaghan.

I have participated recently in a number of civil society-led dialogues on Shared Island themes, including at the John and Pat Hume Foundation in Derry and at an event with Queen's University. Last Thursday, I spoke at the launch of a new Shared Island conversation series of the Think-tank for Action on Social Change, TASC, that will focus on "building inclusive prosperity based on social and economic equality". I also look forward to meeting with the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement this Thursday to discuss the Government's Shared Island initiative.

The initiative is also leading to exciting new civil society projects, including the All-Island Women's Forum, bringing women together from across the island to further develop women's role in peacebuilding and civil society and to address under-representation of women. The President addressed the first in-person meeting of the forum in Enniskillen in February and I look forward to engaging with its work as it develops over this year.

On 12 April, I participated in the launch event in Dublin Castle for a major report to the Government by the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, on Shared Island: Shared Opportunity. Following broad-based consultation across the island over the past year, NESC has made a series of recommendations on how we can deepen beneficial co-operation across the island in economic, social and environmental terms. It found very significant support in practice for all-island approaches to key challenges.

The council's recommendations will be positively considered by Government Departments and we will consult and seek to take forward agreed recommendations with our partners in the Northern Ireland Executive and the UK Government. Finally, the Government is continuing to work to deliver beneficial North-South co-operation and investment as a key part of our Shared Island initiative, including, most recently, on 2 March, when I and the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science announced over €37 million in awards to 62 projects by the Higher Education Authority, under the Government's major North-South research programme, resourced through the Shared Island fund. On 1 April, in a meeting with the North West Regional Development Group in Derry, I announced a new €5 million shared island development funding scheme, open to local authorities across the island. This scheme will support the development of a pipeline of new projects by cross-Border local authority partnerships to deliver on agreed regional development goals and the Shared Island dimension of the national development plan, NDP. The Government will also continue to engage with the Northern Ireland Executive and the UK Government to seek to take forward collaborative investments, implementing our goal under the revised NDP to invest for a more connected, sustainable and prosperous island for all.

The Northern Assembly recently passed legislation providing for statutory entitlement to at least ten days' paid leave for victims of domestic abuse. Similar protection is urgently needed here. We know that some organisations in the public and private sectors already provide domestic violence paid leave for their employees. This entitlement is usually supplemented with training for managers to ensure victims can secure the workplace support they need. The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, undertook to include domestic violence paid leave in the forthcoming work-life balance Bill, but the draft heads of this legislation, as published last week, make no reference whatsoever to this promised workplace protection. Deputy O'Reilly and I published robust legislation in 2020 providing for ten days of paid leave for victims of domestic abuse. The legislation was drafted in consultation with the sector. It has been endorsed very widely by unions and the sector. We have had very wide engagement on the issue. There is wide support for the provisions of the Bill. It is broadly agreed that the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 is the legislation within which the protections should be placed. Our legislation received cross-party support during recent committee scrutiny of the Bill, yet at Government level, the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and the Tánaiste have refused to engage on this proposal. Does the Taoiseach agree that there is an urgent need for a statutory entitlement to paid leave for victims of domestic violence? If that is the case, I ask him to support our legislation, which, incidentally, is before the committee again today.

I thank the Taoiseach for that comprehensive report. I acknowledge the work undertaken to date under the Shared Island initiative, including the Shared Island dialogue. It seems that the task of building a consensus around a shared future is ongoing, and that the work is increasing in pace. I note that the Taoiseach will be launching another report from the ESRI on Thursday on the education and training systems on both sides of the Border. This follows a previous ESRI report on the primary care systems North and South. In addition, a new series of dialogues is under way on the theme of building inclusive prosperity. There is a lot happening. In passing, I also wish to compliment the John and Pat Hume Foundation for the role it is playing in building common ground on the island of Ireland, in Northern Ireland and between Ireland and Britain.

At a recent think tank on the Shared Island initiative organised by TASC, to which the Taoiseach referred, the Taoiseach expressed concern about the functioning of the Stormont Assembly and the North-South Ministerial Council ahead of the Assembly elections next month. Does the Taoiseach agree that the Irish and British Governments will need to be ready to intervene, in a proactive way if necessary, to get the Northern Ireland institutions up and running as soon as possible following the elections, and to generally encourage the full implementation of all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement?

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. I had the opportunity to listen to some of the discussions in the Shared Island dialogue on the provision of health services on this island. There was a great outline in those discussions of the opportunities to provide more health services on a cross-Border and all-Ireland basis. Indeed, in those discussions there was impatience with the slow pace of progress in this area. I recognise the importance of the establishment of paediatric cardiac care in Crumlin and also the great progress with cancer care in Altnagelvin for the north west of our country. We have some co-operation in the central Border area through the 1992 scheme of co-operation and working together that is being funded by the EU and the Irish and British Governments. However, we need a greater delivery of acute hospital services on a cross-Border basis. I am thinking of right across the Border area. South-West Hospital in Enniskillen should be co-operating with Sligo, Cavan and Monaghan hospitals. In the north east, Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry should be co-operating with Drogheda and Dundalk hospitals. I think there is great potential there to bring additional health capacity to the Border region. It would help to complement existing services and bring about greater efficiencies. In that context, we need better access to accident and emergency care on a cross-Border basis. I think the Shared Island initiative can considerably enhance additional health capacity throughout the Border region that will benefit communities on both sides of the Border in a better delivery of services and easier access for communities.

I note the importance of the Shared Island dialogue. Indeed, we recognise the merits of this initiative. I note, as the Taoiseach said, that an important all-Ireland women's forum was held under the auspices of the National Women's Council in March, aiming to address the under-representation of women in politics on the island. I should say as Chair of the Joint Committee on Gender Equality that the committee will be addressing this issue when we seek to ensure the implementation of the 45 important recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly. I note the Taoiseach also spoke last week at the TASC Shared Island dialogue focusing on social and economic activity. I ask whether the Taoiseach has considered a dedicated dialogue with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and other unions in respect of the trade union movement specifically, which, as we know, operates on an all-island basis. Indeed, it has played a critical role in our history and draws support from all communities on this island. It is a century now since the Labour Party and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions called a general strike as Ireland was on the brink of Civil War. We believe in an agreed united island, founded on fairness, equality and solidarity for all people on the island. We want to see a process involving citizens' assemblies, approved by both the Oireachtas and the Assembly in Stormont, as a means of exploring how a united Ireland can be achieved on a truly consensual basis and by agreement across the island. I ask whether the Taoiseach agrees with that proposal, and with the concept of dialogue specifically dedicated to discussions with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and other unions.

On the Deputy's last point, a general strike across the country to address the cost of living crisis would be a good idea at the moment, and would be a good example of unity on a Shared Island basis, but that is not the point I wanted to make.

The Taoiseach referred to the role of women on an all-island basis. Notwithstanding the Government's commitments on the new national maternity hospital, which we are very sceptical about, I wonder whether all procedures that should be available to women, and are legally available to women, will actually be provided, given the influence of the Sisters of Charity on the St. Vincent's Hospital Group and their ownership of the site. What sort of signal does it send to the North, to women and to the idea of diversity and inclusivity on an all-island basis, when we are trying to overcome decades of sectarian division, the idea of sectarianism itself and the domination of State institutions of services like health and education, that the new national maternity hospital will be on a site owned by a private religious charity? Does that not just completely undermine any credibility we might have as being serious about a different type of Ireland that breaks from the past and will be attractive to people from all political traditions, about bringing about unity in this country and about bringing genuine co-operation, on an all-island basis, to critical things like women's healthcare?

Indeed, there is the wider fact that the majority of our schools and much of our health service continues to be in the hands of private religious organisations dominated by one particular religious viewpoint. Is that not problematic? Does the Taoiseach not think we have to do something about that and to separate church and state in all areas, particularly women's healthcare, if we are to be taken seriously in terms of uniting this country on an all-island basis?

I spent much of the last week campaigning for People Before Profit candidates in the Assembly elections. The issue on the doors everywhere, just like in the South, was the cost of living and rising energy costs in particular. People are being hit extremely hard. As a glimpse of the kind of elections we may have if this crisis continues, people were absolutely furious with the big parties for doing nothing to protect them from energy costs, when they can see and there was widespread awareness that the big energy companies were pocketing massive, historic profits.

Our proposal for a £1,000 credit for households affected by the crisis was warmly welcomed by people. It has the benefit that whereas tax cuts will disproportionately benefit high energy users, who are disproportionately people with higher incomes, a flat £1,000 credit for households would be a progressive measure and those on low incomes would gain the most. The question is whether the Government has considered such a measure - a €1,000 household credit measure - to protect people in the South, something that would be a real action that would insulate people from soaring energy and other costs.

The shared island unit dialogue certainly needs to be expanded to deal with the constitutional issue but the unit needs to attempt to deal with cross-Border issues. A particular issue at the minute is hybrid remote working. The example I give is people living in the North and working in the South who were remote working, many of whom have been told they now need to be at work five days a week. There is obviously a tax registration onus for employers. This is something we definitely need to deal with. Tech companies are making advertisements stating that to apply for a job, people need to be resident in the South. This is not particularly acceptable and it is something we need to come up with a sensible solution to.

We have two other threats at the minute, the Nationality and Borders Bill and the possibility of a hard border for non-Irish and non-British people on the island of Ireland, which is obviously not good enough. We also have the legislative threat to the Irish protocol. This cannot happen. On a further issue that we need to deal with, a constituent told me about Ukrainians who are staying with them for temporary protection and they need a biometric visa to go to the North which costs about €100. We need a sensible solution to that.

In the midst of elections in Northern Ireland and the backdrop of continuing chaos at Westminster, the Andrew Marr show on LBC believes that the British Government is going to include a provision in the Queen’s speech that will give British Ministers the powers to suspend and breach the terms of the Northern Ireland protocol through domestic legislation that will allow them to halt border checks. What preparations are under way by the Irish Government, with the European partners, to address this attempt to breach international law? Crucially, what role can the shared island dialogue play in ensuring that the real voices of people in Northern Ireland, the business people, the manufacturers and the farmers who are actually benefiting from the protocol, are heard among all this political noise?

Inné, bhuail mé féin agus Gemma Brolly, iarrthóir Aontú i nDoire Thoir, le Conradh na Gaeilge ar Bhóthar na bhFál i mBéal Feirste. Dhírigh muid isteach ar an bhfeachtas don reachtaíocht Gaeilge a chur chun cinn sa Tuaisceart.

It is incredible that the Irish Language Act has been promised since 2006 in the North of Ireland and it has been promised multiple times in agreements and discussions by both Governments ever since. The Assembly was resurrected on the basis of the Irish Language Act going through and, indeed, the British Government said up until last month that it would deliver on the Irish Language Act. However, like much of the Good Friday Agreement, it exists on paper but it is invisible in reality now, North and South.

This Government is a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement. The Government is not co-guaranteeing anything with regard to the Executive, the North South Ministerial Council or the Irish Language Act. The British Government has reneged on this against the will of the people of the North of Ireland but it has also reneged on the Government. Does the Government not feel embarrassed in any way that it was involved in an agreement to bring back the Assembly on the basis of the Irish Language Act being implemented and the British have reneged on it again? A previous Taoiseach from Fianna Fáil said they would not stand idly by. Is Fianna Fáil and the Government not standing idly by now?

To put the historical record correctly, the word “idly” was never used in that particular statement.

Deputy McDonald raised the first question, although it was not specifically on the shared island and was on domestic violence and the statutory provision for paid leave. The Minister, Deputy Roderic O'Gorman, is committed to that and has made commitments in that regard. He will follow through on that and I want to assure the Deputy of that.

Deputy Haughey raised the issue in regard to the ESRI and its work on education. I am looking forward to that on Thursday because I think that is important. Bit by bit, the research that is under way under the shared island unit is very substantive, from the National Economic and Social Council to the ESRI studies on primary care systems in health, on education and on broader issues that lend themselves to North-South co-operation, particularly climate change, biodiversity, health and so forth. The fundamental point that Deputy Seán Haughey made is one I agree with. It is extremely important that the politicians and parties that are elected in the aftermath of the election fulfil their mandates and establish the Assembly and the Executive. It is very clear that people in Northern Ireland want their elected representatives to act on their behalf. They do not like abstentionism. They want people to take their seats in the Assembly and they want Ministers in the Executive to make it work for the people of Northern Ireland in respect of a whole range of services.

It is interesting that all of the parties in the election have now focused on services. In New York, there were kinds of banners on front pages and headlines looking for unity now, but that has all gone away over the last three weeks and it is about health, about education and about social services. It is interesting to watch and observe, and I have observed it.

We were always on about that.

On the health services, which were raised by Deputy Brendan Smith, I visited Altnagelvin recently. The work that has gone on between North and South has been very effective, in particular the huge funding that went into the capital provision for the comprehensive cancer care centre there. With regard to Deputy Smith's point, when I was in Altnagelvin I met an individual who had travelled from Donegal having suffered a heart attack. He had stents provided very quickly in Altnagelvin and was out the following day. In our configuration, we are saying that people in the north-west should head to Galway as the major tertiary hospital. In the fullness of time, as Deputy Smith said, in the various hospitals along the Border we should look at it regionally in a cross-Border, practical way.

There is no need to be so catty or cynical about it.

I am just saying that the penny is dropping. Genius.

It is not dropping. I have been involved since I was Minister for Health. I want to be positive about this. We need others to participate in this. We need the Northern health authorities to participate in this. We had participated in this through investment and, likewise, the Northern Executive in the past agreed on a cardiac service for children and that there would be one national centre on the island because the volume of patients matters in services of that kind. I think we can do more in respect of health services across the Border and that is something I would like to expand even more. The CAWT initiative has been effective and I will engage with the Health Service Executive and the Minister for Health in that regard.

Sometimes, on the Executive side, there are different views and perspectives on this, as everybody knows. What is important is trust - that we build up trust with all traditions on the island that this is not some Trojan horse but that it just makes practical sense for the people in the region and that catchment area that they have quicker access to health services, particularly in regard to heart, cancer, paediatrics and so forth. That is the spirit within which I would like to proceed on that front.

I agree with Deputy Bacik. The trade unions have offered, as have the employer organisations, to work on the all-island aspect.

Through the Labour Employer Economic Forum, LEEF, that we have established, there is an agenda on shared island and a sub-committee of LEEF is dealing with the shared island issues. To be fair, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has been a cross-Border body for a long time and there has been strong engagement. We need to support that. We stand ready, through the shared island unit, to support practical initiatives across the trade union movement. If any issues come forward, we will respond to them. That point was made to me in the aftermath of the TASC debate last week when I met with people afterwards.

In terms of Deputy Boyd Barrett's question, we need to provide modern facilities for women in this country in the areas of maternity, gynaecology and so forth. Every day we lose in getting the national maternity hospital off the ground is a day lost in terms of quality care for women. In that context, the Government has worked with the HSE to improve on the outcome of the Mulvey negotiations at the time of the mediation during the previous Government. My understanding is the proposal will represent a very significant advancement, absolutely guaranteeing all procedures that are legally available in this State to women who would avail of services in a new hospital. We need to move on with it and there has to be a transfer of property and so on and State control.

In education, we have moved on with Educate Together a lot over the years. There is plurality of choice now for many parents. That will progress, evolve and improve. In healthcare, it has been more patchy but the health board hospitals are State owned and we have independent hospitals such as St. James's Hospital and Beaumont Hospital. The creation of the HSE created a more national framework for hospitals-----

I apologise for interrupting the Taoiseach. I will let him run over the time for these questions by 15 minutes as the questions put by three or four Deputies have still to be answered. We will then move to the second group of questions but we will not reach the third group.

On the health front, we are moving to a situation where, increasingly, all of the tertiary hospitals and other model hospitals are State run, funded and controlled. That is where it is heading because of the complexity of health. In my view, that is the way it has to go on the health side.

Deputy Paul Murphy spoke about his campaigning for People Before Profit in the election and said that from his perspective, people are furious with the absence of any movement on the cost of living by the Executive and the main parties. He suggests a credit of €1,000 for every household across the board. That does not seem very targeted either. I have no doubt people would be very pleased if they were told that on the doorstep. Anybody told he or she will get €1,000 if he or she votes for a candidate will be pleased. I am not sure it deals with the inflationary issue but that is a matter for broader economic debate.

Deputy Ó Murchú made a fair point about hybrid remote working in terms of tax registration. The Minister for Finance is looking at that and has agreed to engage with the Executive on that. There are issues there. They are not simple but we have to work on them to facilitate cross-Border hybrid working. The Nationality and Borders Bill is a significant problem. We will have to work with the British Government on that. I would prefer if these types of proposals did not keep emerging from the UK Legislature. They are not helpful. They will be damaging to Northern Ireland, in particular and from a practical point of view, tourism in Northern Ireland. If one thinks about it, it makes no sense. Northern Ireland is developing and moving on economically. The protocol is helping. Inward investment is happening in Northern Ireland. When I was in Derry recently, there was confidence.

I am very conscious that we are in the middle of an election and I will not rise to the bait. It is not that Deputy Richmond is providing the bait but these proposals have been announced and pulled back, announced and pulled back. Let us allow the election take place in as calm an atmosphere as we can possibly facilitate from our perspective. We will take up those issues. I am a great believer in adherence to national law, as are most modern states and parliaments. We will watch that space too.

Aontaím leis An Teachta Tóibín go bhfuil géarghá ann reachtaíocht agus Acht na Gaeilge a chur i bhfeidhm agus tá dualgas ar Rialtas na Breataine na gealltanais a thug siad a chur i bhfeidhm agus a chomhlíonadh. Beimid ag coimeád an bhrú ar Rialtas na Breataine é sin a dhéanamh. De réir dealraimh, níl siad chun é sin a dhéanamh roimh an toghchán ach deirtear go mbeidh siad sásta é a chur i bhfeidhm i ndiaidh an toghcháin.

An féidir leis An Taoiseach bualadh le Conradh na Gaeilge?

Is féidir liom bualadh le gach aon duine. Bhuail mé cheana féin le Conradh na Gaeilge.

Tá a fhios agam.

Braitheann sé ar an dialann ach beidh mé sásta.

Social Dialogue

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

13. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the social dialogue co-ordination unit of his Department. [12671/22]

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

14. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the social dialogue co-ordination of his Department. [14171/22]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

15. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the social dialogue co-ordination unit of his Department. [14280/22]

Paul Murphy

Question:

16. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the social dialogue co-ordination unit of his Department. [14283/22]

Bríd Smith

Question:

17. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the social dialogue co-ordination unit of his Department. [14284/22]

Dara Calleary

Question:

18. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the social dialogue co-ordination unit of his Department. [15025/22]

Ivana Bacik

Question:

19. Deputy Ivana Bacik asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the social dialogue co-ordination unit of his Department. [16208/22]

Mick Barry

Question:

20. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the social dialogue co-ordination unit of his Department. [16698/22]

Marc Ó Cathasaigh

Question:

21. Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the social dialogue co-ordination of his Department. [19340/22]

John Lahart

Question:

22. Deputy John Lahart asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the social dialogue co-ordination unit of his Department. [20340/22]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 13 to 22 together.

The Government recognises the importance of regular and open engagement with all sectors of society as we tackle the many economic, social and environmental challenges facing the country. In particular, the Government has been working to strengthen social dialogue in a range of areas, including the national economic dialogue which will next take place in June, the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, whose shared island report I launched recently, the National Competitiveness and Productivity Council, the national dialogue on climate action which held a stakeholder forum in March, and through many consultative groups set up in different sectors and direct engagement with Ministers and Departments on specific issues of concern.

In recent months, I have had a number of engagements with social partners in a variety of different formats, including through the Labour Employer Economic Forum, LEEF, which brings together representatives of employers and trade unions with Government to exchange views on economic and employment issues as they affect the labour market and which are of mutual concern.

Under the auspices of LEEF, there has been significant progress on many issues, such as the introduction of statutory sick pay and the ongoing high-level review of collective bargaining. In addition, LEEF played an important role during Covid-19, including dialogue on income and business supports and agreement of the national work safely protocol.

The most recent plenary meeting of LEEF, which I chaired, took place on 13 April. Given the serious economic challenges facing Ireland in the period ahead, it was agreed at that meeting that the members of LEEF would enter a process of dialogue to explore the potential for developing an approach to managing and responding to these challenges and pressures in a strategic and sustainable way. This exploratory process will take place over the coming weeks.

Other engagements I have had with social partners include a series of meetings last year with representatives from the environmental pillar, the community and voluntary pillar and the farming and agriculture pillar to discuss how social dialogue can be strengthened, as well as issues of concern to those sectors. I hope to meet again with these pillars in the period ahead as we seek to navigate and tackle major challenges facing the country, especially as a result of the invasion of Ukraine.

In August last year, ActionAid Ireland, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Men's Development Network all called on the Government to ratify the International Labour Organization, ILO, convention on violence and harassment. As the Tánaiste and his Minister of State have recognised, ILO Convention 190 is the first ever international instrument on eliminating violence and harassment in the world of work. This protection is, of course, especially relevant for women but for men too.

I have repeatedly raised this matter with the Tánaiste and Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment since the ILO adopted the convention in June 2019 but there has been no tangible progress. For two years now, I have been told that his officials are engaging with relevant Departments to establish whether further legislation is required for ratification, yet no detail of these engagements or their outcomes has ever been offered up.

In 2019, the then Minister for Business, Enterprise and Employment stated her intent to undertake a consultation with unions, employer representative bodies and others to progress ratification. In January 2020, the Tánaiste made the same commitment. Just this month, the Minister of State at his Department admitted that not only has this consultation not yet taken place but it will be months before it is established.

The Government has committed to protecting women and men workers from harassment and violence. On that basis, I urge the Government to engage with the Tánaiste to ensure ratification of ILO Convention 190.

There has been recent dialogue with the Irish Refugee Council in the context of meeting the housing challenges of Ukrainian refugees. It is also important that we continue to meet the challenges we face in respect of the existing housing crisis and homelessness emergency. As a part of doing that, it is important that we look at solutions to find additional housing not already in demand or in the pipeline. Undoubtedly, part of the solution, as the Irish Refugee Council has proposed, is to ensure that some of the 162,000 holiday homes are put to use. Some of those are rented throughout the year and will not be available initially but others are heavily underused. These are furnished, serviced and in walk-in condition. Many are located on the edges of towns and in communities with existing infrastructure. We need some leadership from the Government on this issue. We need a call to get some of these holiday homes into use and to tap into the goodwill that exists in this regard. Details must be provided for people. There should, for example, be lease agreements for 12-month periods. Owners should also be provided with some compensation in respect of wear and tear so they can source alternatives for holidays. When will a decision be made on this issue? Why has it not been done to date? Will the Taoiseach clarify which Department is taking the lead on this issue?

I have raised on several occasions the issue of a low-paid, front-line group of people who worked all during Covid-19. Without them, many of our shops, hospitals, public transport services and many public and private corporate entities could not have functioned. I refer to private security workers. Rank-and-file security officers recently set up a new campaign, Security Officers United, and some of its members will be outside the Dáil at 1 o'clock tomorrow campaigning for decent pay. The employment regulation order, ERO, for that sector means these workers get paid less than €12 an hour. It is shocking. Some of their employers have blocked an attempt to give a miserable pay increase that would bring the rate to just over €12 an hour. These workers are campaigning to have a minimum pay rate of at least €15 an hour. There are 16,000 private security workers. They are miserably paid and essentially treated with no respect. They have no pension entitlements. Often, they have no guarantee of hours. Their employers are often charging the companies who have contracted for these services many times the rate of pay being paid to the workers. That is really scandalous. The workers get paid €12 an hour, but the company hiring them out gets paid €20. It would be great if the Government would send a representative-----

I thank the Deputy. His time is up.

-----outside to Kildare Street at 1 p.m. tomorrow to meet some of these private security workers and have a social dialogue with them.

The teacher unions had their conferences over Easter. One clear message from right across all the conferences was the need for substantial pay increases to compensate for the rising cost of living. The Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, conference went so far as to pass a motion that said unless a meaningful pay offer was made by the end of the school or academic year which provides for increases that keep pace with the level of inflation, the TUI should initiate a ballot for a campaign of strike action. The union is absolutely right. If teachers do not get a pay increase that is higher than the rate of inflation, they will, in reality, experience a pay cut. This goes not just for teachers and all public sector workers, but for all workers across the board. Will the Government make a meaningful pay offer to public sector workers? Will it increase the minimum wage to €15 an hour to accommodate workers in the private sector? Will it support other private sector workers who take action to ensure they do not experience a real reduction in their wages?

I previously raised with the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste the urgent need for an increase in the national minimum wage to address the cost-of-living crisis confronting households. With inflation rising, it is clear Ireland needs a pay rise and that people need to see the pay in their pockets go further. The 30 cent increase in the minimum wage that came into effect in January has simply not been enough to address the rising costs facing our lowest paid workers. Ireland is a high-cost and low-pay economy, and this is putting great pressure on working people.

In our submission to the Low Pay Commission this year, the Labour Party argued for an immediate increase of €1 in the minimum wage and for a clear, multi-annual pathway to deliver a living wage within three years. Has the social dialogue unit examined, or can it examine urgently, the need for an emergency increase in the minimum wage? Have any such proposals been tabled with the Labour Employer Economic Forum, to which the Taoiseach referred, to consider bringing a request to the Low Pay Commission to bring forward any such increase? Could the Taoiseach also indicate if it is intended to bring forward legislation to provide for a living wage? In response to a question I put to the Tánaiste just before the Easter break, he raised this prospect. Will the Taoiseach confirm what the Government's plans are? It is clear we must see an effective increase in the pay people receive to meet this enormous increase in the cost of living.

Regarding Deputy McDonald's point, I will revert to the Tánaiste in relation to that. We all of course want workplaces that are free of violence and harassment. A whole raft of legislation is already in place on our Statute Book dealing with harassment and violence in the workplace and to protect employees. Sometimes the various declarations passed by international organisations have wide-ranging implications which must be examined in considerable detail before they end up on the Statute Book here through legislative ratification. This is often not understood, and sometimes people feel it is just a matter of getting on with it and endorsing such proposals without having any examination of the implications of international resolutions passed in various forums. That said, I will ask the Tánaiste to revert to the Deputy regarding this issue.

On the Irish Refugee Council and its recommendations, one of the issues now is that thousands of houses have been pledged. Many holiday homes have been pledged. The issue now is to process those as quickly as we possibly can. Some are empty houses and some are shared houses. The Irish Red Cross was the initial recipient of the pledges of accommodation. We have provided resources to local authorities and Army personnel to make calls and so on. The fundamental emphasis right from the beginning has been on procuring hotels and a whole variety of other accommodation. It is extraordinary that 16,000 people have been accommodated in seven or eight weeks and more than 25,000 people have come into the country. Some have been accommodated privately through families. Other NGOs have pledged houses through their informal networks.

I met representatives of one organisation yesterday - Angie Gough and others - which organised 200 houses to be made available. They had some interesting perspectives on this matter and regarding what supports we can give to hosts, because there can be many uncertainties in that regard. I refer to what has happened in the education and health systems and in the provision of personal public service numbers, PPSNs. Of those Ukrainians who have come into the country, 99% now have a PPSN. There is also an extensive one-to-one employment service engaging with Ukrainians regarding access to the workplace, for example.

I have met many displaced persons - which is what Ukrainians prefer to be called - who have fled the war. Their gratitude to the Irish and for what is being done is heartfelt. That was the overriding response I got from them yesterday. Obviously, there are concerns about education. They are worried. We have to work with them to reassure them that we will be able to do all of that. There were meetings in the schools in that area yesterday with the parents to try to facilitate the entry of their children to primary school and so on. Those children have also been through a great deal of trauma. A whole range of wrap-around services are required. There will be significant challenges because this is the biggest humanitarian crisis in Europe since the Second World War. The United Nations has published extraordinarily shocking figures on the numbers of people displaced internally and those who have fled Ukraine. As we speak, close to 5 million people have moved to other countries in Europe. Those displaced internally could number approximately 8 million. These are frightening figures of terror, trauma, death and destruction.

We simply have to do everything we can to respond. The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, is leading that response in terms of the pledges and so on. Equally, public servants are working flat out and I want to pay tribute to them. They have been flat out for the past number of weeks procuring facilities and so forth. Individual pledges and the safeguards that have to go with them are far more time-consuming too. There is a balance that has to be struck between the two and they are working on that.

Deputy Boyd Barrett raised Security Officers United, private security workers and issues of pay. I will talk to the Tánaiste about it but there are various labour relations mechanisms by which these issues can be improved upon.

Deputies Paul Murphy and Bacik raised the teachers' unions. In the social dialogue we are having with the Labour Employer Economic Forum, LEEF, we agreed we would explore the broad range of issues around inflation and the cost of living and that we would enter into exploratory talks with a view to having an inclusive strategic response to these issues that would be in the best interest of society as a whole. Obviously pay is an issue in that respect. In 2021, the average increase in pay was about 4.7% and in 2020 the average increase in pay was 5.2%. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has invited the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the public service unions to talks in respect of the existing agreement. That will commence.

On Deputy Bacik's point about the minimum wage, there is a process and procedure for that. We are best placed to stick with that but we will hear what people have to say in respect of presentations on it. There are established independent mechanisms to advise Government on general increases in the minimum wage.

Top
Share