Commencement Matters

Alternative Energy Projects

I thank the Cathaoirleach for the opportunity to raise this very important issue. I call on the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, to create national guidelines pertaining to solar farms to help local authorities deal with the applications that have come before them.

There has been a major uptake in applications for solar farms throughout Ireland. In my local area and across the State, planning applications for solar farms have gone through the roof. One source recently claimed that more than 20,000 acres of land are being tied up in contracts for solar farms.

That raises the question of where the local authority is in terms of dealing with such planning permissions. Council planners are ill-equipped in respect of the national strategy to make a formal decision over these very complex planning permissions. We need to move away from once-off planning permissions to overall guidelines, with a Government vision and a strategy going forward. At the moment, planning applications are being made not with regard to suitability or guidelines but where, realistically, the nearest substation is. That is becoming a major driver in the vast number of planning applications at the moment. County development plans and regional planning guidelines have all stated where a wind farm should be but, in the case of solar farms, it is ad hoc and on a once-off basis. We need to tie everything in together in a national strategy.

We are in favour of solar farms and the issue needs to be looked at because we have guidelines regarding the Paris Agreement and those targets need to be met. However, at national, county and regional level we need to put together an overall framework, which we are lacking at the moment. What happens consistently in one county does not happen consistently in the next. Some of these planning permissions have now gone to An Bord Pleanála, which has held hearings on the first and has moved on. The communities are at a loss as to what the national strategy is regarding solar farms and it is an issue with which we need to deal. I will call on the Minister to ensure we have the necessary guidelines in place and a framework under which we can move forward to inform both our local authorities and our communities of where and when these solar farms can be viable.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue. There are no specific planning guidelines in place in respect of solar farms and I have no proposals to bring forward such guidelines at the present time. Under the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, each planning authority's development plan is required to set out an overall strategy for the proper planning and sustainable development of the area concerned. Section 10 of the Act requires a development plan to include, among other things, objectives for the provision or facilitation of the provision of infrastructure, including energy facilities and infrastructure. Many local authorities have developed renewable energy strategies for their areas in this context. Proposals for individual solar farm developments are also subject to the statutory requirements of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, in the same manner as other proposed developments. Planning applications are required to be submitted to the relevant local planning authority with a right of appeal to An Bord Pleanála.

In making decisions on planning applications, planning authorities and the board must consider the proper planning and sustainable development of the area, having regard to the provisions of the development plan, any submissions or observations received and relevant ministerial or Government policies, including any relevant guidelines issued by my Department. Planning authorities must then make their own decision, based on the specific merits or otherwise of individual planning applications.

I am satisfied that the planning code is sufficiently robust to facilitate the assessment of individual planning permission applications for solar farm developments. However, the matter will be kept under review, in consultation with my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, and his Department, which is the lead Department on renewable energy policy, in the context of the Government's White Paper on Energy Policy in Ireland, published in December 2015, the development of a renewable electricity policy and development framework, REPDF, and the launching of a new subsidy support scheme for renewable electricity by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, expected in late 2017. My understanding is that such a new subsidy support scheme is required in order for the development of solar farms to become economically viable, which is not the case at present. The recently published energy White Paper sets out a vision to accelerate the development and diversification of renewable energy in Ireland and a draft REPDF has been formulated, aimed at optimising the opportunities for producing electricity from a variety of renewable energy sources in projects of significant scale on land, which will be subject to further public consultation prior to its adoption in 2017.

The Programme for a Partnership Government contains a commitment to facilitate the development of solar energy projects in Ireland, which builds on the energy White Paper and recognises that solar has the potential to provide a community dividend, thereby also enhancing citizen participation in Ireland's energy future.

Consequently, solar photovoltaics - also known as solar farms - are one of the technologies being considered in the context of a new subsidy support scheme for renewable electricity generation being developed by the Department of the Minister, Deputy Naughten. This will require Government approval and state aid clearance from the European Commission before it can come into operation.

We have no proposals to bring forward specific planning guidelines for solar farms at present. However, the matter will be kept under review pending the development of the various initiatives by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment to which I have referred. I am conscious that, as the Senator said, quite a high volume of applications have begun to be received. I will raise this issue with both Departments for it to be monitored more closely.

I thank the Minister of State for this response, which has been helpful in clarifying the position. However, I am disappointed there is not a proposal in this respect. We should be addressing this issue but the Department is not considering such guidelines. We are working in a vacuum. These applications for planning permission are coming in off the back of a subsidy that will be introduced in 2017. The applicants are speculating on questions of when and how and what the rate will be. That is the reason such a vast number of applications are coming through. The figure of 20,000 acres being currently tied up in contracts is a significant one. Because of the speculation in the market, such guidelines are needed now more than ever before. The planning decisions are literally one-off decisions, in that what happens in County Cork might not happen in County Kerry or in County Limerick. We need to re-examine this issue because of the speculation in the market.

Some of the planning granted will have conditions attached with respect to funds from which the community will benefit while others will not have such conditions attached. We need to examine these guidelines to ensure that communities across the board can benefit from having such a development in their localities.

As I said, this is kept under review. I will discuss it with the Ministers, Deputies Coveney and Naughten. I am conscious that there has been a ramp up in the applications received in recent months or certainly in the past year, and it appears that many more will be submitted. We will closely monitor that.

I draw the Senator's attention to guidelines for key infrastructure, including energy infrastructure that were introduced in July 2012 by the previous Minister in the then Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte. Those recommendations from the Government set out that any organisation involved in bringing forward such an application should involve the community and have regard to best practice, which would involve community and planning gains. The Senator might have a look at that and we might be able to inform some local authorities of that. We can also drop a note to the Senator on that. I will liaise with my two colleagues and report back to the Senator.

Planning Issues

I have a serious problem with serial objectors to the granting of planning permission, particularly for one-off houses. People who apply to build one-off houses have to go to great lengths to prove they have intrinsic links to the area. They are hoping to build in rural areas and in some towns but objectors can come from any corner of Ireland or even outside the State. There are no hard and fast criteria for them to make an objection or to be required to put a statement on the file. Why should someone with no links to an area have the right to object to young people starting out in their lives who are hoping to build a family home and have security for the future? A suitable amendment could be made to some of the incoming Bills from the Minister of State's Department, of which quite a number are going through the Houses. That would reintroduce some balance in the planning process. It is very unevenly keeled towards people with no direct involvement or link to an area. It is crazy what some people can get away with and how we protect them under legislation.

I thank Senator Davitt for raising this issue. As a Deputy who represents rural areas and who shares some common ground with the Senator, I understand the logic and motive behind this and I also understand the frustration that is often experienced with the planning system. I accept the Senator's point and know he has asked for this proposal to be made in good faith.

As Minister, my role in the planning system is primarily to provide the policy and legislative framework that comprises the Planning and Development Act, the planning and development regulations and the planning guidelines, to which planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála are obliged to have regard in the exercise of their statutory planning functions. The Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, sets the overarching legislative framework for the planning system, including the procedures for preparing and reviewing regional planning guidelines, development plans and local area plans, in addition to the basic framework for the development of the management consent system or, as it is more commonly known, the planning permission system.

Public participation is an important and integral part of an open and transparent planning system in Ireland and will remain so. In this regard, the planning system is in full compliance with the requirements of the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, commonly referred to as the Aarhus Convention, with EU Directive 2003/35/EEC on public participation in environmental decision-making and EU Directive 2011/92/EU on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment, normally known as the environmental impact assessment, EIA, directive. All of these international requirements lay down basic rules to promote citizens' involvement in environmental decision-making with a view to enhancing the accountability and transparency of the planning decision-making process.

In the light of these international requirements, the Planning and Development Act specifically provides for public involvement and the opportunity to make submissions and observations on individual planning applications. It further provides that, in making decisions on planning applications, planning authorities, including An Bord Pleanála, as appropriate, must consider the proper planning and sustainable development of the area, having regard to the provisions of the local development plan, submissions or observations received from the public, relevant ministerial or Government policies or objectives and relevant planning guidelines issued by my Department. Planning authorities must then make their own decision based on the specific merits or otherwise of individual planning applications.

The Act also provides that an applicant for permission and any person who made submissions or observations in writing on the planning application to the planning authority may, within four weeks of the date of the decision of the planning authority, appeal to An Bord Pleanála against a decision of the planning authority. In addition, a decision made by a planning authority or An Bord Pleanála may be subject to judicial review, with any such judicial review applications having to be submitted within an eight-week period from the date of the planning decision, or the doing of an act by a planning authority or the board. These judicial review provisions which are aimed at enhancing transparency and accountability in the planning decision-making process are in accordance with relevant UN and EU requirements, in addition to relevant European Court of Justice judgments.

I am satisfied that the comprehensive arrangements I have outlined for public participation in the planning system are appropriate, balanced, reasonable and in line with our international obligations. We have as of yet no proposals to change the legislation in this regard.

The Minister of State has said there are several iterations regarding public participation. I have no problem with this, but we should introduce some criteria for public participation. There are strict criteria in every other part of the planning process, as the Minister of State knows only too well given he has been a champion in this regard in respect of one-off planning. People have to jump through hoops to meet the strict criteria applied if they seek planning permission for a one-off development. All stakeholders should have some ties, involvement or expertise, if nothing else. Anybody who wants to do so can lodge an objection or make a statement on a file. He or she could be from the other side of the world and have no ties to the area in question. There should be some criteria attached.

I understand the sentiments expressed. I will compare our position with that in other countries to determine whether we could address the issue without infringing the criteria for public participation. Legally, we cannot infringe on them and do not want to do so, but I know exactly what the Senator is trying to say. I will discuss the issue with our experts on planning to determine whether there are criteria on which we could work in this regard. I am not saying there are, but I will look at the issue and know what the Senator is trying to achieve. The difficulty lies in ensuring genuine public involvement. If there are certain criteria that could be applied, the question of how they would be fixed and judged is very complicated. We are constantly examining the planning system to see whether we need to adapt or change it. On the criteria applied, I will determine whether there is any gap I might be able to address.

That would be appreciated.

I suggest to the Senator that if an appropriate Bill were to be brought before the House, he could table an amendment to it. Alternatively, if he feels passionately about the issue, he could introduce a Private Members' Bill to deal with it. He can reflect on this suggestion.

Brexit Issues

I want to raise the issue of Brexit and, in particular, the effect it is having on the mushroom industry in Monaghan and elsewhere. The mushroom industry provides a stark warning to the rest of the country's economy about Brexit and the damage a sustained weakness in sterling can inflict. It really is the canary in the coalmine for the Irish agribusiness.

Ireland's mushroom industry, the fifth largest in the European Union, has an annual production worth €120 million and employs 3,000 people throughout rural Ireland. One in every two mushrooms sold in the UK is Irish, while 43% of production costs are labour costs. Our mushroom growers rely on the UK for approximately 80% of their sales.

However, they have been losing money since the referendum sent sterling into a downfall. Several mushroom farmers have already gone out of business with the loss of 130 jobs, most of them in rural Ireland. A further six mushroom farms are under serious pressure with the potential loss of a further 300 jobs, again all located in rural Ireland. The potential impact of further closures is enormous, especially when one considers many of these jobs are heavily concentrated in counties such as Cavan and Monaghan.

Producers pinned their hopes on the Government's so-called Brexit-proof budget. They have now joined other business groups in criticising it as totally inadequate. They say they are not looking to be propped up indefinitely, but that they certainly need some help in the short term. Contracts were entered into when sterling was strong. Now they just need to get into next year when these contracts will be up for renewal again.

The mushroom industry made a detailed presentation to the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine in advance of the budget, which I attended. The industry pinned its hopes on measures being introduced which would alleviate its difficulties. The committee made recommendations along those lines but, unfortunately, none of them was implemented. Mushroom farmers have called for a cut in the level of social insurance tax levied on employers and the provision of emergency funds to exporters. Instead, they were offered cheaper loans and small tax relief measures.

It is a concern that exporters who shift 44% of their product to Britain are reporting they are starting to encounter some issues in accessing credit from banks concerned about their currency exposure. Some firms with a high proportion of sales in Britain are also considering shifting their production there with obvious implications for jobs on this island. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, suggested the budget measures would likely not be the last to cushion the impact of Brexit. He spoke about the need to wait until he sees the shape of Britain's exit negotiations next year. This will be cold comfort if exporters have already closed down.

The lack of breathing space in the budget is in fact likely to speed up the increased mass closures. Options from the industry have been suggested, including the provision of more funding for firms breaking into new markets, a partial State guarantee of their credit exposure to suppliers, as is available in other countries, and the reactivation of a fund set up in 2008 that offered up to €500,000 to viable firms facing exceptional difficulties.

Brexit is the greatest economic challenge facing Ireland in this generation. The outcome of the US elections adds to this volatility. The Government, so far, has shown a lack of interest in issues affecting Border areas. A serious change of direction is now needed to confront the problems we face arising from Brexit. Our retail sector is also suffering, underlining that no country is more affected than Ireland, and no part of Ireland is more affected than the Border counties, as a result of Brexit.

Some people believe Brexit will not happen until Article 50 is triggered. If one lives in the Border counties, one knows Brexit is here now. Without action, thousands of jobs will be at risk.

I reassure Senator Gallagher that I am acutely aware of the challenges the mushroom sector is experiencing in the aftermath of the UK referendum decision to exit the EU, particularly in light of recent fluctuations in currency. I am focused on working with the industry to meet these difficulties in the months and years ahead.

The impact that the devaluation of sterling is having on mushroom producers and growers is a problem that has happened over a very short space of time. Grower production of this highly perishable product must be well aligned with demand and the mushroom sector, like many other exporting sectors, is particularly at risk because of the high dependency on the UK market.

I am monitoring sterling fluctuations closely and my Department has established a dedicated unit considering the impact of Brexit. Additionally, Bord Bia is working closely with the sector on market intelligence, UK consumer research and quality-assurance measures. It recently held a currency and negotiation workshop, specifically targeted at the sector, which I understand was very well received by the mushroom industry. In the coming weeks, the chief executive officer of Bord Bia and the Minister, Deputy Creed, will continue to meet senior executives from the UK retailers to highlight the obstacles that producers are facing. Bord Bia is also running a marketing intensification programme, which aims to provide targeted marketing supports to companies with high dependency on UK markets. Grant supports will be prioritised to assist companies in strengthening their position in that market and in their efforts to identify new markets.

As announced in last month's budget, an extra €700,000 has been secured for capital investments in the commercial horticulture sector. This will increase the budget for this scheme to €5 million in 2017. Additionally, the horticulture sector will have access to the €150 million low-interest cashflow-support loan fund announced in the budget, providing access to highly flexible loans for up to six years for amounts up to €150,000 at an interest rate of 2.95% with an option to pay interest only over the first three years. There have been significant expressions of interest from people in the mushroom sector in that product.

I also draw attention to the ongoing support being provided to the industry through national and EU schemes. Under the National Development Plan 2007-2013 my Department implemented the scheme of investment aid for the development of the commercial horticulture sector. During this period, my Department paid over €4 million in grant payments to mushroom growers, supporting €10.1 million in investment.

To ensure ongoing support for the sector, the Department extended, under EU sanction, the scheme of investment aid for the development of the commercial horticulture sector to run until the end of 2019. In 2014 and 2015 a total of €1.635 million in grant aid was paid to mushroom growers. The grant aid paid supported some €4.1 million in investment by these growers. Under the 2016 scheme of investment aid, my Department issued approvals amounting to €1.33 million in aid to growers in the mushroom sector, supporting €3.3 million in proposed investment.

The EU producer organisation scheme is also vital for mushroom growers, with 65% of Irish growers in a producer organisation at present. This scheme provides an important mechanism for growers to achieve greater bargaining power in the marketplace by becoming part of a larger supply base. In the ten years from 2005 to 2015, a total of €39.8 million was paid to mushroom producer organisations as part of the scheme. Recently, my Department delivered a payment of just under €1.57 million to one of the mushroom producer organisations.

I fully recognise the challenges for food exporters to the UK market arising from the fall in sterling and my Department and its agencies will continue to work positively with the industry during this challenging time.

We are always trying to figure out new ways to help people. The mushroom sector is in the eye of the storm, being the most exposed to the short-term ramifications of what has happened with sterling. We are not neglecting the Border area or any rural area in that regard.

I thank the Minister of State for his comments and I am heartened by his sincerity in trying to find solutions to this acute problem. The industry is one in which we have achieved worldwide recognition. We are a world beater in the production of mushrooms. The aid scheme we are seeking would be a temporary measure to get people over the hump. The €1.5 million in EU funding through the banks the Minister of State mentioned is welcome. My understanding is the banking sector is tightening up, as many businesses are aware. Sterling has also weakened. Businesses' credit providers are gauging the survivability of the mushroom industry and we are looking for a more immediate jolt. Employer's PRSI was mentioned. Perhaps payments might be frozen for a six-month period to get people out of this problem. As I said, I am heartened by the Minister of State's comments and hope some immediate measures will be put in place in order that jobs which are hard to come by because they are to be found in rural Ireland, as I am sure the Minister of State is aware, can be sustained.

This industry is worth fighting for. There is no question about the quality and seamless service customers in the United Kingdom are getting. That is one of the messages the Minister and the CEO of Bord Bia will be impressing on retailers.

I will address a point that is not directly related to my Department. We have engaged with major players in the industry who have asked that we set up a new Lean programme to improve harvesting techniques. According to my note, a pilot programme on Lean processes that is being implemented by Bord Bia with financial assistance from Enterprise Ireland is commencing with mushroom growers to assess the level of efficiency across all aspects of the business, including the supply chain, innovation, marketing and logistics. While it crosses over from the Department into the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, it is an important add-on to other efforts that are meant to assist the industry.

Sports Capital Programme

I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this important topic and the Minister of State for attending to reply. It is a simple issue.

As everyone knows, sports capital grants were suspended in 2008 and resumed by the previous Government in 2011. As far as I am aware, there has been a round of sports capital grants every year until 2016. Is there a timeline for an announcement of a further round of applications for sports capital grants?

Many clubs and organisations that did not receive funding previously or which are undertaking upgrades on a phased basis have been in contact with me and other Senators. It is around this time of year that sports clubs and organisations hold their AGMs. They want to put their plans in place. For an application to be successful, they must have matching funds and so on. I would appreciate it, therefore, if the timeline could be clarified.

The sports capital programme represents excellent value for money for the Government.

They provide opportunities for everyone from children up to senior citizens, from recreational and leisure level to elite sports level, which leads to healthier people and savings in the health area. They also encourage young people to have dreams and ambitions and this helps to keep them out of trouble. We are all aware of this.

This is a rich time for sport in Ireland. We are punching above our weight at local, national and international levels. In the last few weeks, we had the famous win against the All Blacks and the soccer victory last Saturday night. The GAA is in every parish in the country. I heard at the weekend that a club in Longford is in the Leinster Club Championship semi-final. The GAA has its tentacles in every parish in the country. There is a great feel-good factor around it. We have enough to be down and out about. Sport always uplifts us. I know that the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, is aware of that. The ambitions of our sporting heroes of today started when their parents enrolled them in their local clubs and organisations at six or seven years of age. Money spent in this area is money well spent.

I thank Senator O'Mahony for raising this issue, which I know is one in which he has a particular interest.

The sports capital programme, SCP, is the Government’s primary vehicle to support the development of sports facilities and the purchase of sports equipment. The most recent rounds of the programme were in 2012, 2014 and 2015. So far this year, over €22.8 million has been paid out to 680 organisations.

The sports capital programme aims to foster an integrated and planned approach to developing sports and physical recreation facilities throughout the country. More than 10,000 projects have benefitted from sports capital funding since 1998, bringing total allocations since that time to over €900 million. The programme has transformed the sporting landscape of Ireland with improvements in the quality and quantity of sporting facilities in virtually every village, town and city in the country. The facilities that have been funded range from the smallest clubs to national centres of sporting excellence. The Government is committed to ensuring that this progress continues. We recognise that sport plays a hugely positive part in Irish society. Its benefits are numerous, from health benefits to the social side of sports in both the participative and volunteering spheres to the huge contribution sport makes to the Irish economy.

Following the conclusion of the 2017 Estimates discussions, a total of €52 million has been provided for sports capital projects next year. This will meet all existing commitments under previous rounds of the sports capital and local authority swimming pool programme commitments, to the Páirc Uí Chaoimh redevelopment project in Cork, the Kerry Sports Academy at IT Tralee and existing commitments relating to the development of the national sports campus.

There will also be sufficient funding for a new round of the sports capital programme to be opened for applications, which is the most important point as far as Senator O'Mahony and I are concerned. In this regard, I have previously stated that the new round will be open for applications soon and this remains the position. Prior to inviting applications, I want to ensure that a number of improvements are introduced to the application process. In this regard, the application form will be significantly shortened and a number of additional supports will be available for clubs to complete the application process.

The new programme will include a revised online portal which will make the process more user-friendly. Other supports will include a comprehensive written guide for applicants as well as an online video guide. Staff in the relevant section of my Department will also be available to assist clubs by phone and e-mail and it is also planned to hold regional seminars to assist clubs who are preparing their applications. It is hoped that these measures will greatly assist in reducing the level of invalid applications which are submitted to the Department. As previously stated, the new round will be open for applications soon and obviously clubs will have to be given a number of weeks to complete the application process. Based on previous rounds of the programme, the assessment process takes a number of months to complete so I expect that actual grant allocations will be made during summer 2017. I will be announcing more comprehensive details of the new round shortly, including all of the relevant deadline dates.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply, which will enable me to communicate to clubs and organisations that the process will commence early in the New Year.

During the previous Administration the Minister of State with responsibility for sport was Deputy Michael Ring. Will the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, clarify if he has responsibility for sport in this Administration?

Recent media reports have cast doubt on that but having served on an Oireachtas committee with the Minister of State during the last administration, I know of his deep knowledge and interest in sport. I have read many of his speeches on the topic and it is clear that he has a deep knowledge of sport at all levels. I ask him to clarify the situation.

When the Taoiseach appointed me as Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, he asked me to fulfil the same role as my predecessor, Deputy Michael Ring, and I am working on the basis of that continuity. The responsibilities that were devolved to Deputy Ring as Minister of State at the time are now my responsibilities. The sports capital programme is one of the areas of responsibility that the Cabinet has delegated to me and that has been agreed within the Department itself.

Very little legislation covers our Department relating to tourism and sport and so people often wonder about the statutory basis for our actions. If there are very few statutes pertaining to a Department, it can look as if a Minister or Minister of State's statutory responsibilities are narrow. Ministers of State are appointed by the Cabinet as opposed to the Taoiseach and their responsibilities, which are agreed internally within the relevant Department, are actually quite wide ranging, covering tourism promotion right through to sport.

In terms of the issue before the House today, I would point out that I have had a number of meetings with departmental officials over the last few months to discuss the sports capital programme, which is of huge significance to me. I insisted that it be included in the budget speech by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The sports capital programme for 2017 is now with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for final sign off. I hope it will be signed off in the next couple of weeks and then we will be in a position to open the applications process.

I am sure Senator O'Mahony would agree that it is important to empower as many people as possible to get the maximum number of valid applications. I have no interest in invalid applications. The more valid applications the Department receives, the more money it can request from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform going forward. Another crucially important part of the next sports capital programme is the fact that it is annualised, as per the commitment in the programme for Government. As the Minister of State with responsibility for delivering that element of the programme for Government, I am absolutely committed to ensuring that the programme will not be rolled out on a haphazard basis any more. The question of whether the Government will or will not fund another programme will not arise. There is a firm commitment from the Government in that regard. It is part of the programme for Government and it is my job to make sure that the commitment is fulfilled.

Finally, I draw the attention of the House to today's launch of Ireland's bid to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023. This is a fantastic opportunity for the island of Ireland. As Minister of State with responsibility for sport, I really value the work of the IRFU on the bid and crucially, the co-operation of the GAA in facilitating it. I would urge the House to use the opportunity on the Order of Business, when it is discussing matters of importance, to raise that crucial issue. It is wonderful to see the IRFU and the GAA working together in a collaborative way alongside the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government to deliver what will be a phenomenal sporting occasion for the island of Ireland.

Sitting suspended at 3.15 p.m. and resumed at 3.30 p.m.