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Cabinet Committees

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 27 April 2022

Wednesday, 27 April 2022

Questions (11, 12, 13, 14)

Mary Lou McDonald


11. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Government co-ordination last met and will next meet. [14067/22]

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Ivana Bacik


12. Deputy Ivana Bacik asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Government co-ordination last met; and when it will next meet. [16209/22]

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Cian O'Callaghan


13. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Government co-ordination last met and will next meet. [20036/22]

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Mick Barry


14. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Government co-ordination will next meet. [21271/22]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 11 to 14, inclusive, together.

The Government co-ordination committee last met on Monday, 25 April and is scheduled to meet again on 9 May. The committee generally meets in advance of Government meetings to review the activity of Cabinet committees, review the agenda for that week's Government meeting, discuss political priorities and review implementation of a specified element of the programme for Government.

I am a member of the committee, with the Tánaiste and the leader of the Green Party. The Secretary General to the Government, my chief of staff and the chiefs of staff for the Tánaiste and the leader of the Green Party also sit in on meetings.

The Taoiseach was in Derry recently for a number of engagements. He met with a cross-party delegation of councillors from Donegal, Derry and Strabane. At that meeting, the issue of the funding of City of Derry Airport was put to him. It was welcomed by those present that he said he would look at the shared island initiative as a potential source of funding. Why is this so essential? A total of 40% of the passengers who use City of Derry Airport are from Donegal. It has connections to London, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow and a number of other locations in Europe. It services a population of half a million. As the Taoiseach knows, the geography of Donegal means that people in Inishowen, Letterkenny and Finn Valley use City of Derry Airport and those in the rest of the county would use the airport in west Donegal. We have not seen the delivery of the A5 project. It has been a heartbreaker that the whole project just has not come through. We do not have a rail connection from the fourth largest city, with half a million people, to our capital city of Dublin. There is no motorway, no rail connection and, for the past ten years, no air connection.

This project is essential and I appeal to the Taoiseach to work with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to whom, as well as to the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, I spoke in this Chamber last night. I made the same appeal to them that they work together with the Taoiseach, through the shared island initiative, to deliver funding to the airport. That would mean we can get this region of half a million people to connect to Dublin Airport and the rest of the world. It is not just about commuting to Dublin. It is about connecting to the rest of the world and ensuring tourists and the rest of the world can connect, through Dublin, on to Derry and into the north west. It is vital. It is about equality of access. I know the Taoiseach understands this but we really need the issue to be tackled once and for all. It has been ten years of delays and we need it sorted out.

Serious allegations have been made about a conflict of interest on the part of a member of An Bord Pleanála. Minutes from a meeting of the board show that, on 9 March, the deputy chairman of the board presided over a three-person board meeting that rejected a strategic housing development planning application. Both the Irish Examiner and The Ditch website have reported that this member of the board failed to declare a conflict of interest, as shown in the minutes, even though he has a 25% stake in the company that owns a site just 50 m from the site of the planning application. Given these serious allegations, An Bord Pleanála, at the very least, should make a comment on them and respond to them. Does the Taoiseach think it is acceptable that An Bord Pleanála has had nothing at all to say about this? Will he call on An Bord Pleanála to respond to these allegations and make a comment?

On Friday week, 6 May, parents and children will take to the streets of Cork, Dublin and Enniscorthy to demand services for children with disabilities. A public meeting in Cork on this issue was recently told by a primary school principal that 60 therapists have been cut from Cork schools since the introduction of the State's seemingly misnamed progressing disability services scheme. The meeting also was told many heartbreaking tales of children who had to wait and wait for assessments of needs, those whose parents were forced to pay, and pay big, to go private and those who have been left behind because their parents simply cannot afford to pay. In recent days, the Minister for Health has intervened in a row between the Minister of State with responsibility for disability services, Deputy Rabbitte, and the HSE on the issue of her right to meet directly with district managers of these services. The parents and children who will march on Friday week will care far more about service delivery and results than about who is meeting whom at senior level. What hope can the Taoiseach offer these parents today as they polish up their marching boots and prepare to take to the streets in just nine days' time, which is something they should never even have to consider given the pressures on them?

It has been reported by The Ditch website that former Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, agreed to lease land he owns to Energia for a solar farm development seven months after leaving ministerial office. Energia began consulting with planning officials in February 2021, with Deputy Bruton having been Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment up to the previous June. Energia made €45 million in profit last year and, last month, it announced price increases of 15%. Recently, Deputy Bruton dismissed any suggestions that energy companies should absorb higher costs to protect households from higher energy costs. On 19 October 2021, Deputy Bruton asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, when a price for selling back solar energy to the grid will be put in place. That was eight months after Energia's consultations with planning officials had begun, but Deputy Bruton did not declare any interest in the potential solar farm development taking place on his land. It is not in the register of Members' interests and he did not declare it orally at any stage. Does the Taoiseach agree there is an issue with the declaration of interest and that Deputy Bruton should make such a declaration of interest, if the story is accurate, so that people understand this?

First, on Deputy Mac Lochlainn's point, I had a very worthwhile visit to Derry recently and met with the North West Regional Development Group. I think it is a very progressive group that leaves politics outside the door and its members do a lot of good work in terms of the economic and social development of the north west. We had a very good meeting in respect of commitments North and South and, in particular, how the shared island unit can be of assistance in the development of the region. We announced at that meeting a €5 million allocation to local authorities North and South to prepare feasibility studies and bring proof of concept to many projects that potentially could become a pipeline of projects.

The specific issue of City of Derry Airport was raised by the group. I will engage further with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on the matter. We would be interested in working on it with the aviation authorities and airlines to get a service going. It would be a good idea to get a service going between Derry and Dublin because there is the issue of connectivity generally around the north west. The Minister has commissioned, and the shared island unit is funding, an all-island railway feasibility study. We are prepared to fund the A5 but it seems bogged down in planning issues. I take Deputy Mac Lochlainn's point about the connectivity issue, that if you can get a flight to Dublin, you can get flights across Europe and the world more generally. I would be anxious to work with all concerned to see if we can advance that. I am very struck by the cohesion within the north-west region. The group was chaired by the DUP, and all political parties were represented. The group has been working for quite a long time on economic and social issues, health, education and so forth. I had a very good visit to Altnagelvin Hospital. Previous governments have put €19 million into the cancer treatment centre in Altnagelvin. I saw the cardiac cath labs there, which are available to people in the north west, Donegal in particular. It just makes a lot of sense to try to support such groups, and the shared island unit stands ready to do that.

In respect of the issue Deputy Cian O'Callaghan raised about An Bord Pleanála, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage will examine that. There may be issues there that need to be examined further or clarified. I think it would be in everybody's interest if the situation were clarified. I will ask the Minister again about the issue Deputy O'Callaghan has raised.

In response to Deputy Barry, there was a meeting between the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, the principals of the schools and Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan a number of weeks ago. There has also been a meeting between the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, and the principals of Cork schools, I understand, in recent days on this issue. I have long been of the view, even before I became Taoiseach, that progressing disability services should not dilute resources in special schools in respect of therapists. My understanding is that following a recent meeting between the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, the principals, or a representative of the principals, and the disability managers, work will now progress between the principals and the disability manager in respect of posts that were lost as a result of the application of the progressing disability services model as to what number of posts there were prior to the application of that model. My view is that they should be restored. I also intend to convene meetings with the HSE more generally and the Minister of State in respect of disability policy and the retention of therapists within special schools.

Progressing disability services was promoted a long time ago, many years ago, probably due to absences of resources. It has taken a long time to progress, but the model the HSE has put forward is the idea that there is a central assessment and treatment centre and that one provides as broad a range of services to the broadest range of people possible. One of the challenges with that is that, historically, special schools had multidisciplinary teams. They had therapists, teachers and so on. I have always been consistently of the view that progressing disability services should not dilute what the special schools had. There is a pilot project in primary schools, which was brought in over two or three years ago, for which I advocated strongly, whereby schools hire therapists within primary schools with a view to having that multidisciplinary team in situ. That is a model we should explore further. We need to stand back and reflect on these initiatives and these policies because the parents concerned are understandably angry about the loss of access to therapists, as are the schools. Equally, however, in respect of the provision of disability services more generally, we need to examine other issues with the delivery of services through the section 38 and section 39 bodies. There needs to be a broader examination of that.

My understanding is that the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, has now initiated a process with the schools in Cork and the disability manager in the HSE with a view to trying to rectify the situation in the best interests of the schools and the principals. I will ask the Minister of State about the matter again. I will come back to the House on that, and I know that the Minister of State is anxious to progress it. I am not clear that the number of therapists is 60, but we will work on the numbers. The idea will be to try to restore things back to the situation pre-application of the model.

Deputy Paul Murphy raised issues regarding Deputy Bruton. I am not familiar with the full details Deputy Murphy has articulated, and I believe these are matters for the House more generally to consider in respect of Members registering their interests. I have always found Deputy Bruton to be a public representative of the highest integrity. Again, I am not familiar with the specifics of what Deputy Murphy has asserted in the House this morning. I believe there are mechanisms within the Oireachtas itself to deal with issues of that kind.

I welcome our visitors. They have come in just at the end of Taoiseach's questions. Gabhaim buíochas leo. Tá fáilte rompu.

Is féidir teacht ar Cheisteanna Scríofa ar
Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.
Cuireadh an Dáil ar fionraí ar 2.07 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 3.07 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 2.07 p.m. and resumed at 3.07 p.m.