Mary Lou McDonaldQuestion:
1. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with children and youth affairs will next meet. [43521/21]View answer
Ceisteanna - Questions
1. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with children and youth affairs will next meet. [43521/21]View answer
2. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on social affairs and equality met last; and when it is next due to meet. [43745/21]View answer
3. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on justice will next meet. [43765/21]View answer
4. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan asked the Taoiseach the Cabinet committee that deals with sporting issues. [43784/21]View answer
5. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on social affairs and equality last met and will next meet. [44762/21]View answer
6. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach the Cabinet committee that deals with sporting issues. [44874/21]View answer
7. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with children and youth affairs will next meet. [45088/21]View answer
8. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on social affairs and equality met last; and when it is next due to meet. [45089/21]View answer
9. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with children and youth affairs will next meet. [45091/21]View answer
10. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on social affairs and equality met last; and when it is next due to meet. [45092/21]View answer
11. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee dealing with justice issues met last; and when it is next due to meet. [45233/21]View answer
12. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on social affairs and equality will next meet. [45166/21]View answer
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 12 together.
The Cabinet committee on social affairs and equality oversees implementation of programme for Government commitments in the areas of social policy, including sport, arts and culture; equality, including children and youth affairs; and public services, including matters relating to justice, policing reform and community safety. This Cabinet committee last met on 30 November and will meet again shortly. I have regular engagement with Ministers at Cabinet and individually to discuss priority issues relating to their Departments. In addition, a number of meetings have been held between my officials and officials from relevant Departments since the establishment of the Cabinet committee in July 2020.
Survivors of Ireland's mother and baby homes are considering taking legal action to enable them to gain access to their medical records. Survivors have submitted subject to access requests under the general data protection regulation, GDPR, to the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth as the relevant data collector, and they have been told that their records have been withheld from them until they nominate a GP to receive the records first. Then it is the GP who will decide if it is appropriate to pass on survivors' own medical records to them.
The Department is withholding access to the records on the basis of a 1989 data protection regulation. The Department's position is not alone in breach of European law but it falls foul of the Court of Justice of the European Union judgment. The fact is this 30-year old regulation has been superseded by the directive. There is no requirement for survivors to nominate a GP for these records. Under Article 15 of the GDPR, a data controller can and should process this request in the same way as any other. Article 23 of the GDPR states that restricting access to data by way of a legislative measure can only be done where the directive's fundamental rights and freedoms are upheld and where the restriction is necessary and proportionate.
Has advice been provided by the current Attorney General on this matter and does the Taoiseach stand by it? If not, what action will he take to ensure survivors' fundamental rights are upheld?
Has there been any discussion at the Cabinet committee on social affairs about the future of our local employment services? Their representatives were in front of the Oireachtas committee on social protection this morning. The current model, which is very holistic and supportive of jobseekers, is under threat not just because of a new tendering process but a new financial model that is being put in place, post tender. These are predominantly not-for-profit companies but they are being asked to tender on the basis of a profit model.
I welcome the Taoiseach's commitment to a review of the fuel allowance. To give an example of some of its anomalies, I know of the case of an 81-year-old lady who minds her adult daughter who has additional needs and early stage dementia. She could not find a residential place for her daughter and has taken her home again, for which she is getting carer's allowance. Because she is getting carer's allowance, she is now losing her fuel allowance at the age of 81 after a lifetime of care and commitment to the community. There are so many anomalies that a Cabinet committee is the perfect place to address them. In the context of fuel prices at the moment, I ask that urgency is given to that.
When I first raised the issue of the abuse of power by retired judge James O'Connor, the Taoiseach replied to me saying, "It is clear to me that there are avenues for people to deal with the abuse[s] of power". What is precisely demonstrated by this case, however, is that those avenues did not work.
The first woman went to the Garda and was told there was nothing to investigate and it was a normal situation of boy meets girl. It was anything but a normal situation. It was a judge in court who met a vulnerable woman in front of him as a result of a family law issue. He got her number in the context of that meeting in court and then used it to pursue her completely inappropriately and persistently in a way that made her scared about a sexual relationship. She went to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, but also got no joy. She contacted and wrote two letters to the Taoiseach's office. I sent two emails to him, which had no response. We understand from freedom of information, FOI, requests that the Chief Justice and the Minister for Justice were aware of this case.
Unless that woman had very bravely decided to speak out, which she should not have to do, and I pay tribute to her and to the other women who did so, absolutely nothing would be happening in this case. We need action and change to ensure people in these circumstances are not subjected to the kind of abuse and imbalance of power situations that exist between judges and people in front of them.
West Cork currently has no athletics track. This is despite the fact west Cork has produced some of the most talented athletes in Ireland. Bandon Athletic Club is right at the top of that, which continues to produce some incredibly talented athletes despite only having a grass running track and no proper infield facilities. It has produced some incredible athletes such as Phil Healy, who I do have to tell the Taoiseach about and who did us so proud in the Olympics, decathlete Diarmuid O'Connor, hammer thrower Nicola Tuthill and distance runner Fionn Harrington. Bandon Athletic Club has a very ambitious proposal to create a state-of-the-art track and field facility. I urge the Government to get behind that proposal.
Is the Government still entertaining the idea of hosting a €150 million international yacht race? There are sports clubs in my constituency whose members need to fundraise for kit and changing rooms, as no doubt there are in the Taoiseach's constituency. Does he agree that if his Government decides to spend €150 million on the America's Cup, there can be no excuse whatsoever for the continued failure to fund grassroots sports? Will he give the House an update on where things stand on the issue of the America's Cup at the moment?
I wish to raise an urgent, disturbing and upsetting case which has wider ramifications for the State's responsibility to vulnerable children. A mother of a 17-year-old boy in my constituency - I will not mention names, obviously, because it is a sensitive matter - has asked me to raise this issue with the Taoiseach and anyone who will listen. The boy is on the very severe end of the autism spectrum and, as a result, his family were not able to manage him at home. He got a placement out of Dublin, away from where he lives, which broke down through nobody's real fault and he now finds himself in emergency homeless accommodation. This is completely inappropriate and his mother is distraught and seriously worried for his life, such is the nature of his intellectual disability. His autism behaviour is the sort of thing that requires specialised, residential supports, which we completely lack in this country. There are autism spectrum disorder, ASD, residential specialised units in the UK but we have none here and this is a young man who is on the streets and whose life is potentially in danger.
This case has much wider implications in terms of Tusla's responsibility to young and vulnerable children. I would like to email the Taoiseach the details of this case in the context of the wider issue of our responsibility to young children with disabilities.
The ancient festival of Hallowe'en has become an excuse for wanton vandalism and lawlessness throughout Dublin and other cities. Every year, Hallowe'en starts earlier and earlier. I am referring to illegal fireworks and bonfires being lit on our public open spaces. People and animals are being terrorised and public open spaces are being destroyed. It is the same every year and it has to stop.
I note the Minister for Justice has launched the fireworks awareness-raising campaign for 2021 in association with the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Dublin Fire Brigade and the Garda Síochána. Fireworks are dangerous and can cause serious injury. Last year, Dublin was awash with fireworks. From what I hear, I am sure it is the same this year. I welcome the launch by the Garda of Operation Tombola. Gardaí in the Dublin metropolitan region need to get behind this. They need to be visible and plan to prevent public disorder and antisocial behaviour. Local authorities also need to get behind this campaign and start to collect illegal bonfire material. I also welcome the fact that divisional public order units will be deployed on Hallowe'en night.
I ask the Cabinet subcommittee on justice, if it is going to meet very shortly, to please deal with this issue to stop Hallowe'en turning into a frightening night for so many people.
I thank all the Deputies for raising important issues. Deputy McDonald raised the issue of access to records, which I will follow through on. In my view, it should not be necessary to seek the permission of a GP to get access to your own medical records; they should be available. It relates ultimately to the information and tracing legislation published in May this year and which is currently before the House. Pre-legislative scrutiny is taking place and the Minister went before the Oireachtas joint committee yesterday. This is priority legislation that will deal with all the issues the Deputy raised. In the interim, I will engage with the Minister for clarification of some of the points raised.
Deputy Calleary raised the important issue of employment services. Fundamentally, these are services we must ensure are of the highest quality for those who use them in the first instance. It is 90% about engagement. This is not similar to JobPath. These services relate to engagement and 90% of the transactions have to be ones of engagement with, and guidance to, the service user. Parallel with that, advice from the Office of the Chief State Solicitor, the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Attorney General is that the Department of Social Protection is in breach of EU procurement rules and there has to be a competitive procurement process for these contracts. The Minister has met with the services involved and officials have visited every local employment service, LES, in the country over recent years. Phase 1 has commenced and that will inform phase 2.
We are looking at an expansion of services across seven counties where currently there is no LES-type service. It is about providing quality employment services in Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Longford, Westmeath, Laois and Offaly. We will need those additional services to help people navigate their route back to work. It is around the quality of service and experience. More than 75% of the marks in the request for tender were based on the quality of the service, the experience and track record of the tenderers in providing supports to those furthest from the labour market. As I said, 90% of the fees are based on engagement with the service and agreeing a personal progression plan. It is all about working and engaging with people. I am conscious of the issues the Deputy has raised in terms of the local context and dimension. There is a journey to travel yet in that regard.
On the fuel allowance, the Deputy raised a sad case. There will be an examination of these issues prior to the budget to see what can be done to alleviate the problems faced by people facing fuel poverty.
Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan raised the issue that there are no athletic tracks in west Cork. I fully take his point in terms of the extraordinary success of Bandon Athletic Club. Phil Healy is the iconic representative of the club, among others. We will give that application active consideration. We want to improve sports facilities.
Deputy Barry raised the issue of the Americas Cup in a sporting context. We want to support grassroots sport and clubs that find difficulty in applying for grants. The application system for certain sectors of sport has become very difficult. We need to ease access for clubs that are in disadvantaged situations in terms of their wherewithal to apply for grants. On the Americas Cup, the organisers have written to the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. There must be due diligence and due process before any decisions are made. There is a unit within the Department that deals with the hosting of big events such as the Ryder Cup and the teams from American colleges that come to Ireland. Those events have proven to give significant ratios of return to the economy and to create jobs. It is in that context the issue will be looked at. There is now a longer timeframe of up to six months for consideration of that matter.
Deputy Paul Murphy raised the issue of Judge O'Connor. The members of the Garda on the ground must assess and prosecute cases. When people are concerned about how that duty is carried out, complaints are made to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC. I regularly make the point that we need to reflect on the fact that the first port of call has to work. Our existing agencies have to work and do their jobs diligently and properly. It is a fact that we have a range of inquiries. The House will recall that some years ago, arising out of a big case, a whole range of cases were submitted to the then Minister for Justice for review. The Oireachtas and the Executive can never replace the operational agencies and institutions that have been established by the Oireachtas to deal with these issues. There is a real dilemma here in terms of how we can individually pursue every single case. This raises fundamental issues and I do not dispute that. I will give the matter consideration to see how we can proceed.
In response to Deputy Boyd Barrett, there are residential locations or accommodations for young adults with severe autism but there are not enough. The situation the Deputy described is shocking and the young boy involved should not be in emergency homeless accommodation. Every effort should be made by the HSE and others to make provision for that young man.
Deputy Haughey raised an issue around Hallowe'en and I agree with him entirely. We should be encouraging the elimination of bonfires. They are polluting. I participated in bonfires myself. I was in my local primary school last Monday and was shown photographs of a bonfire up the road from where I lived. We thought bonfires were the bee's knees at that time but I think of all those black tyres that we burned. We sat around thinking it was great fun. I would like to think we have moved on from that era because bonfires are pollutants. They are dangerous as well, when one considers what is thrown into them today. Anti-social behaviour should be stamped out. We will work with the Garda and the authorities on the matter of illegal fireworks. That is a fair point. We want that time of year for children to enjoy.
13. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the public service, justice and police reform division of his Department. [43522/21]View answer
14. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the public service, justice and police reform division of his Department. [46799/21]View answer
15. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the public service, justice and police reform division of his Department. [46802/21]View answer
I propose to take Questions Nos. 13 to 15, inclusive, together. The public service, justice and policing reform unit sits in the social policy and public service reform division of the Department of An Taoiseach. The unit supports the Civil Service management board, including the Civil Service renewal programme; contributes to the oversight and governance of the new public service reform plan; supports me in my role as Taoiseach on criminal justice, community safety and related matters; and incorporates the policing reform implementation programme office that oversees the implementation of A Policing Service for our Future, which is the Government's plan to implement the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.
The unit also has departmental oversight of the National Economic and Social Council and provides me with briefing and speech material on social policy and public service reform issues. It also participates in relevant interdepartmental committees and other groups.
A significant issue arose earlier this year regarding the provision of legal aid for the Stardust families. The families and their advocates, including myself, argued that the Minister for Justice could resolve this matter through the introduction of a regulation to waive the requirement of the financial eligibility test. Eventually, the Minister for Justice signed the civil legal aid regulations to allow all families on an exceptional basis to access legal aid for the Stardust inquest, regardless of their means. That was welcome progress and the families believed the final hurdle put before them by the State had been overcome. However, disgracefully, that was to prove not to be the case. Families have recently learned that the Department has not engaged with the Legal Aid Board since the regulation was signed, nor has the necessary budget been provided by the Department for the legal costs associated with the inquest. It is, of course, deeply unfair on families to have the State continuously put up blockages when its stated position is that it wants to do all it can to support them. Families have had to fight too hard for too long. This matter surely should have been resolved between the Department and Legal Aid Board in advance of the regulation being signed and not left for the families to deal with. It is unacceptable for the Department to take the position that this is a matter between the Legal Aid Board and the families. I have raised this issue with the Minister for Justice and the Minister of State, neither of whom have deemed it fit to respond. I now raise the matter with the Taoiseach and ask him to intervene on behalf of these families and to sort out this issue as a matter of urgency.
I will continue to speak about the case I raised of the 17-year-old child with autism who is wandering the streets and reliant on homeless accommodation. As the Taoiseach rightly said, the agencies that are the first ports of call should work. In this case, we are talking about Túsla, which has constitutional responsibilities. We had a referendum in 2012 about the specific responsibility of the State in terms of children. We have also signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in terms of our responsibility to people with disabilities. The young man concerned has an intellectual disability and severe forms of autism. He is in homeless accommodation, wandering the streets and his life is in danger. His mother has gone to the ombudsman who is going to look into the case but that young man is still on the streets. His mother has gone to court to try to compel Túsla to provide the proper placement and services he needs. The first port of call is not working. That is where we come in. We have a constitutional and legal obligation to a child like this. I will pass on the details of the case to the Taoiseach. I appeal to him. The whip needs to be cracked and the services need to be provided.
I will come back to the case of James O'Connor again. The Taoiseach says that the first port of call, the agencies and so on, should work. I agree. They should work but the point is that it is very clear that they did not work and that there is a problem and, therefore, a need for reform. The central issue is that the massive imbalance of power between a family law judge and a person coming before that judge was simply not taken into account. The woman I quoted earlier said this puts you in a position where you feel you cannot say "No" because you know you are going to be back in front of the judge. To return to the story I told about this woman going into the courthouse and the judge lunging at her, she had to go back before that same judge again in a situation where he could potentially have been deciding whether she would keep her kids. I am not asking the Taoiseach or the Government to make themselves into the Garda, the Judiciary or whatever but the Government was contacted multiple times by this woman and then by me with regard to this case. Did the Government do anything about it? Did it spot that there is an issue here that needs to be resolved through reform of how such matters are deal with?
I will revert to the Minister with regard to Deputy McDonald's question on the Stardust inquiry. The Government is committed to ensuring the Stardust inquests and the families involved are provided with all relevant supports. As the Deputy said, the Government did respond to that issue. Funding of €8 million has been allocated for the new inquests. This includes funding for legal aid for the families and for the fit-out of a bespoke courtroom in the RDS. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, has signed the Civil Legal Aid Regulations 2021, which allow all families to access legal aid, on an exceptional basis, for the Stardust inquests regardless of their means. I am informed that the Legal Aid Board, which is independent in the conduct of its function, is engaging with the legal representatives of the families to agree an appropriate funding structure and schedule. The Minister for Justice understands that the public-facing elements of the inquests are expected to commence once the necessary preliminary hearings conclude. The conduct of the Stardust inquests is entirely a matter for the senior Dublin coroner. The coroner's independence in regard to such matters is set out in the Coroners Act 1962. The Minister for Justice does not have a role in that regard. The senior Dublin coroner has held five preliminary hearings to date and has scheduled a sixth pre-inquest hearing, to take place on 13 October. The Deputy raised a number of issues this morning. The Minister has signed the regulations. It is law now. Funding has been provided and is there to be drawn down. I do not see what the issue is but I will pursue the matter with the Minister for Justice and seek a response from her.
Deputy Boyd Barrett raised the issue of that young man with autism. It is a matter for Tusla, service providers and the HSE working with those providers to get the optimal care model in place for that young person. I do not know what the various actions that have been taken to date amount to, in respect of that young man in terms of any particular service that he was a part of. I do not know whether he grew up accessing particular services provided by a section 38 body, for example.
We fought to get him a placement but it fell through.
The answer then is that we need to get the optimal place for him where he will be given the necessary supports. That is what we need to do. If the Deputy will send on the details to me, I will certainly pursue the matter with the authorities to see if we can get a place for that young man. It is certainly not acceptable for him to be on the streets.
With regard to Deputy Paul Murphy's point, the Deputy has acknowledged that the Government cannot act as the Garda or as GSOC. There is a wider issue regarding the Judiciary and the behaviour of judges. Progress has been made on the Judicial Council but I do not know whether this applies within the timeline of this particular case. That is a further complication in this regard. The Government does not want to become GSOC on an ongoing basis. Increasingly I am getting feedback which suggests that many people who go to GSOC are not happy with the outcome. I do not know whether that is because people's expectations are too high or whether there are issues regarding how GSOC operates but there are real issues here with regard to the degree to which the Government can supersede the role of the various agencies involved. That is a legitimate problem. Having said that, very serious allegations are being made in respect of someone who is no longer operating as a judge. That person is entitled to contest those allegations and assertions. Determining the degree to which the Government can respond or how it will respond is not simple but I will examine the matter.
Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.
16. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the social dialogue co-ordination unit of his Department. [43654/21]View answer
17. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the social dialogue co-ordination unit of his Department. [44873/21]View answer
18. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the social dialogue unit of his Department. [44766/21]View answer
19. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the social dialogue co-ordination unit of his Department. [46800/21]View answer
20. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the social dialogue co-ordination unit of his Department. [46803/21]View answer
I propose to take Questions Nos. 16 to 20, inclusive, together.
The social dialogue unit, which is part of the economic division of my Department, works to co-ordinate and support the Government's overall approach to social dialogue. The work of the unit involves supporting engagement with the social partners through a variety of mechanisms, including the Labour Employer Economic Forum, LEEF, which deals with labour market issues. The LEEF meets regularly to facilitate discussions with the Government on issues related to the Covid-19 pandemic and our economic recovery. The most recent plenary meeting, which I chaired, took place on 5 July. A further meeting will take place in the coming weeks.
Under the auspices of LEEF, there has been significant progress on other issues such as the introduction of statutory sick pay, remote working and the establishment of a high-level review of collective bargaining. There are also LEEF subgroups dealing with issues including aviation and childcare. Social dialogue through the LEEF process has also played a crucial role in ensuring workplaces are safe during the Covid-19 pandemic and an updated version of the work safely protocol was agreed and published earlier this month.
The social dialogue unit also supports engagement with representatives from the environmental pillar, the community and voluntary pillar and the farming and agriculture pillar. This includes a series of meetings between myself and key Ministers with those groups held before the summer. This was an opportunity to discuss how social dialogue can be strengthened as well as current issues of concern to those sectors.
Social dialogue also takes place through structures like the National Economic Dialogue, the National Economic and Social Council and many sectoral groups. There is also regular dialogue between the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and public service trade unions.
Overall, I believe this is strong evidence of the Government's commitment to social dialogue. However, given the scale of challenges which lie ahead, for example in areas like climate action, housing and economic recovery, I will continue to work with Ministers to strengthen the structures and practice of social dialogue across all areas.
In following up the earlier response on the Stardust issue, it is welcome that the Government is committed to the inquest, that €8 million has been assigned and that legal aid is to be given to the families but the issue is that, while all the other legal teams involved in the inquest have been funded to prepare for the inquest, the legal representatives of the families have not been funded to carry out that important work. The families must be at the heart of this inquest and must be treated equally and fairly, along with all of the other participants in the inquest. That is at the heart of this. The funding must be released to those families to ensure that they are represented properly at the inquest and so that preparatory work can be done. I ask the Taoiseach to follow up on that specific issue with regard to the Stardust inquest.
I would like to begin with two quotes. The first comes from a senior Aer Lingus cabin crew member:
I have young cabin crew colleagues regularly attending soup kitchens for meals and getting help from St Vincent de Paul. My own brother bought my son’s school books this year. Mental health is on the floor.
The second comes from an Aer Lingus ground crew worker:
We’re having everything taken away. My parents have done food shopping for us throughout the pandemic. I’m paying rent of €1,550 with two children to support.
Both of these quotes were given in interviews with my colleague, Ruth Coppinger, last week. This week, Aer Lingus's parent company saw its share price climb 21%. Aer Lingus kept its hand out for massive State subsidies while continuing to push for its workforce to submit to a four-year pay freeze, new yellow-pack starting rates and cuts to sick pay and shift allowances.
Will the Taoiseach intervene in this situation? Will he tell this company that continued State aid is conditional on an end to attempts to force brutal austerity on its workforce?
The Government seems to be getting itself into a mess over the issue of recognising the huge role workers played in sustaining our society during the Covid pandemic. I will give a few suggestions in that regard. First, health workers who were on the front line in hospitals fighting to keep the disease at bay and getting infected are a particular category whose work must be recognised, along with that of other people, including home carers and anybody in the health service who was directly confronting the health consequences. Beyond that, there are other groups not in the front line in that sense, such as retail workers, transport workers, teachers, local authority workers, civil servants, contact tracers and so on, who need recognition.
There is a more fundamental point, which is that during the pandemic we realised the key role played by many working people who suffer low pay and precarious work, and are generally not acknowledged, in sustaining us. In some cases, such as musicians, artists and so on, we really felt their absence because they could not work. That requires a more general response, rather than a once-off response, in terms of addressing low pay. We need to have something like a €15 living wage as a mandatory minimum wage, to do something serious about precarity in employment and to bring bank and statutory holidays, not on a once-off basis, up to the levels we have in Europe. They are much lower here. There needs to be a general recognition that before the pandemic, we failed to fully recognise how important many categories of workers are. If we are to learn the lesson of the pandemic and have a better future, we need to make those changes.
I call Deputy McDonald.
Is there not somebody ahead of me?
It is me.
The Deputy is not on this list, but go ahead.
I am on this one.
You are not on the one I have.
Gremlins at work. I thank the Ceann Comhairle. A few weeks ago, I participated in a protest of local employment service workers at the Department of Finance and around to the front of the Dáil. They were protesting against the proposal, which the Government is pushing ahead with, for the outsourcing or tendering of their work. They were able to tell stories of how they help the long-term unemployed. They work alongside them to try to get jobs that would be suitable for them. They rightly pointed out that the drive of the Government would turn this from a useful service that helps people into a JobPath 2, where the service is outsourced to private companies that have horrific records in Britain and here, put pressure on people and are just interested in ticking boxes that maximise their profit. They are not interested in helping people to get out of unemployment and into quality, decent jobs. In doing this, the Government will ironically make a bunch of people unemployed and create further unemployment when it is meant to be addressing the unemployment crisis. Will the Government back off on this proposal to effectively outsource these vital services and this important work done by local employment service workers?
Prior to the recess, the Taoiseach briefly reported that the unit had a good meeting with the community and social pillar. What were the outcomes of the meeting? Will the issues raised be reflected in the upcoming budget?
Over recent months, I have met with community-based services across the country. The work they do is extraordinary but the overwhelming feeling of those providing and accessing the services is one of invisibility. For each of the services I have met, every month is a struggle as they deliver services to hundreds of thousands of citizens, many of whom are very vulnerable. Inadequate infrastructure, insufficient funds for staff and a dogged refusal of Departments and State agencies to provide multi-annual funding are universal challenges.
I have a particular concern for family carers, in terms of the inadequacy of State supports and their physical and mental health. During a meeting I had with Family Carers Ireland services in Wexford and those that support them, it was clear an informed and progressive shift by the Government on specific policy areas would be transformational in terms of quality of life and care.
I welcome the work of the social dialogue unit and the Taoiseach's engagement with the Government partners in the community and voluntary sector but I urge the Taoiseach to ensure that there is an outcome from these engagements, and that the outcome is progressively reflected in next month's budget.
I thank all the Deputies who raised issues. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan raised the question of the Stardust inquiry. When he spoke of issues around the preparation for the inquest, is that relating to historical cost claims in terms of independent researchers? I understand claims for historical costs by independent researchers are the subject of civil proceedings instituted by them against the Minister for Justice. I will revert to the Minister-----
I was just referring to the preparation for the inquest.
The money has been allocated and the regulations have been signed. The aid is available to legal teams.
It has not been given to the legal teams to be able to prepare.
It is available to them. I do not understand why it has not been accessed.
They have not been able to access it.
They are not being given any funding.
The funding has been sanctioned on an exceptional basis.
It is not getting to the legal teams.
The regulation has been signed by the Minister. I will talk to the Minister for Justice and come back to the Deputy.
Deputy Barry raised the Aer Lingus issue. I have met with Aer Lingus representatives. The Government's objective was to maintain the viability of airlines and airports and support their workers through the pandemic. We provided the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, which has been a huge support. The Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, independently provided a loan facility to Aer Lingus. It has been challenging. It is a private company. We pressed with them the need to look after their workers. They would say the collapse in air travel has been a huge factor in the losses of over €1 billion the company has endured during the pandemic. It is probably more at this stage.
They would have been very opposed to zero Covid policies, which they felt would have killed off the airline and the industry. The Deputy put forward that proposal at the time. People in the House come forward at different times saying the Government must do this and that for aviation, and the next month they say the Government should do X and Y to support the industry. It does not always square and the Deputy's position on aviation does not square. The realities of the pandemic are real. We have done everything we can to support workers through unprecedented interventions. I am conscious that people and cabin crews have suffered. Everyone working in the airline-----
Answer the question.
I am giving the Deputy the answer. The Deputy is not giving the answer. He is suggesting-----
The answer is to put a condition on the payment.
Exactly. You want all the supports pulled.
You kind of do. You want nirvana. The world does not work the way you prescribe it to work.
You should tell Aer Lingus that in order to continue to get the money, it has to stop kicking the hell out of its workforce.
We have done all that.
On Deputy Boyd Barrett's question, I am open to consultation on special recognition. I thought he was going to give me a tiered response but in the end he said everybody should be supported, basically. I take the point in respect of healthcare workers on the front line.
On sustainable issues, there will be lessons learned from Covid in terms of how we organise and structure society into the future. That will inform Government policy in terms of well-being, income supports, creating employment and getting employment back to pre-2019 levels.
On local employment services, I assure Deputy Paul Murphy that it is not JobPath that is envisaged. The Comptroller and Auditor General and others say we are in breach of EU law and the Committee of Public Accounts will probably say that as another arm of the House.
It is a matter of trying to balance that issue with making sure we develop a quality service. We are talking about a regional employment service. To compare it to JobPath is completely inaccurate. That is not what is envisaged.
We must conclude, a Thaoisigh. We are out of time.
I apologise. I was just trying to respond to everybody. I do not know whether I have done so.
You are trying to do the impossible, I am afraid, because we are completely out of time.