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Programme for Government

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 30 November 2021

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Questions (12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17)

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

12. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will provide a progress report on the programme for Government. [57018/21]

View answer

Alan Kelly

Question:

13. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will provide a progress report on the programme for Government. [57204/21]

View answer

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

14. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Taoiseach if he will provide a progress report on the programme for Government. [57673/21]

View answer

Cormac Devlin

Question:

15. Deputy Cormac Devlin asked the Taoiseach if he will provide an overview of the progress made to date in relation to the programme for Government. [57668/21]

View answer

Christopher O'Sullivan

Question:

16. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the programme for Government. [57669/21]

View answer

Mick Barry

Question:

17. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he will provide a progress report on the programme for Government. [58666/21]

View answer

Oral answers (35 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Question Nos. 12 to 17, inclusive, together.

The Government has been working hard to implement the commitments in the programme for Government across a wide range of issues in all Departments. The ten Cabinet committees established by the Government reflect the full range of policy areas that it will work on during its lifetime, as set out in the programme for Government. Cabinet committees meet regularly to continue this work. The strategy statements which have been prepared by Departments reflect the key national priorities as outlined in the programme for Government.

My Department has been involved in progressing some key programme for Government commitments in recent months. They include ongoing monitoring and management of the impact of Covid-19; the provision of Covid and non-Covid healthcare; driving the delivery of our shared island commitments on a whole-of-government basis through the shared island unit in my Department; the establishment of a unit in my Department to help to support social dialogue; the implementation of the Housing for All strategy, which is driving the delivery of key housing related commitments; a major review to inform the revised national development plan, which was published in October; the delivery of the economic recovery plan, which was published on 1 June, after which a progress report will be compiled in the coming period to outline the considerable progress the plan has made in transitioning Ireland's economy; and the development of a well-being framework for Ireland, the first report of which was approved by the Government and published in July. A follow-up phase of considerable consultation and engagement on the initial well-being framework is under way.

The national digital strategy, which is being actively developed, will set out our overarching vision and ambition to position Ireland as a digital leader to the benefit of our people and the economy. We published the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill, the climate action plan 2021, the marine planning framework and the Maritime Area Planning Bill. There has been engagement with European Union leaders to advance a range of high-level objectives in the programme for Government, in particular regarding Brexit, Covid, the EU budget and the EU green agenda. The commitments also include the implementation of Global Ireland 2025, supporting the work of the United Nations through our membership of the UN Security Council, the establishment of the Future of Media Commission, the completion of the work of the Citizens' Assembly on gender equality and ongoing oversight of the implementation of a policing service for our future, including the Government's plan to implement the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. The Government will continue to work proactively to ensure the delivery of every aspect of the programme for Government.

I welcome the Ceann Comhairle back.

On the commitments in the programme for Government on defects, the Housing Agency has been tasked with overseeing the pyrite resolution scheme. Over 2,000 families in Dublin and north Leinster have availed of the scheme. The Housing Agency does the testing, makes the prognosis, engages with building contractors and assists with rental accommodation. From start to finish it is involved in the process. Why is the Housing Agency not overseeing the defective concrete blocks scheme in Donegal and the west of Ireland?

If the Government is so confident that the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, SCSI, figures it is standing over today are fine, why does it not ask the Housing Agency to get the deal out there? The outdated numbers from the SCSI for a typical average house to be demolished and rebuilt refer to houses that are 2,300 sq. ft. On the SCSI's website, that would cost €317,400, based on the numbers given today. I hope those numbers are wrong. The campaign rejected a proposal of €108 per sq. ft. The Minister assured them that would not be the figure. The proposed scheme is even worse than they thought. I ask the Taoiseach to clarify urgently that this information is wrong. Why is the Housing Agency not operating the scheme in the west of Ireland as it does in the east to ensure that families who are traumatised do not have to carry this burden?

The Taoiseach might clarify to the House that the proposal going out to primary schools is that face masks will be mandatory, and not advisory, from third class up . I ask the Taoiseach to clarify that because there is a lot of confusion out there, as I stand here. There is a different view about the matter.

Will legislation on the Limerick mayoral election be passed early next year? Will the election go ahead after the summer break next year? Will the Taoiseach finally put this matter to bed? A number of councillors in Limerick have come together to ask that the election go ahead. If it does not, it is unlikely that it will go ahead at all, given when the local elections will be held. The people of Limerick have voted for this and deserve it. It should go ahead. Can the Taoiseach clarify that?

According to the Business Post, a package on energy is being put together. Will the Taoiseach outline whether it will involve VAT or taking some money from the PSO levy? What is being considered in regard to the package we all know is necessary in terms of dealing with the cost of energy bills heading into winter?

I want to ask the Taoiseach about the local connection rule and the commitment on page 55 of the programme for Government to introduce a social housing passport to allow a household to move from one local authority housing waiting list to another. The local connection rule is still causing significant issues and problems, perhaps not on the same scale as last year, but people are still being refused emergency accommodation because of the rule. People have been told to leave emergency accommodation because of this rule. It creates a huge problem for people in emergency accommodation who want to progress out of it and into more permanent housing. The rule makes no sense. It can mean that a person who is originally from Dublin and has moved to Galway to take up a job is recorded on some database as having his or her last employment in Galway. If the person moves back to Dublin and become homeless, he or she is refused the services and supports he or she needs. It is a bureaucratic rule and it needs to go. Will that commitment in the programme for Government be realised? What is the Government doing to sort out and get rid of the rule?

I welcome the Ceann Comhairle back.

Today is the last day of national diabetes awareness month. I am the chairperson of the all-party Oireachtas committee on diabetes. The Taoiseach will be aware that my colleagues and I meet regularly with various organisations to discuss the issues facing people living with diabetes here in Ireland. Those same people are keen to see the expansion of digital health services, the delivery of care more effectively, the empowerment of patients to access their medical records and the provision of more services to patients in their homes and communities. They would like to see more investment in modern e-health and ICT infrastructure, in line with Project Ireland 2040 and the e-health strategy for Ireland. Significant progress on medical ICT infrastructure was made during the course of the pandemic, with GPs improving e-health measures and providing for the secure electronic sharing of patient information and lab results, etc. The electronic health record system, with its individual health identifier programme, is being rolled out within Children's Health Ireland and the initiative should be expanded across the HSE hospital network. Perhaps the Taoiseach could give an update on this area and raise the matter with the Minister for Health.

The income threshold for fuel allowance will increase to €120 in January and the overall rate of payment will also increase. That is proof that carbon tax can be used to protect the most vulnerable in society. When it comes to assessing those who qualify for fuel allowance, I am asking that we show far more flexibility and discretion. I also ask that payments such as carer's allowance and child benefit be disregarded when assessing who does or does not qualify for fuel allowance, especially when the only income of the household is a social welfare payment. I will give an example of the type of individual who calls to my office or contacts me about the fuel allowance. She is a lady over 66 years of age whose only income is the widow's pension. She has a son with intellectual disabilities and she is getting the half-rate of carer's allowance. That is her entire household income, yet she does not qualify for fuel allowance. I am asking for more discretion and flexibility.

Renters need protection. They need the Government to lock up the house and keep the rent increases out, but it appears that the Government has left the front door on the latch and the back door swinging wide open. The following is a quote from the Irish Independent website this morning regarding the proposed rent cap legislation: "Landlords will be able to hike rents by multiples of new rent control caps if they have not increased rents in several years." Is that quote correct? If it is incorrect, can the Taoiseach explain how it is incorrect? The website also says that the Government's stated aim is to cap rent increases at 2%, but with this legislation a 5.9% increase would be possible in some circumstances. Does the Taoiseach disagree with that? If so, can he explain what is his basis for doing so? Clearly, what is needed is a three-year rent freeze, at least, with no loopholes, no exemptions and no get-out clauses for landlords.

We are out of time so I will allow 30 seconds for each of the Deputies.

It is good to see you back, a Cheann Comhairle. The Taoiseach knows there is a crisis in the horticultural sector as a result of peat shortages. Successive Governments over recent years have allowed that crisis to fester by not preventing the export of peat, not investing in finding alternatives to peat and allowing and forcing companies to import peat from the far side of Europe. The Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Noonan, has the report of a working group he established to examine this matter and proposed recommendations to resolve it. I have asked about this previously. He has had the report for almost six weeks. Will the Taoiseach ensure that the Minister of State publishes it this week and that the Government immediately sets about implementing its recommendations?

The programme for Government has a commitment to universal healthcare. In light of the announcements yesterday, one has to wonder if that is going to be healthcare by Lidl's middle aisle. The way the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, attempted to explain this U-turn and retreat from the previous policy that the Government would subsidise antigen testing by saying that the market has done it by itself really required a brass neck. Does the Taoiseach not accept that price gouging will still take place for those who do not manage to get the antigen tests in the middle aisle and that we need to provide antigen testing for free as part of the public health service, as is happening in the NHS in Britain?

Given the new public health measures and the injunction for people to reduce their social contacts, I have asked the Taoiseach on a number of occasions to resurrect supports for musicians, entertainers, taxi drivers and people in the night-time economy. On 2 November, the cross-party group on music and entertainment wrote to a number of Ministers asking that those sector-specific supports, particularly the part-time self-employed scheme, would form the basis of an income support whereby musicians, entertainers and taxi drivers, as was the case previously, could earn up to a certain amount and get some support, given that their work has dramatically reduced as a result of the public health measures at a time when they would have expected to make quite a lot of money coming up to Christmas.

The Taoiseach has very little time to conclude.

I remind Deputies that the original question was about the programme for Government. The key elements of that programme have been groundbreaking and significantly developed. Delivering Housing for All is the biggest State investment in housing in the country's history. I suggest that Deputy Cian O'Callaghan refer to the Minister with the specifics because the Minister is adamant that the local issue does not arise anymore and the accommodation should be provided.

We have confronted and responded to the climate and biodiversity crisis. Other parties have not; they are playing politics with it. The Government has decided to go for it and has passed the law and passed the climate action plan and the carbon budgets. We need those who are against the climate and almost in denial about the climate to come on board, because this has to be an Oireachtas approach.

Managing the country's safety through the Covid pandemic has been a significant achievement of the Government so far. We have rolled out one of the most successful vaccine programmes globally. We have plotted the country's social and economic recovery, which has been significant since the spring, with unprecedented direct financial supports and Ireland's largest ever capital investment programme in the national development plan. We are also developing and delivering the most significant initiative on North-South relations in decades through the shared island initiative. We are embedding health reform in the lessons learned from Covid-19.

In respect of bespoke measures for the entertainment and music sector, the Minister has announced some schemes. We will continue to work on that and the Government will keep it under review in terms of more bespoke models to support those who may still be under pressure in the current situation.

Regarding peat, let me be clear that the Government cannot break the law and cannot advocate breaking the law.

I am only asking the Taoiseach to publish the report.

This involved court actions. People never tell the straight story here. The courts arbitrated on peat and anything we do must be in line with EU directives and EU environmental law.

Absolutely. Will the Taoiseach publish the report?

I have no difficulty with publishing the report, but Ministers are coming together to see if they can get a resolution to this for the horticulture sector.

Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan asked about the income thresholds. I understand his point about more discretion and flexibility in respect of the fuel allowance. I will talk to the Minister for Social Protection in that regard and to other Ministers regarding the measures we are introducing to reduce the overall levels. The increase in the income threshold will be made retrospective to budget day, but I realise the Deputy is saying that it is not enough and that we need to do more.

Deputy Devlin spoke about diabetes, a very important issue. Again, I will work with the Minister for Health and the HSE to expand diabetes services. Progress is being made.

With regard to renters, I have not seen the article mentioned by Deputy Barry. I will have to see it before I can comment on it.

What about the Limerick mayor?

I am not finished yet. My apologies, but I am going in reverse order.

Okay, good stuff.

To respond to Deputy Mac Lochlainn, we gave a fair bit of time to the defective block issue. It is a comprehensive scheme.

What about the Housing Agency?

We asked for specific submissions from parties, but the Deputy's party decided not to respond to the Minister.

What about the Housing Agency?

The Housing Agency is central to it.

Why is it not running the entire scheme?

Deputy Kelly raised the Limerick mayoral office and the election. We are working on the legislation and I take the Deputy's point. Certainly, 2022 has to be the time to get that legislation passed by the House and developed. In respect of masks for nine-year-olds, it has been advised that this will be required.

I am just asking the Taoiseach to clarify it.

It has been advised and it will be required. We are not going to regulate it in law with legal regulations. We have to work with children and be practical about this, particularly children with special needs.

It is mandatory however.

I think I have responded to everybody.

I asked about the antigen tests.

I have dealt with antigen tests all day. The important point regarding antigen tests is that up to 130,000 have been given out free through close contacts. I am sorry; I am wrong. Some 100,000 have been given for free to close contacts, 130,000 for food production and the agriculture sector and approximately 22,000 for higher education. They were all freely dispatched. Some 8,000 in respect of primary schools were dispatched free yesterday for close contacts of children. There are many antigen tests being given out free to targeted groups, which makes sense. The overall price range has come down to between €2 and €3.

Go raibh maith agat, a Thaoisigh.

The alternative would cost approximately half a billion euro if we were to make them free over 12 months. We have to allocate and use our resources wisely as well.

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