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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 14 Jun 2022

Vol. 1023 No. 4

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

I warmly welcome our Ukrainian friends.

Last night, the British Government published legislation that gives British Ministers power to override unilaterally parts of the Irish protocol. This move by the British Prime Minister, Mr. Boris Johnson, and his Government is disgraceful and utterly reckless. Mr Johnson's belligerent approach to Ireland is part of a cynical attempt to cling to power in Britain at any cost. It jeopardises so much achieved by so many over such a long period of time. It fundamentally undermines the Brexit protections for Ireland that were so hard won, and it risks serious economic and political damage.

I share the view of the Minister, Deputy Coveney, that Ireland will not be the collateral damage for irresponsible Tory actions. Therefore, let us be clear. The British Government's plan to strip away the protocol is a plan intentionally to break international law. In a supreme act of bad faith, it intends to walk away from its legal obligations and agreements. It is worth remembering that not alone did the British Government sign-up the protocol but, in fact, it was central to designing its content and operation.

The utter recklessness of this move is underscored by the fact the protocol is, in fact, working. It gives the North access to both the British market and the EU Single Market of more than 500 million people. The North's economy is outperforming the English economy, business is growing and new jobs are being created. Of course, cross-Border trade has increased significantly, and the all-island economy is thriving. The Tory Government now puts all of this at risk. We have heard voice after voice from the business community describe how this unilateral action threatens significant harm to businesses in Ireland and, indeed, in Britain. It endangers thousands of jobs and investment. The way to resolve implementation issues is to sit down and talk to the EU, but this is something the British have refused to do now for 123 days. Instead of engagement, Mr. Johnson opts for shameful political play-acting.

Tory disdain for political stability in Ireland is now up in lights again. This latest move is part of a wider wrecking agenda that seeks to undermine the Good Friday Agreement and to rob our people of a better future. Mr. Johnson allows the DUP to block the formation of an Executive in Belfast. Mr. Johnson then uses this political deadlock as a threadbare excuse to break international law and pursue his self-serving agenda. All the while, workers and families in the North are without a government as they struggle in a cost-of-living crisis.

Is gníomh contúirteach de mheon mímhacánta í reachtaíocht Rialtas na Breataine chun an prótacal a shárú. Tá cur chuige aontaithe Oireachtais ag teastáil uainn chun leasanna na hÉireann a chosaint.

Ní dhéanfaidh Boris Johnson bulaíocht ar Éirinn. We need to take an all-of-Oireachtas approach in standing up to Boris Johnson’s renewed attempt to bully Ireland. We will not be bullied.

We know we are not alone. Boris Johnson’s dangerous move has been strongly condemned in the United States, in Europe and indeed across the world. In the spirit of unity, does the Taoiseach agree the actions of the British Government are shameful, reckless and dangerous? Does he agree we must now mobilise all forces in support of the Good Friday Agreement and for Ireland’s prosperity to ensure Boris Johnson is faced down?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The publication of this legislation yesterday by the British Government and the contributions of various British Government Ministers who have attempted to justify it have amounted to a profoundly dispiriting moment. I was in government when the Good Friday Agreement was sanctioned by our Government. I was there during the early stages of the Good Friday Agreement and I was a Member of this House before the Good Friday Agreement.

Reflecting on the transformation of the British-Irish relationship as well as on the involvement of the European Union and the United States in facilitating the Good Friday Agreement, what transpired yesterday is a profoundly damaging moment for the Good Friday Agreement itself. More importantly, it demonstrates the degree to which the British Government now seems oblivious to the various sets of relationships in which it has engaged as well as to an international agreement to which it itself has signed up, whose ratification it promoted in the Westminster Parliament, and which it now has decided unilaterally potentially to upend it.

The British Government's published legislation would give powers to Ministers unilaterally to override aspects of the protocol itself. This is reckless and, as I said earlier today, has the potential to destabilise politics in Northern Ireland. It is also economically incoherent, damaging and the kind of legislation that clearly was framed without any significant engagement with industry or business in Northern Ireland. It is clear from the manufacturing sector, the export sector and the dairy and meat sectors that the protocol has had an advantageous impact. I have met all the various sectors who have articulated that reality to me and who are equally concerned about the dual regulatory proposals that are contained within the Secretary of State, Liz Truss’s, proposals. That would significantly undermine traceability within the food industry and would cause real issues for industry in general.

I met with the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, last week, as well as with the Vice President, Maroš Šefčovič. We have been in touch with colleagues in the United States as well. As Deputy McDonald will know, a delegation representing the US Congress was recently in London, Brussels and Dublin. Suffice to say, all parties find it difficult to comprehend the rationale for or the logic of the British Government’s position, bar the domestic situation within UK politics itself.

Fundamentally, what has happened here is a violation of trust. The real difficulty is, having entered into an international agreement with the European Union, colleagues across Europe are wondering why one would enter into a subsequent agreement, if the first agreement is so casually put to one side.

I want to reiterate one key point, which is that the European Union has been flexible right throughout these negotiations. The European Union came forward proactively with proposals, having listened to parties in Northern Ireland and having listened to industry. We asked them to go to Northern Ireland to engage, and they did. This was not a fait accompli in terms of the proposals that were published last October, but as a basis for the resolution of legitimate issues that were raised by unionism and others around the operation of the protocol. With substantive negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom Government, those issues could have been resolved and still can be resolved.

I thank the Taoiseach for his response. We are in agreement that this course of action is reckless, but I would equally describe it as shameful and dangerous. The rationale for these actions are well understood and the logic is entirely self-serving. Boris Johnson is quite prepared, through all manner and means, to do what it takes to hold on to power. He is quite prepared to use political unionism in the North as a prop in that wider drama. That is what is happening here. He has actively colluded with the DUP to ensure we have no government in the North. Then he cites political deadlock as an excuse for these actions, which, as the Taoiseach correctly pointed out, aim to breach international law.

It is very important Boris Johnson does not succeed. It is very important he is faced down. This is about the protocol in the first instance but it is also about something, as the Taoiseach will appreciate, much wider and much more profound than that. The Tory Government is pursuing a hostile, damaging attack against the Good Friday Agreement. It is as simple as that. How does the Taoiseach propose to mobilise allies in support of the agreement to face Boris Johnson down.

Cothaíonn an cinneadh atá déanta ag Rialtas na Breataine easpa muiníne sa Rialtas sin ar fud na hEorpa agus i measc cheannairí na hEorpa. De réir dealraimh, is é an bunteachtaireacht atá ann anois ná go bhfuil sé chun an conradh seo a chur ar leataobh. Fundamentally, and it is with regret I say this, I get the sense that the current British Government does not fully get the Good Friday Agreement or does not understand the DNA of the agreement and what it really means in terms of its own involvement and the co-guarantor nature of the involvement between the British and Irish Governments, but also the wider interest from the European Union and the United States. Parallel with that, we are now witnessing a denial of democracy, whereby people have voted in Northern Ireland for the convening of an assembly and the formation of an Executive. It is not acceptable that the assembly has not been convened and that the Executive has not been formed.

We have had extensive contacts with the European Union in advance of this decision. It will remain resolute, firm and measured in terms of its response to the United Kingdom Government's decisions in this regard. Of that the Deputy can be in no doubt. We have maintained constant contact and are at one with the European Union in respect of how we respond to and deal with this latest decision by the British Government.

Thank you very much, Taoiseach.

I repeat that it is our long-standing, consistent view that it is only by substantive negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom Government that these issues can be resolved.

I welcome our guests from Ukraine who are addressing the Seanad. I condemn yesterday's action by the British Government in moving to publish legislation to undermine the Northern Ireland protocol. The legislation clearly amounts to a breach of international law. We have all seen that the introduction of the Bill is already damaging the relationship between Britain and the EU. It is a reckless and dangerous approach to a sensitive issue and it has the potential to undermine seriously the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process. Where compromise and trust are needed, we instead see the British Government opting to ratchet up tensions by pursuing unilateral action and ignoring its international obligations. In effect, we are seeing Johnson's Government acting like a rogue state. It is as if Donald Trump had moved into No. 10 Downing Street.

This is clearly a matter of immense concern to all of us and, notably, it will have the most difficult and devastating effect on the people of Northern Ireland, who, as we see, are being used, in effect, by the Tory Government as a proxy in its own internal battle. As Tony Connelly of RTÉ put it, "Boris Johnson has courted the hard-line European Research Group (ERG) to try to cling to his position", and we are now seeing the Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, seeking to do the same in an internal Tory battle for power. This is no way to do business. We are all agreed on that. The path the British Government is pursuing will cause economic uncertainty, hinder the potential for growth in Northern Ireland and, as I have said, risks setting back and undermining the hard-won peace process.

It is not too late to call for a return to constructive talks with the EU. I met last week with the leader of the Opposition in Britain, Keir Starmer, as did the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney. I put it to him that to proceed with this reckless and dangerous legislation is unconscionable. Mr. Starmer has put that in clear terms himself.

Yesterday, we also saw a cross-party grouping of MLAs in the Northern Ireland Assembly write to Prime Minister Johnson. That group of MLAs represents the majority of voters in Northern Ireland who support collaboration and continued operation of the protocol. Their message is that the Johnson Government must end the charade that its actions are somehow being undertaken to protect the Good Friday Agreement. We know that is not the case and the Taoiseach has been clear on this too. Those MLAs have called, as we do, for engagement by the British Government with the EU in further negotiation and for honesty about the inevitable consequences of this British Government's unilateral action.

The clear message that we want to give, which is shared across this House, is that we in this jurisdiction must not be bullied by the Conservative Party and its political allies. Given the approach of the British Government, which we have seen seeking, effectively, à la carte legal advice as to the consequences and content of this legislation, will the Taoiseach confirm that our Government's advice is that we now, unfortunately, due to the unilateral action of the British Government, face the risk of seeing an undermining of the peace process and even a return to a harder border on this island? Is that risk now facing us, contrary to what this British Government's so-called à la carte legal advice is supposedly telling it?

I appreciate the Deputy's comments and the sense of unity across the House in relation to this assault on an international agreement. Fundamentally, that is what is potentially being considered by the British Government. It is producing legislation which represents a breach of an international agreement it freely entered into. The British Prime Minister advocated this protocol and trade agreement to the British Parliament. It was ratified by the British Parliament and accepted. Flowing from that then is the whole issue of trust in the conduct of international relations. The EU, in particular, has engaged honourably, proactively and with a significant degree of trust in terms of its negotiations. It is clear now that the British Government has not been acting in good faith in respect of the conduct of those negotiations.

The allegations or assertions from the British Government's side that Europe has not been proactive or flexible do not stack up. They simply do not stand up. Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič has been proactive. The medicines supply issue, if we recall, was resolved nearly a year ago. In fact, the European Parliament specifically passed legislation to facilitate the resolution of the medicines issue as it manifested at that time. It was again encouraging to see the very warm support that I received as Taoiseach, on behalf of everybody here, at the European Parliament last week on this specific aspect. Some of my consultations were on this issue.

All parties in Northern Ireland have a right to be consulted in terms of the British Government's action and not just one party. Their views should be sought and engaged with. The majority of MLAs, as Deputy Bacik said, support the protocol. They believe there can be changes to the operation of the protocol, as we do as well. Issues have been raised and, in the context of my recent discussions with Commissioner Šefčovič, he is prepared to come forward with further proposals to resolve these issues. One never gets reciprocation from the British Government side. One never gets clarity from the British Government side as to what the landing zone is in respect of an ultimate resolution of these particular issues.

Economically, it is striking to talk to people on the ground. An increasing number of businesses and industries can not only master or manage the protocol but find it advantageous. What worries me most is the lack of real appreciation of the nuts and bolts of this by the British Government. Its proposals are actually damaging economically. They are damaging to industry and to jobs in Northern Ireland. Talk to anyone involved in the manufacturing or export sectors or the food industry and agribusiness sector and they are all clear that they need a protocol. They do not need it undermined.

They actually need it. We should focus on the sector of the Northern Ireland economy that has problems. If we focused on that, which Europe is prepared to do, we can resolve the issues.

I entirely agree with the Taoiseach about the British Government's actions amounting to a breach of trust. One of the most alarming things about this development is the breakdown in trust between the Governments across the islands and the breakdown in trust in the relationship between the British Government and EU negotiators. As the Taoiseach said, Maroš Šefčovič and his team are seeking to negotiate in good faith. There is now a dawning realisation across the EU that the British Government is not negotiating in good faith and has broken trust. That is why I do not use the comparison with Donald Trump lightly. We saw his regime tearing up international agreements and breaking trust with those with whom international treaties had negotiated, to the detriment of the peace and prosperity of his people. Unfortunately, we are seeing the same development with the British Government's breach of trust.

We in the Labour Party, as proud Europeans and members of the Party of European Socialists, look to support the Government and the efforts of the EU to engage in constructive negotiation, find the sort of constructive solutions to any issues facing communities and businesses in Northern Ireland and ensure that we do not see any support for the Tory government's breaking of trust in this international arena.

I appreciate the comments and position adopted by the Deputy in respect of this issue. That is important, and it is important that at European Union level that all of our respective groupings within the European Parliament are apprised of this and briefed on the up-to-date position and on the feeling on the ground in Northern Ireland in respect of the operation of the protocol for the vast majority of businesses and how advantageous it is for key sectors of the Northern Ireland economy, in particular on the FDI side. There has been an improvement in FDI into Northern Ireland because of the protocol.

There is no doubt that the EU stands ready to do the right thing by the people of Northern Ireland; I want to make that very clear. What concerns me is the denial of democracy, as I would describe it. I have been very consistent over the past decade that the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement should always be respected. The Assembly should never have been taken down. The Assembly should always be formed immediately after an election because the people have spoken. I find it very difficult to comprehend a situation in a democratic world whereby if the people have voted through the ballot box, their elected representatives are not facilitated in meeting to discuss the cost -of-living and bread-and-butter issues that affect their daily lives. That is not good enough. That is what I mean by the destabilisation of politics that is afoot.

The future sustainability of private and voluntary nursing homes across the country is a rapidly growing concern. Owners and operators of nursing homes are struggling to stay afloat. Many see no way forward. I have received numerous calls and correspondence from nursing homes across County Tipperary. All are desperate for support to save their businesses. They are not making extravagant demands; they are simply seeking equality with public nursing homes.

This is a national issue. The kernel of the problem is the discrimination by the State under the fair deal scheme in the resourcing of private, as opposed to public, nursing home resident care. At present, public nursing homes receive 62% more per resident per week than what is available to pay for the care of an elderly person in a private nursing home. Private nursing home owners are being tasked with doing the impossible and a growing number are holding on by their fingertips in the hope that their voices will finally be heard.

Private nursing homes are providing elderly care for fees of up to €700 per week per resident, less than the amount allocated to their public counterparts. It does not take a genius to see that, from a business perspective, there is no future for private nursing homes in Ireland if this alarming discrepancy is not addressed urgently.

There is also a significant differential in pay for HSE and private and voluntary health care assistants. Approximately one in every two employees in nursing homes are healthcare assistants. The pay differential is unfair and compounds the problem. Private nursing homes are losing staff to better paid jobs in the HSE and elsewhere. Staff in private nursing homes are outstanding.

They are under enormous pressure. Their patients are treated like family members. Staff give the patients professional care and attention. These staff deserve to have their work properly valued.

Negotiations have been ongoing for years, but the discussions are going around in circles. They are unending and unproductive. I spoke to one nursing home owner who was recently forced to put €90,000 of borrowed money into their business for it to survive. Last week, I visited another loss-making home which is now dependent on the religious congregation to support the nursing home financially. The financial loss is growing to such an extent that the congregation cannot make up that loss indefinitely. They have spoken about the current and ongoing rises in the costs of heat, electricity and food. They are simply unable to absorb the increased costs of those necessities in the private sector. Private nursing homes must provide the same level of complex care many elderly residents require. Public nursing homes have specialised needs provided at no cost by the HSE, while private operators must pay for services such as chiropody, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and even basic medical equipment.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. As it transpires, the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, is meeting with the CEO of the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, Mr. Liam Sloyan, to discuss the issues the Deputy raised and the general issues that face nursing homes and their ongoing relationship with the NTPF. The nursing home representative bodies are also in discussions more generally.

The Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act 2009 is the overall template that governs funding to support people accessing residential care. Prices are negotiated, as the Deputy will know, for delivery by the designated State agency, namely the National Treatment Purchase Fund. Pricing agreements are reached with individual nursing homes by the NTPF, and the rates the fund offers are based on a set of standard criteria that include costs incurred by the nursing home in question. Neither the Minister nor the Department has a role in individual price negotiations. There is a variation between the cost of care in public and private homes. Public nursing homes generally have higher costs and a higher staff-patient ratio. They also deal with far more complex cases, in general. There is about an 80:20 split, that is, 80% of all nursing home care is private and 20% is public, in the form of community nursing units, with a minimum of one in each county. That balance has to be looked at over time but, whether private, voluntary or public care, the resident's financial contribution is the same. The price of care affects only levels of State funding and has no direct impact on the resident.

Last December, the Department published a value-for-money review of nursing home costs. The purpose was to identify and to analyse the reasons for any cost differential between private and public nursing homes. Again, the review found that the cost differential is driven largely by variances in staff-to-resident ratios and the skill mixes in public and private nursing homes. Older infrastructure and the cost of upkeep of older buildings are a contributor in many of our community nursing units. Nine recommendations have come out of that report, and the HSE is, with the Department of Health and the NTPF, working through the recommendations. Delivery of those would lead, I think, to an improvement in the overall value for money delivered by the nursing homes support scheme.

The Department and the Government provided substantial support to the sector over the pandemic, with €134 million to €135 million in additional funding made available to private and voluntary nursing homes. More recently, substantial engagement has taken place on cost increases relating to inflation. The current inflationary cycle is now the subject of discussions between the nursing homes representative bodies and the NTPF.

I welcome the fact that the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, is entering further discussions and negotiations, but will the Government please bring some urgency to the matter and bring it to a conclusion? There have been negotiations for years with no constructive proposals put on the table. We need to get past that stage. In my view, the ongoing medical and personal needs of elderly residents are practically the same, regardless of where they reside.

It certainly does not make any sense to me to say that it costs 62% less in a private nursing home than it does in a public one. The reality is that this is just not sustainable for private operators and it is expecting them to perform a miracle. If the Taoiseach does not bring this matter to a conclusion and if it is not addressed successfully, the doors of private nursing homes in every town and village across Ireland will be forced to close. Public nursing homes will not be able to meet the demand for elderly care and we may then have a very serious issue. The most vulnerable members in our society will be those that will suffer. The Government must act urgently to correct the imbalance that currently exists.

The Minister of State, Deputy Butler, has met with Nursing Homes Ireland, NHI, the representative body, and continues to do so. At the moment the Government is allocating approximately €1 billion for the care of approximately 22,000 residents on an annual basis. The Exchequer contribution as we speak is quite significant and will obviously grow in terms of demographics and of the fact that we are ageing and living for longer as a people, which is in itself a good thing. It will also, however, create pressures.

There is no doubt that the voluntary sector is under pressure and I accept that in the current inflationary cycle many entities and organisations are under much deal pressure. The Minister of State is meeting with Nursing Homes Ireland, the Department and the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, agency will be giving this very serious consideration. This also has to be seen against a backdrop of what were extraordinary levels of support given to the private nursing home sector by the Government during the pandemic itself.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle very much. I really and truthfully believe that the Government is out of touch on the whole issue of the cost of petrol and diesel and the effect that is having on people. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, said yesterday that there would be no assistance available before October. At the same time he made a disgraceful comment for people to go to the local social welfare office to look for assistance.

The Taoiseach could say that he is not responsible for that statement or for it coming out of his mouth but the Taoiseach gave him the voice and pulled him into Government, so he is ultimately responsible for the irresponsible statement that he made, which I call very ill-judged. There are people today up and down the country who might believe what a Government Minister says and who may think, maybe, that because they are struggling with the cost of fuel and of motoring that they should go to the local social welfare office because a Government Minister told them to do so. That is a highly irresponsible act. There are vulnerable people and those under duress and financial distress who could take that advice on board and go to a social welfare office. That is a disgraceful thing and I ask the Taoiseach to tell people that that is a misleading comment because it is not factual. If one speaks to any social welfare inspector, they will tell you that they have not been directed by this Government to deal with this in any way, shape or fashion.

The Taoiseach knows as much about social welfare as I do. There is a thing called an SWA, a supplementary welfare allowance, which is allowed for in certain circumstances. I can assure the Taoiseach that any genuine man, woman or younger person who will go before a social welfare officer today to say that they were sent by the Minister and asks for help will be told, through no fault of the social officer, that they cannot get this help, that they have no money to do so and that it is not at his or her discretion. I ask the Taoiseach to clarify that here before the Dáil today.

I highlight the fact that a gallon of diesel - for anyone who does not know, a gallon is 4.56 L - costs €9.53. The tax take of this Government on that gallon is €4.20. A gallon of petrol is €9.72 of which the tax take is €4.77. This is totally ridiculous and shameful and our group, the Rural Independent Group, asked the Government last April to stop and to tackle the massive amount of tax that it is taking and to do something about it. The Government voted against us, did nothing and its answers to the people now is to suck it up and to blow it out in bubbles because it will do nothing for them. This is totally ridiculous and unfair. The soaring petrol prices mean that massive revenues are wind-falling for the Government. We hear every day from Ministers suggesting that there is nothing more that the Government can do. This is, however, the same Government which took in more than €300 million in taxes on petrol and diesel alone in April. The Government is benefiting the most from the hardship and the harrowing conditions people have to go through when all that they are trying to do is to survive and to keep motoring and on the road.

I thank the Deputy for raising the cost of living. There is no doubt that Putin's war on Ukraine has pushed inflation worldwide to its highest level ever. That is the reality. It is affecting prices of imports of energy, food and other commodities. The Government is acutely aware of the enormous pressures on people arising from this round of inflation, which has been imported as a result of Putin's war. There is no getting away from that. That is the hard reality. In the first instance, we need to do what we can to reduce the impact on people. The Government has introduced €2.4 billion in cost-of-living decisions since last October across the board. For example, it has hiked up the weekly fuel allowance by approximately 55% or €404 on the previous year. To say we have done nothing makes no sense when the Government has increased a very basic allowance by more than €404.

It is not doing enough.

We have also decreased the excise duty on petrol, diesel and green diesel, saving motorists between €9 and €12 each time they fill their tank. Public transport fares are now down 20% and 50% for young people. We have changed health costs for people with changes to the drugs payment scheme threshold. In education, we took measures on examination fees. We reduced VAT from 13.5% to 9% on gas and electricity bills and we also gave a €200 energy credit to every household. We cut the annual PSO levy by €58 to zero by October 2022. We have launched a national retrofitting scheme and new grant rates that will cover 80% of the typical cost of attic and wall insulations. We have put caps on school transport fees. We have also brought forward the working family payment budget. We are abolishing the €80 inpatient hospital charge for children, and that will be expanded more broadly. We have taken specific measures for hauliers, tillage farmers and for hospitality, which the Deputy spoke for, on a consistent basis.

Inflation is projected to rise by 6.5% overall this year and 3% in 2023. That is a forecast. I acknowledge it could be higher and we will have to wait and see. Acknowledging the acute impact on people, on top of what we have done, we will have an opportunity to strategically and intelligently deal with this unprecedented impact on people in the forthcoming budget and to do it in a way that dovetails with policies that we have set in train and to try to reduce pressures on families, children and those most in need. We want to work with the social partners and others to identify those.

Finally, the latest CSO data on wages shows that the average weekly earnings in the first quarter of 2022 were up 10% from the same period two years ago.

Thank you Taoiseach, we are way over.

Right across all areas we will move to help people.

I just want to remind the farmers, fishermen, agri-contractors and silage contractors who are working very hard that what the Government thought of them was the sum total of 2 cent of a reduction in March. In case they had forgotten, I will remind them of it again today. I will also remind the Taoiseach that on the Monday and Tuesday night before the Government gave the reduction the cost of diesel and petrol actually went up by more then than the Government reduced it on the Wednesday. I also remind him that the reduction was more than evaporated in the past four trading days when the cost of diesel and petrol went up by more than the Government brought it down last March. What the Government did was futile and very small. At a recent meeting the Taoiseach was one of the strongest and most forceful voices saying that we should cut off the fuel coming from Russia.

That is a debate for another time. However, when the Taoiseach came back, he was involved in a meeting in which he said that one of the results we could have in this country is that the people would have to face a scenario in which all but 100 stations would have to shut. We would like to know where those 100 are and how many of them are dispersed evenly around the country.

The Taoiseach totally ignored the question about the Minister, Deputy Ryan, in terms of the misleading comment. The Taoiseach owes it to every Deputy in this House to clarify whether a person who needs money can go to a social welfare office and say he or she cannot afford the fuel for his or her car, bus, van, tractor or lorry. Can that person say he or she was told by the Minister that he or she could come to the office for help? Will that person get help? The Taoiseach has to answer that question. All the smart talking about it will not let the Taoiseach get away without answering that clearly. It is a simple "Yes" or "No".

I remind the Deputy that he is criticising me for facilitating the Green Party and the Minister, Deputy Ryan, to come into Government. If I recall, at the time, there was no one more relieved than Deputy Healy-Rae that we formed a Government. His only exhortation to me was that it would go the full five years and not four years.

Is that a good answer for a Taoiseach to give to this House, in all fairness?

What the Minister, Deputy Ryan, is saying, as the Deputy knows well-----

It is the smart answers that will finish the Taoiseach.

-----is that the social welfare system is there for anybody who is in genuine hardship to go to seek assistance. That is well known. That is what the Minister, Deputy Ryan, was referring to. It is wrong to take his words out of context and endeavour to undermine a Minister of integrity. The Deputy may not agree with the Minister's ideas and he has been in denial of climate change and a whole load of things, without question.

The bottom line is that people are under pressure. There is no doubt about that. It has been caused by Putin's war. There is no doubt about that.

They were under pressure long before the war.

What happened at the European Council was a European-wide decision. We are not dependent on Russian oil and gas imports. Other countries are and they took much more difficult decisions that we did. We cannot condone the war. I hope the Deputy is not saying we should take no action against Russia. We must keep pressure on Putin's regime to stop this war. We cannot just look after ourselves all of the time. The attitude the Deputy seems to have articulated today is mé féin first and to hell with the people of Ukraine. That is not good enough.

Is taking care of people not good enough?

The European Union has correctly decided to put sanctions on the importation of Russian gas and oil. Our task is to alleviate pressure on people in this country. The forthcoming budget will give us an opportunity to do that in a strategic way that does not lead to runaway inflation again. We cannot go back to the 1970s and cause second-round and third-round inflationary impacts. If we were to follow the Deputy's advice every month-----

Taxation is causing it.

-----we would do exactly that.

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