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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 12 Jul 2022

Vol. 1025 No. 3

Ceisteanna - Questions

Departmental Functions

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

1. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the economic policy unit of his Department. [24326/22]

Mick Barry

Question:

2. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the economic policy unit of his Department. [30714/22]

Ivana Bacik

Question:

3. Deputy Ivana Bacik asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the economic policy unit of his Department. [25827/22]

Bríd Smith

Question:

4. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the economic policy unit of his Department. [27832/22]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

5. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the economic policy unit of his Department. [30840/22]

Paul Murphy

Question:

6. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the economic policy unit of his Department. [30843/22]

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

7. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the economic policy unit of his Department. [32511/22]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

8. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the economic policy unit of his Department. [34038/22]

Paul Murphy

Question:

9. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the economic policy unit of his Department. [34041/22]

Claire Kerrane

Question:

10. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of his Department's economic policy unit. [34618/22]

Barry Cowen

Question:

11. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the economic policy unit of his Department. [35587/22]

Dara Calleary

Question:

12. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the economic policy unit of his Department. [35906/22]

Brendan Smith

Question:

13. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the economic policy unit of his Department. [34569/22]

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

14. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the economic policy unit of his Department. [36168/22]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 14, inclusive together.

The economic policy unit is part of the economic division of my Department. The unit supports me, as Taoiseach, in delivering sustainable and balanced economic growth and in advancing the Government's economic priorities. The unit also advises me on a broad range of economic policy areas and issues and provides me with briefing and speech material on economic and related policy issues. It supports the delivery of the Government's economic commitments, as outlined in the programme for Government, especially where these are cross-cutting issues affecting multiple Departments. In particular, it supports the work of the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment and a number of related senior officials’ groups, as well as the Cabinet committee sub-group on insurance reform.

The unit is also responsible for co-ordinating Ireland's participation in the European Semester process, the annual cycle of economic and fiscal policy co-ordination among EU member states. This includes preparing each year the national reform programme for submission to the European Commission. The national reform programme provides an overview of economic reforms and policy actions under way in Ireland, including in response to country-specific recommendations received.

The unit is also responsible for liaison with the Central Statistics Office.

We have a lot of questions in this group. Can we keep the supplementaries to one minute?

The horrific outcomes of sub-standard Celtic-tiger building practices and the widespread use of blocks and backfill with deleterious materials such as pyrite, mica and pyrrhotite remain with us today. Last week, we witnessed in the Chamber the heartbreak and devastation of families let down by the Government's substandard defective blocks legislation, but today I want to raise the issue of a large apartment development in my constituency called Ivy Exchange. It was built during a time of reckless building practices. Residents are still living with significant fire safety and structural defects - defects that will cost homeowners more than €9 million to remedy. The owners' management company is taking the only course of action open to it, which is to pursue the developer through the courts. Much has been reported in the media, setting out the very aggressive and costly litigation of the developer, Cosgrave, against the management committee in an effort to shut down the residents' only avenue of redress. Residents, of course, should not be left to the mercy of Cosgrave or, indeed, the courts. The State should have protections in place. Where it has failed to deliver these protections, there should be a mechanism of redress. What action does the Government propose to take to support the Ivy Exchange residents?

As we know, the summer economic statement was published last week in a context in which we are seeing the living standards of hundreds of thousands of people fall because of prices rising beyond their control and the soaring inflation rate, which was nearly 10% in June.

Will the Taoiseach confirm whether the budget will increase social welfare payments in line with the rate of inflation? Will he introduce a windfall tax on the profits of energy companies at a time when, according to the ESRI, one third of households are in energy poverty? We believe a windfall tax would fund more targeted measures to address this. We also know that when announcing the summer economic statement the Minister said there would be scope for additional one-off measures on budget day that would not result in a long-term increase in Government spending. How much exactly has the Government planned for these cost-of-living measures? Will the Taoiseach commit to a windfall tax on energy profits and increase social welfare in line with the cost of living as part of the budget?

Recently, the Tánaiste made references to the possible introduction of Uber to this country. Over the weekend, The Irish Times detailed that the origin of this was John Moran, the former Secretary General of the Department of Finance, lobbying a former Minister to put Uber's plans into the election manifesto of Fine Gael. What is the attitude of the Taoiseach to all of this? We had taxi drivers absolutely hammered during Covid. It is still unclear whether the Government will meet their demand to do away with the ten-year rule. It is a big problem for them given all of the lost income. The last thing they need now is Uber coming in and completely undermining the taxi industry in this country at the behest of corporate lobbyists.

I also want to ask the Taoiseach about what seems to be an incredible case of corporate capture of politics. We have a situation where, on 7 January 2016, John Moran told Uber executives he had made proposals to the economic adviser of the then Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, to include supportive language about the sharing economy in the Fine Gael manifesto. Five weeks later, the manifesto included a reference that "New platforms are being developed that allow everyone to earn extra income in this sharing economy". John Moran was able to say to Uber that it would recognise the text. It is quite incredible what has been revealed. These are the Taoiseach's coalition partners. It has also been reported that political lobbying meetings in 2015 and 2016 for Uber with Enda Kenny, Cabinet Ministers and a senior civil servant were not declared in John Moran's returns to the lobbying register, even though records of the lobbying feature in the leaked Uber files.

I want to ask the Taoiseach about the ending of many local employment services and job clubs throughout the State. The Taoiseach knows there was a commitment in the programme for Government to increase the availability of activation services. It specifically stated it would include those run by local employment services. Unfortunately since then, as the Taoiseach knows, there has been a tender. It will move away from the community not-for-profit base and towards a for-profit model. There are 26 local employment services and 40 job clubs throughout the State. Just under 400 staff have no idea whether they will have a job from 1 September. The announcement on phase 2 of the tender was due in June. We are now in July. Staff have no idea whether they have a job. Some services have had to issue termination notices. Nobody has any idea what is going on. Some of these staff, including in the Taoiseach's constituency, have given 20 or 25 years of service to their local communities. They are being treated appallingly by the Government to move from the community not-for-profit base that worked very well to a for-profit model that we saw fail abysmally in JobPath.

I have previously raised with the Taoiseach in the House the particular challenges facing the central Border region should there be adverse impacts from Brexit in future. We are the most vulnerable part of the Border region. We are very dependent, as the Taoiseach knows, on the agrifood sector, engineering and construction and construction products. I have asked that the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, do a specific report on the opportunities and challenges for the central Border region, North and South. I am thinking of Cavan, Monaghan, Fermanagh, Tyrone and Armagh.

In this context, I very much welcome the decision of the Taoiseach to allocate €40 million from the shared island fund for the restoration of the Ulster Canal. It is a very welcome and extremely important decision. It will be a wonderful cross-Border project adding to the tourism potential of the Border region and the northern half of the country. It will enhance considerably the tourism product for our island. This builds on the success of the Shannon-Erne waterway undertaken by the Fianna Fáil Party in government in the 1990s. That was a very far-sighted, innovative and forward thinking project. At that time, every political grouping in the country said it was not possible. It has turned out to be a marvellous success. It is great to see a follow-on project that will enhance considerably our tourism infrastructure. In the context of the shared island we need more investment like this to build on the natural strengths of the Border area and other areas for the benefit of the all-Ireland economy.

I thank the Deputies for their contributions. Deputy McDonald raised the issue of the Ivy Exchange residents and the general issue of poor building and defective blocks. Those builders have responsibilities. Councils have responsibilities. Authorities also have responsibilities and insurance should have a role in all of this. In a unique response the Government has decided in respect of mica, because of the humanitarian crisis with people having their houses effectively destroyed in many cases and compromised and undermined in others, to provide well over €2 million to deal with the issue. There are clearly knock-on effects. There was an earlier scheme for pyrite. There is a report coming to the Minister in respect of the defective building of apartments. It is a huge challenge for the Exchequer overall. It is an issue on which I will come back to the Deputy. I will speak to the Minister with responsibility for housing to get the most up-to-date position.

To respond to Deputy Bacik, there are several issues with regard to the cost of living. We should not lose sight of the economic recovery that has occurred. I am concerned about what may happen in 2023 with Russian gas and the energy crisis. There has been an incredible bounceback in the economy since Covid-19. There are 2.5 million people now working in the economy. We now have the highest participation rate ever in our economy. It is substantially higher than it was last year or pre-pandemic. All of this is positive. In respect of cost-of-living measures, approximately €2.5 billion has been allocated to date. We took measures last week that will increase the back-to-school allowance, deal with transport costs and provide school meals for those in DEIS schools. There will be some once-off measures, as the Deputy identified. I do not have the specific sum total yet of how much will be involved but it will be comprehensive. We are looking at the issue of a windfall tax. We will keep it under review. There are pluses and minuses. The ESB is a State company and we take a dividend from it.

We will look at welfare increases and pensions. We will look at families and children, targeting children in particular because families have higher costs. This is why we have already taken measures to reduce healthcare costs for families with children. The back-to-school allowance will help low-income families with children. Transport measures will help families. We will keep this theme going in the once-off cost-of-living package and budgetary measures. Childcare is an issue that has been identified by many in the House. It is something we would like to do more on compared with what we did last year.

Deputy Boyd Barrett raised the issue of Uber. I read the articles and I commend The Irish Times and all of the media concerned on the articles and revelations. They are important for public discourse. What is also important to keep in mind when we read it is that lobbying is a fact of life. It happens in all shapes. It does not have to be done by corporations. It can be done by NGOs or individuals. It can relate to anything in life from sport to economics. Very often companies feel the need to employ people to gain access to the political system.

Many of us have had clinics for years and people walked in the door to see us. The system is robust on this one, which is kind of important. People can lobby. It does not mean they get their way or that policy changes. The National Transport Authority, NTA, did not move. The Government of the day did not take a decision to grant access to Uber. That is an important point. There should always be full transparency. If people are lobbying, they should register the fact that they are lobbying. That is an important point with regard to the issue.

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is bringing in new legislation to update our lobbying laws and register in terms of garden leave and so on. There should be a reasonable distance between people being in very senior positions and going into a lobbying role, immediately after their role in such senior positions. There are competing rights and so on in terms of the individual and the right to earn a livelihood. It is not simple but transparency is a very important way of dealing with it. The system proved itself robust if not in resisting, then at least in not acceding to the requests made by those who were doing the lobbying. That should be acknowledged as well. There was not a corporate capture of politics, as Deputy Murphy called it, in terms of-----

Uber wrote the manifesto.

-----the policymaking or decision-making side of it in government and so on.

Fine Gael did not win a majority in the election. It did not get a chance to implement its manifesto.

I am not talking about manifestos specifically. I am talking about the move to try to transform what would have been the framework for governing taxis and so on. That did not happen, notwithstanding all of the lobbying, which is an important point.

In terms of the funding of local employment services, we cannot pre-empt what has happened in terms of the tendering process. The Minister updated us this morning at Cabinet and she will make an announcement in respect of that in the coming weeks. It will deal with many of the issues the Deputy raised.

I asked about the central Border region.

I will give consideration to asking NESC to do some work on the central Border region, if it is in a position to do so, and the opportunities for it. The Deputy is correct that the Ulster Canal is a very significant piece of work. I look forward to its completion and I hope we can go to tender on the Narrow Water bridge. We have allocated the money in order that we can go the full distance and complete the entire project.

Commissions of Investigation

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

15. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the investigation being carried out by the Secretary General of his Department into the leaking of details of the mother and baby homes commission of investigation. [25802/22]

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

16. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the investigation being carried out by the Secretary General of his Department into the leaking of details of the mother and baby homes commission of investigation. [32076/22]

Ivana Bacik

Question:

17. Deputy Ivana Bacik asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the investigation being carried out by the Secretary General of his Department into the leaking of details of the mother and baby homes commission of investigation. [32140/22]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 15 to 17, inclusive, together.

Prior to the consideration by the Government of the final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, certain information with regard to matters in the report was disclosed in a newspaper report. In that context, I requested that an investigation be carried out. This investigation is being done in the context of a broader consideration of the arrangements in place for the management of documents for Government meetings as this bears directly on the protection of their confidentiality. The investigation is being undertaken by a senior official in my Department and the process is ongoing.

The House will be aware that in January 2021, I apologised on behalf of the Government to those who spent time in a mother and baby home or county home. The Government published a comprehensive action plan for survivors and former residents of mother and baby and county home institutions in November 2021 and we are very clearly focused on advancing the action plan. The 22 actions set out in the plan have been arranged into central themes, which have emerged as fundamental in how the Government responds. Those themes are a survivor-centred approach; a formal State apology; access to personal information; enduring archive and database development; education and research; memorialisation; restorative recognition and dignified burial. Detailed and sustained engagement with survivors and their families has been central to the development of each of these actions and very significant progress has been made in giving effect to them.

The Birth Information and Tracing Act 2022 was signed into law on 30 June. This provides for a full and clear right of access to birth certificates, birth and early-life information for all persons who were adopted, boarded out, the subject of an illegal birth registration or who otherwise have questions with regard to their origins. On 1 July, the provisions of the Act to establish the contact preference register and give effect to statutory public information campaign were commenced, which paves the way for the release of birth and early-life information from October 2022.

The Institutional Burials Bill 2022, which provided a legal basis for recovery and identification of those who died in residential institutions and were buried in a manifestly inappropriate manner, has passed both Houses and is with the President for his signature. Subject to that, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, plans to commence it immediately and seek the Government's approval to make an order for an intervention at the site of the former mother and baby home in Tuam.

As part of the supports available to survivors and former residents of mother and baby and county home institutions, the HSE national counselling service is available for individuals who feel they need this support. Those who identify themselves as former residents of the institutions will be prioritised for the service. The HSE also operates a dedicated freephone information line for former residents of mother and baby and county home institutions. The Department of Health, in partnership with the HSE, is currently working on establishing a patient advocacy liaison service for all survivors and former residents of mother and baby and county home institutions. A business case for this initiative has been developed by the HSE and has been approved by the Department of Health.

The general scheme of a mother and baby institutions payment scheme Bill was published on 29 March. It is currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny and, in parallel, is the subject of priority drafting by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. This legislation will provide financial payments and an enhanced medical card to defined groups, in acknowledgement of suffering they experienced. An implementation group has been established to oversee preparations for the scheme and project planning work is under way.

On 29 March, the Government approved proposals for a national centre for research and remembrance. The centre will stand as a site of conscience and will be a national memorial to honour, equally, all those who were resident in mother and baby homes, industrial schools, reformatories, Magdalen laundries and related institutions. The centre will be located on the site of the former Magdalen laundry on Seán McDermott Street in Dublin city centre and will comprise a museum and exhibition space, a research centre and repository of records and a place for reflection and remembrance. The centre will also make a significant contribution to the long-term social and economic regeneration of Dublin's north-east inner city by encompassing social housing, local community facilities and an educational and early-learning facility.

The Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth first contacted the Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach seeking an investigation into the leaking of details of the mother and baby homes commission of investigation report in January 2021. We have subsequently raised the outcome of this investigation on a number of occasions but to no avail. The Taoiseach has, in fact, accepted our concerns with regard to the Government's protection of such sensitive documentation and information. In January, we were told that new mechanisms had been requested to ensure the protection of material that comes before the Government. What are these protections in practical terms? What reassurance can the Taoiseach give to survivors who are still waiting on a formal conclusion from him on this matter?

I will briefly raise Ms Margaret Donovan's search for her twin siblings who died in the Bessborough mother and baby home, but for whom there are no burial records. Some 923 children died at Bessborough, or in hospital shortly after being transferred from the institution, but there are burial records for just 64 of these children. When this matter is raised with the Minister he passes the buck to Cork City Council, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and An Bord Pleanála in terms of future development of the site. The passing of the Institutional Burials Bill 2022 is welcome but related matters remain outstanding. Does the Taoiseach accept and agree that relatives such as Margaret Donovan should not be abandoned to navigate the very complex State bureaucracy alone?

In January 2021, parts of the final report of the mother and baby homes commission of investigation were leaked to the media prior to the survivors being furnished with the information. This was an enormous slap in the face to many survivors of those mother and baby homes. The Taoiseach verified the leak by giving a comment to the same journalist who ran the particular story. An internal Department investigation in to the leak has been going on for the past 19 months. It must be an incredibly in-depth investigation given the length of time it is taking. When will that investigation be complete?

Will the Taoiseach indicate to the Dáil whether he knows who leaked the final parts of the report of the mother and baby homes investigation? It is very important that we have clarity on whether the Taoiseach knows who that individual was.

We also know, because the Taoiseach confirmed it to me in writing, that there is another separate investigation taking place into a separate leak in his Department. What does this investigation relate to?

The premature leaking of aspects of the final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes caused great anger and distress for survivors of those homes. It is 19 months since an investigation was launched into that leaking and all of us want to know when we will see the outcome. Will the Taoiseach indicate whether the legislation for the payments scheme will be passed in the autumn?

I raise the separate matter of the case of thalidomide survivors in light of a number of reports over the weekend. Just last week, the Scottish Government guaranteed lifelong support for thalidomide survivors there. In 2013, it committed over £14 million to help survivors with health and living costs but it is now extending assistance to survivors on a needs basis. Finola Cassidy, who is the spokesperson for thalidomide survivors here, has asked for the Government to put in place similar measures. I have raised this before in the House and ask whether a similar approach to that adopted in Scotland would be adopted here in respect of this small group of survivors who really need this support from the Government.

The report is still working on the mechanism in terms of Cabinet confidentiality and more general Cabinet documents and also the degree to which, in the modern era, many documents or many proposals are aired well in advance. There is, therefore, a fairly complex piece of work required to come up to pace with where we are today in terms of what happens with the briefing of a whole variety of proposals and policies. Given the more open approach to policy development in the current era, it is timely to update that entire area.

Deputy McDonald raised the individual case of Margaret Donovan. Ms Donovan should not have to navigate this on her own. I referenced earlier the survivor advocacy liaison services in the HSE. Assistance should be given to people in Ms Donovan's situation to navigate to get the truth. I have met the residents of Bessborough who have views on that site. They have a view as to where the site is located and that housing development should not take place on that site. I agree with the survivors in that respect. They are not objecting to other developments in the vicinity of the site, it has to be said. I hope Cork City Council will work with the survivors who have taken a very reasonable approach to the matter. The future development of that site is important. I would have preferred it if the council had purchased the entire site because some of the services there are State services and amenities, and also maybe some social housing, could have been provided there as well.

On Deputy Tóibín's point, I do not know but I will come back to him on the separate investigation. The scheme of the mother and baby institutions payment scheme Bill was published on 29 March. It is undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny but is, in parallel, being drafted by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, so that when the pre-legislative scrutiny is over we may be in a position to get the legislation published faster. I would like to see it published in the autumn and enacted in the autumn session. That will need co-operation across the House because we need to start the process of payment in respect of this. It is an important issue. An implementation group has been established to oversee preparations for the scheme. Project planning work is under way on the scheme itself. It will provide financial payments and an enhanced medical card but, again, much will depend on its progress through pre-legislative scrutiny.

To be fair to the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, if we go through all the areas, we can see he has made very significant progress in respect of the entire action plan. The Birth Information and Tracing Act is the most complex legislation of its kind and has been groundbreaking in terms of what it will provide. It is far superior to earlier iterations in previous Dáileanna. Also, the Institutional Burials Bill is very important legislation and the Minister stands ready to intervene immediately in relation to that. The HSE national counselling service is also available. The payments scheme is key and a very important part of the action plan is the memorialisation centre. We were hoping we would have that at Cabinet today but I am anticipating we will have it at Cabinet in the next number of weeks so we can give effect to it. That would be a very significant issue in itself.

I asked three questions.

In relation to the thalidomide issue, the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, has met the thalidomide organisation, as have I in the context of the parliamentary party. We are anxious but again there is a whole range of issues there. It is also the subject matter, I understand, of litigation but we would like to resolve this with the thalidomide organisation on a range of issues it has raised with us. I intend to pursue that with the Minister for Health.

I asked the Taoiseach three questions. The first was when the investigation would be complete, the second was whether he knows who leaked it and the third was to indicate to what the other leak was related. I only have one answer, which was "I don't know", and I do not know what it related to.

What I said on the Deputy's second question was that I did not know. On the third question, I said I would come back to him in respect of the separate investigation and the details of that.

When will the investigation be completed?

On completion, I do not have a date or timeline but I hope it is soon, certainly before the end of the year.

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Alan Farrell

Question:

18. Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Taoiseach his views on his recent engagements at the World Economic Forum. [27389/22]

Neale Richmond

Question:

19. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his trip to the World Economic Forum. [27628/22]

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

20. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the World Economic Forum. [29327/22]

Ivana Bacik

Question:

21. Deputy Ivana Bacik asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the World Economic Forum in Davos. [29332/22]

Mick Barry

Question:

22. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach his views on his recent engagements at the World Economic Forum. [30715/22]

Mattie McGrath

Question:

23. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Taoiseach the actions that he has taken to raise and highlight the ongoing record energy and food prices which are further compounding the tragic inequalities caused by the pandemic in view of his attendance at the 2022 World Economic Forum in Davos [30981/22]

Mattie McGrath

Question:

24. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Taoiseach if he is satisfied that he attended the 2022 World Economic Forum in Davos. [30983/22]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

25. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his trip to the World Economic Forum. [34039/22]

Paul Murphy

Question:

26. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his trip to the World Economic Forum. [34042/22]

Seán Haughey

Question:

27. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his trip to the World Economic Forum. [35581/22]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 18 to 27, inclusive, together.

I attended the World Economic Forum in Davos on 25 May. During my visit, I participated in a panel discussion, attended a lunch hosted by The Washington Post, had a number of political and economic meetings, and attended a dinner hosted by IDA Ireland. The panel discussion I participated in was on the theme of European unity in a disordered world, and was chaired by Børge Brende, president of the World Economic Forum. Fellow panellists included the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic, Eduard Heger, and President of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde. Russia's war on Ukraine was a major theme in our discussions, with a focus on the response by the European Union. Speakers observed that despite Putin's attempts to divide, the EU had shown great unity and strength. I raised the question of food security, which Russia is deliberately undermining, and stressed the impact this was likely to have on already vulnerable countries. The panel also considered the question of enlargement of the Union, including Ukraine's wish to join, and the implications that would have for the effective functioning of the Union. I expressed my view that much reform was possible within the framework of the existing treaties, but that I was open to considering treaty change if it proved necessary for what we are aiming to achieve together. I also took the opportunity to set out Ireland's distinct experience through our 50 years as a member state.

I attended a lunchtime event hosted by The Washington Post where I had the opportunity to meet and engage with a wide range of other leaders, including the Prime Minister of Moldova and my colleagues at the European Council, the Prime Ministers of Greece and Croatia and the Chancellor of Austria, as well as a number of other European, Middle East, African and Latin American leaders.

I had a bilateral meeting with the Foreign Minister of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba, who briefed me on the conduct of the war, in particular the devastation being visited on the eastern part of the country. I conveyed Ireland's support for Ukraine's application for EU membership and undertook to advocate for the granting of candidate status with my EU colleagues. I also met briefly with the Mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko.

At his request, I had a bilateral meeting with the President of Israel, Isaac Herzog. At our meeting, we recalled the president's family connections to Ireland and we agreed our shared interest in deepening bilateral relations. I underlined that the occupation remains a priority for me, the Government and the people of Ireland. Recent events have demonstrated the urgent need to maintain a political horizon for peace. I expressed my deep concern at continued expansion of settlements in the occupied territories, including recent announcements, as well as evictions and demolitions. I also expressed my concern that these actions and policies would only escalate further an already tense situation.

I raised the shocking death of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and the appalling scenes in Jerusalem during her funeral procession.

I had meetings with senior executives of a number of multinational firms with operations in Ireland and addressed a dinner hosted by IDA Ireland that was attended by representatives of 30 multinational companies with significant operations or interests in Ireland. These meetings are typically an opportunity for company executives to update me on progress with their operations in Ireland and their future development plans. For my part, it was an opportunity to emphasise again Ireland's foreign direct investment proposition and our core competitive strengths, namely, talent, stability and a proven track record.

As was recognised at the World Economic Forum, the world is facing an unprecedented energy crisis. In reality, we have yet to experience the full impact of Russia's entrenched aggression against Ukraine on Europe's energy supply. Collectively, we face a massive challenge to counter climate change, forge a new path in energy production and secure a cleaner future for our island. The cornerstones of our strategy can and must be energy independence, security and affordability. The State has to be the driver of the strategy, but that is not where we are today. Earlier this year, the wind energy sector told the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, that it has absolutely no confidence in key State agencies' ability to deliver major infrastructural projects. Planning decisions are taking anything up to 12 or 24 months and not the 18 weeks provided for in law. Restoring confidence in the board will not only require significant investment in skilled personnel and restructuring. We need to see the organisation's profound cultural and governance issues addressed in full. The board's failures have major implications for major projects throughout the country. I include in that Hammerson's disastrous plan for Moore Street that the Taoiseach has championed. Will the Government publish the independent senior counsel report on receipt and set out the actions it will take to address the systemic problems at An Bord Pleanála?

As we know, Davos is the world's most exclusive lobbying forum. Yesterday, The Irish Times published a series of extraordinary articles about how Uber apparently went about trying to tear up regulations covering the taxi sector in Ireland and did not disclose contact with the then Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, at Davos 2016 in its own lobbying returns. Will the Taoiseach tell us what companies were lobbying him at Davos this year?

Looking further at the Uber reports, it appears that what Uber wanted was a race to the bottom on the terms and conditions for drivers dressed up as a new economic model, and an extraordinary level of detailed lobbying went on across multiple Ministers, Departments and agencies. We know this because of the whistleblower, former EU lobbyist for Uber, Mark MacGann. We have learned that a former head of the Department of Finance was central to many of these engagements. Does the Taoiseach think it is appropriate for someone who is representing Ireland on a public board, or indeed on the European Investment Bank, to be involved also in lobbying officials on other issues at the same time? Is the Taoiseach aware of any other public appointees who are also engaged in separate lobbying activity? Will he bring forward new guidelines to address any conflict of interest that might arise as a result?

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. I asked him in the Chamber before he went there if he was he going and he told me he was not but he was there the day after. Sin scéal eile.

What was that?

I asked the Taoiseach before he attended whether he would be attending and he said he did not intend to.

The Deputy asked if I would be attending what?

The World Economic Forum, which is what my question refers to. The Taoiseach explained to the House about all his meetings and engagements with multinationals. They are all fine and dandy, but did he mention to anyone that we have a proud record of neutrality in this country? Did he think that was worthwhile mentioning or has he abandoned that idea completely?

I expect and hope the Taoiseach raised the hardship our citizens are facing because of issues coming from the World Economic Forum, what it is deciding and its plans, which the Taoiseach seems gung-ho to sign up to rather than looking after our people who cannot put food on the table or fuel in their cars and cannot educate their children. I would hope the Taoiseach would have raised those issues when he was at that high-powered meeting.

The cost-of-living and inflation crises were key issues at Davos. Did the Taoiseach talk to any representatives from France when he was there? This morning, he pooh-poohed efforts to control rents. He has similarly pooh-poohed our proposal that we should control energy prices. It may be of note to the Taoiseach that the French Government has limited energy price increases to a maximum of 4%. The French Government can do that. It has also introduced a new regime of rent controls. It recently nationalised one of the major energy-producing companies to keep prices down. Those are all things the Taoiseach refuses to do as the cost-of-living crisis absolutely crushes people and will do even more extremely as we head into the winter months. Does the Taoiseach not think he might learn something from what the French are doing to control rents and energy prices and, indeed, take over energy companies to operate them on a not-for-profit basis?

There is no economy on a dead planet and yet the European Commission has proposed, and scandalously, the European Council and European Parliament have agreed to, simply labelling fossil gas and nuclear power as green, as if calling them green somehow makes them green. It is a consequence of extensive lobbying by the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries. Another example of that is the agreement between the European Commission and the US to import liquefied natural gas, that is, fracked gas, for the coming decades, thereby doubling down on fossil fuels. The consequence is more private investment into unsustainable fossil fuel infrastructure, potentially locking us in for decades.

The science is crystal clear. We cannot have any more investment in fossil fuel infrastructure. That is incompatible with civilised, sustainable human life on Earth. Does the Taoiseach agree with the decision? Why did the Government not object by yesterday's deadline?

As we have heard, those attending the World Economic Forum in Davos had a lot to discuss. Hunger and food shortages are just two of a number of challenges facing the world at this time. What are the Taoiseach's views on the famine currently being experienced in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya in the Horn of Africa? In these three countries, more than 23 million people are experiencing extreme hunger. They have now had their fourth successive dry rainy season. The United Nations has stated that €4.2 billion is needed to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in the region. Dóchas has made a number of recommendations in this regard in its pre-budget 2023 submission, including the need for an increase in Irish aid. It is clear a global response is now needed. I call on the Taoiseach to give this issue serious consideration in the coming weeks with a view to Ireland taking the initiative and helping to co-ordinate an effective response in this regard.

I thank the Deputies for raising these issues. I do not think Deputy McDonald raised any issue around the Davos meeting but instead raised an issue about An Bord Pleanála and the energy issues. Energy is a big issue at European Union level at the moment, as it is globally, across the board. The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage has initiated an inquiry into An Bord Pleanála. He has commissioned a senior counsel to look at those issues. The planning regulator is also doing a review of its processes. An Bord Pleanála itself has done an internal review. It is the Government's intention to hold An Bord Pleanála to account in respect of these issues, to get clarity and transparency without prejudice, and to act subsequently by introducing any legislative improvements that might be required and considering its approach to ensure An Bord Pleanála is fit for purpose.

In terms of offshore wind energy, the maritime legislation that the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, piloted through the House last year was a major breakthrough. We now must establish the maritime area regulatory authority, MARA, administratively, get it up and running as fast as we can, and get the necessary consents in place, because the key issue for the future of this country will be that we accelerate offshore wind energy and floating technology in particular. The European Union has made it clear that it wishes to create a new regulatory framework that would facilitate faster permitting of offshore wind developments.

It will create an overriding public interest clause, namely, climate change, as the basis to override other planning objections to offshore wind platforms and floating technology so that we can shorten the timeline between the conception of a wind energy project and completion. At the moment it is about eight years, but we do not have eight years to wait. We have to move faster.

I can anticipate what will happen, of course. That regulation will come and everyone will then come around it, scrum and say, “Actually, you should not be doing that. Can we go back to life as normal?” We have to have that debate, anyway.

Deputy Bacik described Davos as the most exclusive lobbying club around and asked what companies were lobbying me. I am fairly embarrassed to say we were doing the lobbying in terms of some of the companies. I attended a dinner, hosted by IDA Ireland, with 30 companies that are in Ireland and have interests in Ireland. We took the opportunity to suggest they could invest more in Ireland. We use those occasions to identify what they feel the needs are within Ireland and how best Ireland can progress. These are companies in life sciences, technology and other areas. It is a very useful occasion for Ireland to advance its cause to advocate for workers and jobs in our economy and society. Equally, then, there is a very strong political element to it as well.

Around the war in Ukraine, I met the Mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, and the foreign minister. Again, one was struck by the enormous dedication of these officials and political representatives of Ukraine. They looked exhausted at that particular meeting that day, given the round of meetings they had to engage in on behalf their people. People can have a go at Davos, but when you see a country such as Ukraine that is under enormous pressure, Davos was extremely useful for them to be able to advocate for their people in terms of a whole range of issues. Their diplomacy was very impressive. It led actually as well to the European Union granting Ukraine candidate status for European Union membership.

I say to Deputy Boyd Barrett that we can learn from France. I know Deputy Murphy was anxious that Deputy Boyd Barrett might learn on the nuclear front as well because he suggested it. Nuclear energy is one the ways France is keeping its energy prices down. Is Deputy Boyd Barrett advocating that we go nuclear like France?

I see, but the Deputy does want me to learn from France in respect of issues.

(Interruptions).

That said, we have brought in many measures in terms of rent protection zones, including the 2% limit. We brought in six pieces of legislation to protect renters and we will have to continue to do more in that regard.

Deputy Murphy is probably one of the more anti-European Union Members of this House. He has a consistent negativity about Europe and the LNG coming in. They have no choice; Russia is cutting off the gas.

Russia has caused a crisis, and the Deputy ignored the fact the European Union has brought forward a timetable for renewables.

It has called fossil and gas renewables. Are fossil and gas green? Is nuclear green?

The European Commission is driving on renewables. However, People Before Profit, Sinn Féin and others just constantly have to have a go at the European Union - always attacking.

We are actually over time, please.

Deputy Haughey raised a very important point and he is absolutely correct. There is a real crisis emerging in the Horn of Africa. Deputy Haughey highlighted that. We will take steps for working with the European Union to see what we can do. I am extremely worried about it. It is a combination of the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis along with four successive years of drought. It is a very major problem that will occur.

I apologise sincerely to Deputy McGrath. The issues were economic or political. As I said, we did everything we could to point to multinational companies that we met that it would be worth their while to continue to invest in Ireland and even add to it.

That would be most of issues. Neutrality was not raised at all in Davos. We are not members of any military alliance and there are no plans in Government to propose that we will join any military alliance.

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