1. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach when the next meeting of the Cabinet committee on infrastructure, environment and climate action will take place. [23019/17]
Vol. 951 No. 3
1. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach when the next meeting of the Cabinet committee on infrastructure, environment and climate action will take place. [23019/17]
2. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on infrastructure, environment and climate action last met; and when it will meet again. [23088/17]
3. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on infrastructure, environment and climate action last met; and when it will meet again. [23089/17]
4. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on infrastructure, environment and climate action last met; and when it will meet again. [24333/17]
5. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the number of times the Cabinet committee on infrastructure, environment and climate action has met since June 2016. [24366/17]
6. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his Department's role in Ireland's infrastructure planning; and if there is an official involved in this from his Department. [24676/17]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, together.
The Cabinet committee on infrastructure, environment and climate action has met on five occasions since it was reconstituted in June 2016. The last meeting of the Cabinet committee took place on 15 May 2017. The next meeting of the Cabinet committee will be scheduled shortly.
My Department provides the secretariat to the Cabinet committee on infrastructure, environment and climate action and chairs the associated senior officials' group. The Cabinet committee oversees the development and delivery of key infrastructure and associated policy, including oversight of relevant commitments in A Programme for a Partnership Government. In addition, the committee addresses the climate change challenge in terms of domestic policy and in relation to Ireland's EU and international obligations.
I appreciate that the Taoiseach is currently in a handover position in respect of his Government. Nonetheless he has always been extremely diligent regarding all the Cabinet committees he has chaired. The review of the capital programme is under way. There is an unallocated €2.65 billion extra to be committed. That has been the understanding up to now. As I said earlier, the European Commission in the country-specific recommendations took an ultra conservative line regarding Ireland and basically dismissed our hopes of an expanded capital programme by reducing the fiscal space by €7 billion over the next three years, which is a significant amount. In addition last week the Dáil passed the motion on AIB saying that any proceeds raised should go to capital investment.
It appears that the Department of Finance has co-operated with the European Commission in making essentially a political choice that the fiscal space, particularly regarding the capital programme, over the next three years should be reduced. This is a major economic decision which will influence-----
I thank the Deputy. We have limited time.
-----the investment in infrastructure, public transport particularly-----
We need to get an answer now, Deputy.
-----in housing and in all the other areas like education and health that require capital finance.
As a number of people are offering on this, we need to stick to the time limits.
As the Deputy rightly points out, under the mid-term review, the Government will confirm the allocation of the additional €5.14 billion committed for capital investment. Following commitments made in the budget for 2017 and the increase in funding for housing, there is approximately €2.65 billion in uncommitted additional capital through to 2021. Submissions from the Departments are being received by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Public consultation was undertaken in April to inform the view of the capital plan. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will assess the submissions received from Departments and make recommendations to Government in the third quarter of 2017 to inform the Government's final decision on revised capital allocations to be announced in the context of the budget for 2018, which will obviously take place in October.
The review of the plan will take place in two stages. Phase 1 will be a focused review of priorities, aimed primarily at advising Government in the context of budget 2018 on how the additional capital funding committed by Government should be allocated over the remainder of the plan.
Phase 2 will assess and report on the framework required to underpin longer-term analysis of Ireland's infrastructural planning needs. In my address to the Institute of International and European Affairs, Ireland at the Heart of a Changing European Union, I reaffirmed that the national planning framework for spatial planning due to be finalised later this year will be complemented with a longer-term ten-year capital plan.
Does the Taoiseach accept that the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill, which commenced Report Stage in the Dáil last week, has failed to legislate for a key recommendation of the Mahon report into planning corruption?
Could Deputy Nolan repeat the question please?
Does the Taoiseach accept that the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016, which commenced Report Stage in the Dáil last week, has failed to legislate for a key recommendation of the Mahon tribunal report into planning corruption?
Which element of the Mahon tribunal is Deputy Nolan talking about?
There are several issues. There is another issue in terms of the shortfall of almost €400 million in the available funding in the next four years and what the Minister, Deputy Coveney, said was needed.
In respect of the capital expenditure programme, the six-year capital plan published in 2015 set out an Exchequer capital spend of €27 billion. Including the wider semi-State sector and public private partnerships, the total State-backed capital investment is €42 billion. That will support more than 45,000 construction-related jobs. A Programme for a Partnership Government committed to additional capital investment to be allocated in areas such as transport, housing, broadband, health, education, flood defences etc. on the basis of the outcome of the mid-term review of the capital plan. In the summer economic statement of 2016, the Government committed to an additional €5.14 billion in Exchequer capital funding over the period 2017 to 2021. Clearly, the programme for capital investment is very extensive at €42 billion, including all of the different elements of the sector.
There is also an issue-----
No, I am sorry. I call Deputy Boyd Barrett.
I wish to ask about the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF. Cherrywood in my constituency will be a virtual new town of 8,000 residences. A total of €15 million will be given to Hines, the private developers that got most of the site at a very substantial discount from NAMA and which stands to make a hell of a lot of money. Average house prices in Dún Laoghaire are about half a million euro if not €600,000. The developers will make an awful lot of money. They got a discount from NAMA to get the land; they are getting a discount on the development levies and they are getting €15 million from the infrastructure fund for the public to effectively build the infrastructure to make the site ready for development. Out of that we are only getting 10% back in social housing. Will the Government please ask for more than 10%, given the huge State subsidy that is effectively being given to the private property developers who have the site? If we got a reasonable percentage of that land - well above 10%, which was originally NAMA land and should never have been sold - we could solve the housing crisis in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. Will the Government put conditions on that money to demand that we get considerably more than 10% back in social housing in Cherrywood and other similar developments?
I note Deputy Boyd Barrett did not set out the percentage sought. One does not want every development to be-----
I would like 100%.
The Deputy cannot have that. Is Deputy Boyd Barrett saying we should put all 8,000 social housing residences on one site?
We can have social and affordable.
He does not believe that.
We will get 90% of private housing.
Social and affordable housing is different to social housing.
A 50:50 ratio would do.
Is Deputy Boyd Barrett suggesting that 8,000 social houses should be put together on one site in Dún Laoghaire or anywhere else?
It could be 50:50 social and affordable.
Deputy Boyd Barrett knows that is not the way it should be, and that one needs a mix of housing types spanning social, affordable, private and so on. There are more development sites for social housing in Dún Laoghaire than the Cherrywood site.
The Cherrywood development could solve the housing crisis in the area.
Deputy Boyd Barrett should please allow the Taoiseach to reply without interruption.
I think the essence of the Deputy's question is whether we can change the balance of the extent of social housing on the site.
I assume the Cherrywood development has already been designed and agreed to achieve a mix of 8,000 residences of various types in an area where there is a massive demand and there has been a lack of supply of housing for some time.
The people who are demanding housing cannot afford half a million euro.
The mix of social housing was not decided by the Government. Deputy Boyd Barrett wants more social housing but others might want less and some might want 100%.
Nobody wants less.
I will bring Deputy Boyd Barrett's query to the attention of the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government.
It is fair to say that the work of Government seems to be even more sidelined now that the election campaign is under way for the new Fine Gael leader.
Not at all.
The current contest is very interesting and revealing, perhaps more so than the party might have wished. It is interesting that the Minister for Social Protection was using his regular weekend media briefing to promote his views on what he modestly called a dramatic infrastructure plan. Many outside observers saw the reports and wondered whether he was simply announcing the much heralded infrastructure plan, which is apparently ready to go and has been discussed by the Cabinet committee on infrastructure. Can the Taoiseach confirm that the committee has been looking at the revised capital plan and infrastructure plan? The Taoiseach informed the House earlier this year of the membership of the Cabinet committee on infrastructure and it is surprising that the Minister for Social Protection is not on the list. I do not think he is a member of it. This suggests that one of his colleagues, or choirboys as Deputy Kate O'Connell would label them, has been helping him and has supplied him with the specifics in order that he could put them into his election plans. The Minister has said he is a visionary thinker so that must clearly be a misunderstanding of mine. I do not think the Minister would go so far as to claim credit for the work of the infrastructure committee, work for which he has no responsibility. Could the Taoiseach indicate to me whether he has put in place measures to protect the work of Government from the internal party campaign?
Does the Taoiseach accept the Government's limit on public private partnerships is too low in terms of the contribution they could make to both housing and infrastructure in general?
I think Deputy Martin has some experience of that himself. It is always difficult to get PPPs that work effectively and that can be streamlined to a point where they deliver well. The bundles of secondary schools, of which the Deputy had some experience himself in his time as Minister, have evolved to a very presentable, effective way of delivering high-class building in a short time. As far as I am aware, they have all been under budget and on time. Some of the schools I have been in are enormous and provide every conceivable facility for people to do their job.
The role of the committee is to drive the development and the delivery of key infrastructure and associated policy, including the role of NewERA in support of sustainable economic development, job creation and better quality of life. It plays a role in overseeing Ireland's transition to a low-carbon economy, including co-ordination of international negotiations, obligations on energy and climate change and provides oversight of relevant commitments in A Programme for a Partnership Government. As I indicated previously, there is a €42 billion programme involving 45,000 construction jobs. I was talking to some of the developers and operators recently and I was informed that construction on the Gort to Tuam motorway scheme and the New Ross bypass are under way. I think the Gort to Tuam motorway is ahead of time and will make a major impact.
When can we expect to see the new plan?
I refer to the revised infrastructure plan on which we all made submissions.
It has not come before Cabinet yet but I think it will shortly.
Is that a different plan to the one we heard announced?
Is that the capital review plan?
The €42 billion plan is the one that is under review at the moment, in respect of the €5 billion to be allocated, but the expanded version of that dealing with PPPs and other sectors brings it to €42 billion between now and the mid-2020s.
In my mind there was not much of a plan; it is a bit rich that the man who killed the metro would claim he is going to be the great one who will bring it back.
I wish to ask the Taoiseach a separate question regarding the national climate dialogue on climate change. Last night's debate on RTE's "Claire Byrne Live" showed the environmental community's deep frustration that we have not had a proper dialogue on climate. We seem to be stuck in a completely outdated "is it real or is it not" debate within our national media rather than the really important debate that is needed on the solutions to the problem. We do not need me and Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice at loggerheads with each other; we need to work together to get solutions. I understand that the committee for the national climate dialogue has been selected and notified but will the Taoiseach indicate when it will first meet? Would the Taoiseach see a way to bring in media such as RTE and some of the newspapers in order that they can partake in such a system? How will it connect with the Citizens' Assembly? We must make submissions for September on how the Citizens' Assembly might consider this issue. In this process, could we ratchet up a gear our national understanding of what we need to do and what the solutions might be? Perhaps the Taoiseach will give us some more detail on when the committee will be announced and when the chairman will be selected.
Deputy Ryan will be aware of the public consultation that took place on the draft national mitigation plan, and which closed on 26 April with 124 submissions received. A number of important issues were raised regarding the adequacy of the current policy responses and the clarity of national sector plans in meeting Ireland's national and European targets. The Departments are working with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment to review the submissions with a view to strengthening the draft plan ahead of its presentation to Government next month. The Minister, Deputy Naughten, is establishing the advisory group - and Deputies are aware of this - to guide the activities of the national dialogue during its initial two-year phase. That membership will be drawn from public, private and NGO bodies. The first meeting of the advisory group is to take place in June this year. The group will be supported by a secretariat within the Environmental Protection Agency, which will also manage the administration of the dialogue. Regional gatherings will take place, to begin in the autumn of 2017, and it is also proposed that the dialogue will include the national climate change action and awareness programme in schools and communities. This includes the Green-Schools scheme, expert lectures, and climate expos and events around the climate implications of spatial choices. The advisory group meets in June and there will be an opportunity to set out a comprehensive and worthwhile strategy and to take into account the points made by Deputy Ryan.
7. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach the number of times the Cabinet committee on Brexit has met since June 2016. [23018/17]
8. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Brexit last met; and his plans to publish a paper on economic and trade issues related to Brexit. [23087/17]
9. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the number of times the Cabinet committee on Brexit has met since January 2017. [23090/17]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 to 9, inclusive, together.
The Cabinet committee on Brexit met three times in 2017, namely, on 26 January, 8 March and 26 April. It has met a total of eight times since its first meeting in September 2016. In addition, Michel Barnier, the EU negotiator, attended a meeting with a number of members of the committee on 11 May.
On 2 May, the Government published a comprehensive document on Ireland and the negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. This document sets out the approach of the Government to the forthcoming negotiations, following the successful campaign to have key Irish issues recognised in the EU negotiating position.
Following on from this publication, work is under way to prepare a further paper on economic implications of the Brexit challenge. This will draw on the work to date across Departments, which will be developed to mitigate emerging sectoral challenges. The paper will build on ongoing cross-Government research, analysis and consultations and will reflect the core economic themes of the speech I gave to the Institute of International and European Affairs on 15 February. It will include issues such as sustainable fiscal policies to ensure capacity to absorb and respond to economic shocks, not simply from Brexit. There will be plans for policies to make Irish enterprise more diverse and resilient, to diversify trade and investment patterns and to strengthen competitiveness. It will prioritise policy measures and dedicate resources to protect jobs and businesses in the sectors and regions most affected by Brexit. It will realise economic opportunities arising from Brexit and will help businesses adjust to any new logistical or trade barriers arising. The paper will make a strong case at EU level that Ireland will require support that recognises where Brexit represents a serious disturbance to the Irish economy.
I first acknowledge that the Taoiseach deserves to be congratulated for actually getting the EU - in its various position papers and outlines - to acknowledge the critical issue of Ireland. When will the Taoiseach publish the Brexit paper on economics and trade? In this Chamber we have talked a lot about Northern Ireland in the context of Brexit, and for very understandable reasons. An issue that does not get much attention, however, is the hundreds of thousands of jobs in the Republic of Ireland that may be adversely affected by a hard Brexit. The Taoiseach's friends, the Conservative Party in England, at this very moment is campaigning in the English broadsheets and tabloids and in other media such as radio and social media for a hard Brexit, for leaving the Single Market and for leaving the customs union. It will cause devastation in many sectors of Ireland's economy over the next three to ten years. The Taoiseach said some nice things about what he might do. The Labour Party has proposed a trade adjustment fund of €250 million. Does the Taoiseach have concrete proposals for addressing the economic and trade issues on Brexit?
There is also the slow seepage out of information that there will be ghost custom posts, maybe 20 km north and south of the Border, with all the implications we understand for Donegal, Derry and the north west of the North of Ireland. It is extraordinary that the Government is so silent on this matter given that Teagasc has recently stated the duties on beef, for example in a WTO situation, will run as high as more than 60%.
The EU's 27 Ministers agreed on Monday the negotiating directives for the Brexit negotiations, which are now expected to begin in the week of 19 June. The directives agreed that the priorities in the first phase of negotiations would be the status of the EU’s citizens in the UK and the 1.2 million Britons on the continent, the so-called Brexit bill for the UK and the issue of a hard Border on this island.
We already know from David Davis's comments last week that Britain does not accept the priorities as set out by the EU. Of particular concern is the section which, again, references the desire "to avoid a hard border" on this island, "while respecting EU law." Despite assurances by the Taoiseach in this Chamber that there would be no customs posts, this is the economic reality we now face as EU law will require it. It was confirmed last week by representatives of Revenue at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. Revenue told the committee that more than 2 million HGV journeys take place between the North and South each year and that at least 8% of these journeys will need to be checked, including some by physical inspection. This means that at least 160,000 HGV vehicles will be subject to customs checks. The Revenue representative also stated there would be roaming border patrols to police and monitor those checks. That is a hard border. The impact on the two economies on this island will be enormous. Currently, island-wide trade generates more than €3 billion annually. Thousands of jobs depend on this trade. This is one reason why Sinn Féin argued for the North to be designated a special status within the EU. At the same meeting of the joint committee, Seanadóir Rose Conway-Walsh asked John Callinan from the Department of the Taoiseach if the Government has ever raised the issue of designated special status with the EU. The answer was "No".
Yesterday, the General Affairs Council agreed the more detailed negotiating directives, which follow on from the guidelines agreed at last month's summit. I do not believe there was anything surprising in these guidelines and it contains the reassurance concerning the European Union's citizenship right of Irish citizens in Northern Ireland, which we have advocated for here and in Brussels since early in the process last year.
What is of concern is the continued recurrence of the idea that any action will be constrained by regard to existing EU legal order and legislation. It is important that the Taoiseach clarifies his understanding of what is meant by the comment that anything that emerges from these negotiations will have to be within existing EU legal order and legislation. I know that Commissioner Barnier's position on this is different, but we are lacking some clarity in the matter.
I would also ask the Taoiseach to clarify whether there will be any flexibility around investment in much-needed infrastructure. While the Taoiseach discussed that issue in terms of the preceding question, there is a case to be made that we need to be Brexit ready in terms of a range of infrastructure that could be modernised and upgraded to enhance the productive capacity of the economy. The Taoiseach might indicate whether there will be any flexibility available or what he thinks will be possible in this regard. He might also outline whether he has commissioned any legal or economic studies of the status of a Border special economic zone or on state aids for disrupted industries and regions?
Deputies Burton, Nolan and Martin have raised a number of issues. The priorities, as outlined by Mr. Barnier during his visit to Ireland, follow what we had set out ourselves. I am glad that people recognised that. I thank all concerned for acknowledging that these issues formed part of the European Parliament's documents and the European Council decision. As pointed out by Deputy Martin, these have been approved by the General Affairs Council and will form the basis for the negotiations. The first three issues are the principles and modalities for whatever the liabilities are in respect of the UK, the Border issue, and the question of citizens' rights and reciprocal rights. No one underestimates the scale of what might happen. The impact of Brexit on the Irish economy will be significant, particularly if it is not handled in a proper, orderly and responsible way. We share the view, as does everybody else, regarding the need to maintain the closest possible trading relationship between the UK and the EU, but it will be difficult to retain it the same as it is now because if the UK sheds the Single Market, the status in respect of trade will be changed.
Let us be clear about it, Ireland's economic interests lie in a strong and well-functioning European Union with continued and unfettered access to the Single Market. It is where our people have continually said they want to be, as voted for in a referendum in the past. This issue is of immense importance to all our small and medium enterprises and companies that export. There will be a great deal of trading on this issue. Nobody is clear on where the road ahead will lead. If there was to be an end to the divorce proceedings in two years and no deal, what would be the outcome of that? The British Government might say that no deal is better than a bad deal, but no deal would be catastrophic in many respects for Ireland. I hope that the conclusions to the negotiations in respect of the first three priorities will bear fruit in order that we can get on to these details.
We are developing an economic paper, to which Deputy Martin referred. A number of issues have already been brought to light. We are working to improve the business environment and are examining new trade and investment strategies, with an intensified programme of trade missions. Enterprise Ireland is working with firms to help support product and service innovation; additional staff have been recruited; a €150 million loan was provided in budget 2017 for low-cost loans to farmers; and the national planning framework 2040 will be delivered this year, complemented by a ten-year national capital plan. I agree that we need to be Brexit ready. This means we must build the roadway to the north west to Derry. While there are some legal complications in that regard, we need to get on with our end of it.
The funding for it was cut.
It will be important that we make a case to Europe for assistance in that regard. The reason, in part, the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform are in Brussels today is to discuss a range of possibilities under the European Investment Fund. If we can get the Northern Ireland Executive functioning, the North-South Ministerial Council and cross-Border agencies and organisations can begin to work in that regard. All the scenarios are being examined.
On the issue raised by Deputy Nolan, we have said that we do not want a return to the type of Border that existed in the past. Taking the scenario that there will be no tariffs on any goods travelling between the Republic and Northern Ireland or between the Republic and Great Britain or vice versa, as is currently the case, there will still be two different jurisdictions, one of which, the Republic of Ireland, will still be part of the European Union while the Six Counties will be part of the United Kingdom. Clearly, there are differences of opinion as to what Scotland and Wales want in that they want to be part of the Single Market. I have always taken the view that the reason Europe now recognises Ireland's priorities is because it also understands the particular, special and unique circumstances that apply in Ireland, which is the reason for the peace process, the internal Border and why we cannot return to a hard Border which brought with it sectarian violence and so on. What we do in the scenario where there are no tariffs but two jurisdictions is one of the issues that, along with many other possibilities never thought of before, are being considered. The position will not become clear until such time as we reach the point where there has been substantial progress on the first three issues, namely, the principles and modalities in terms of whatever liabilities might apply, the Border situation, and rights and reciprocal rights.
In terms of what we, as a people, have acquired and what the British, as a people, have acquired since 1922 in the common travel area, we are confident we can retain all of that in a bilateral sense between ourselves and Great Britain. As Deputy Martin has often pointed out, when people voted for the Good Friday Agreement, they voted on the expectation of continuing to have European citizenship. All the people in Northern Ireland entitled to Irish citizenship are also entitled to European citizenship. A great deal of activity will take place on these issues.
When I discussed this with European leaders, it was agreed that whatever we would do would be in compliance with European legislation and the European legal system because that is where we are staying. While there may be differences in comment from some members of the British Government, we have called for a recognition of our priorities and the particular and unique circumstances that apply in Ireland, but the outcome will have to be in compliance with European legislation and we will see that that happens.
10. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the National Economic and Social Council and the work programme under way. [23086/17]
11. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach when the intended reforms of the National Economic and Social Council will become effective. [23091/17]
12. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the National Economic and Social Council and the work programme under way. [24016/17]
13. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach when the next meeting of the National Economic and Social Council will take place. [24358/17]
14. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Taoiseach the status of his commitment in his Department's statement of strategy regarding a better society and the work being done with the National Economic and Social Council with regard to having an input into the development of economic and social policy. [24361/17]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 to 14, inclusive, together.
I have appointed a new National Economic and Social Council, NESC. The new council will meet on 24 May and I expect that it will discuss its work programme and working methods at that meeting. It is a matter for the council to agree its own working arrangements.
The council's remit is to analyse and report on strategic issues for Ireland’s economic, social, environmental and sustainable development. I am keen that the council considers longer-term issues such as housing, broadband, climate change, pensions and long-term funding models in education and health. The NESC, with its track record of engagement and consistent and high quality work on contentious issues, has an important role to play. As the Deputies will be aware, the NESC secretariat continues its work on issues relevant to the programme for Government, including jobless households, social dimensions of the crisis, consumer prices, labour market activation and the funding of higher education.
The new council has a reduced membership of three members each from the nominating sectors, seven independents and six public servants. This is in line with the views of the outgoing members around the need for smaller, more focused plenary sessions and a strong representation from the Government side. I will circulate membership of the council for the benefit of Members which includes people from the business and employer sector, the ICTU, the farming and agriculture sector, the community and voluntary sector, the environmental sector, public servants and independent experts.
The first supplementary question will be from Deputy Burton, on behalf of Deputy Howlin.
Now that the members of the new council have finally been appointed, has it been given instructions on what the priorities are for examinations and studies? The council might be an appropriate body to do some work on Brexit, particularly on the political, social and economic sensitivities arising from the prospect of parallel or shadow customs and border facilities and the race by the Taoiseach's counterparts in the UK, the Conservative Party, for a hard Brexit. It is odd that there is no indication from the Taoiseach of what the group is likely to prioritise. There are other issues, such as employment, and the council has done work in the past on jobless households. There are issues around health and with regard to both ageing and young populations.
There may be implications for the economy from changes in America's approach to trade relationships, including with Ireland, and from tax issues between Ireland and the European Commission such as the fallout from the Apple case. These are vital issues but Brexit is the overriding one and I am surprised that, given all the public service brains which will gather in one room tomorrow, the Taoiseach will not commission them to have a serious look at Brexit, particularly in respect of the Border.
If we stick rigidly to the time, the Taoiseach may have time to reply. There are seven minutes left.
The role of the National Economic and Social Council is to analyse and report to the Taoiseach on strategic issues in respect of the State's economic, social, environmental and sustainable development. It is an important body bringing together representatives from across society, including business and employers' organisations, trade unions, farming bodies and the community and voluntary sector. The Taoiseach last appointed the council in 2011 and its five-year term has now expired. The Taoiseach indicated some months ago that his Department was assessing the arrangements around the appointment of a new council, its structure and its future role and work programme. Can the Taoiseach update the Dáil on the current work of his Department in this regard?
The issue of Brexit and its numerous implications for our economy and communities are issues on which the NESC should report regularly. Given our ageing population and the economic and social implications of the crisis in health provision, housing and infrastructure, there is a lot for the NESC to be focusing on. The Government seems to be taking an unusually long time to decide whom it should appoint and what it should do with the NESC. In this respect the Government also appears to be having similar problems in respect of nine semi-State bodies which, according to recent reports, have chief executives who have remained in their posts beyond their seven-year term limit. The 2016 code of practice for the governance of State bodies states that it is the normal policy to limit semi-State chief executives to single-term contracts of between five and seven years. Is the failure to stick with this code of practice evidence of the paralysis that has gripped Government since last year's election?
I am glad the council has been reconvened and will meet tomorrow and I am also glad that it is smaller. I propose that it address the way we make a just transition to a low-carbon economy. Deputy Micheál Martin raised the issue of peat workers in Littleton who are losing their jobs and there is an opportunity here to use our partnership model to bring people together in order to manage the change to a low-carbon economy with a just transition.
It is appropriate to have a slimmer National Economic and Social Council but it should also be flexible. We should bring in international economic and social advice, as well as input from local communities and experts in specific areas, to any commission to achieve a just transition. It should not be the old structure with the same reliable operators, good as they are in representing particular interests. It should be a more flexible council which allows people to come in and go out and invites people from right down at the granular level of local communities to take part, with different people coming in for different issues.
The National Economic and Social Council should look at the economic and social justice aspects of low-carbon transition because it is clear that under the current system the Departments of Public Expenditure and Reform, Finance, and Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation do not have the faintest idea what to do, nor the economic analysis nor the capability to assess the transition we need to make. The National Economic and Social Council could be a good home for this analysis. It needs to be quick and there would need to be an immediate response, for example, to the workers in Tipperary so that they are not left adrift. A more flexible and innovative council could address these strategic but specific cases and I hope the Taoiseach puts this forward as an idea for the work of the council tomorrow.
Six years ago the Government effectively abandoned the idea of taking policy consultations seriously. In retrospect, the evidence suggests that the mounting failures of Government to plan for a major crisis could have been avoided if there had been genuine political engagement, with policy debate and analysis. In the past, the NESC played a crucial role in providing a foundation for policy development by holding high level discussions, finding agreed baseline facts and identifying potential solutions. A defining problem of the past three years in particular has been the absence of a serious policy basis underpinning Government strategy. As a result, we have seen disjointed announcements defined more by repackaging current activity than actually doing something about a problem. The recent announcements on housing exemplify this, with the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, announcing a help-to-buy scheme while the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, says he will get rid of it, all in the space of nine months. A disjointed incoherence has been evident in such announcements.
The mounting crisis in housing was at first ignored by Government and a growing series of housing strategies has delivered more ministerial announcements than houses. A recurring theme has been the Taoiseach telling us how seriously he takes the NESC but then ignoring it at crucial stages of policy review and development. We get the sense that there is a lot of ad hockery. If there had been a proper policy basis underlying the strategy and continuous engagement with that, especially from Government, the crises could have been averted. It is clear that the Government took its eye off the ball on housing in 2011, 2012 and 2013. It states that it never saw the level of homelessness getting to the level to which it got but Focus Ireland and the Simon Community had alerted people in 2012 and 2013 to the fact that it was going to get worse. There did not appear to be a policy basis in the Government's response and we are still in serious trouble with housing and homelessness. The Government is not catching up with it and the situation is becoming worse, as we all know from having met and engaged with people on the ground.
The Taoiseach has no time left, but we will give him a few minutes.
I had better make a comment but I will keep it short. Deputy Burton mentioned shadow borders. I understand the Commissioner, at the meeting last week, was talking about hypothetical situations. There was agreement at the meeting that the political outcomes would be impossible to quantify until the negotiations got started.
The political imperative is that there should be no return to what was there. In that context, and as I discussed with Deputy Nolan on the earlier group of questions, we need to examine issues such as dealing with two different jurisdictions even if there are no tariffs. As already stated, the Commissioner was referring to hypothetical situations.
I agree with Deputy Eamon Ryan that the NESC should be more flexible and adaptable. The approach should suggest that. That is the message we will give to the group, although it is within its remit to determine its own working arrangements. In view of the current situation, I agree that it should be more flexible and adaptable.
Deputy Nolan's question is somewhat premature, particularly in view of the fact that the meeting will take place tomorrow. All of the groups are represented with the exception of farming and agriculture. Nominees to represent the latter are yet to be confirmed. It is up to those groups to make the nominations. As the Deputy will appreciate, there are some very good people involved in this process. They are going to consider the question of housing, broadband, climate change, long-term funding models in education and health, pensions and any other issues that need to be dealt with. The council will look at the issues of jobless households, the social dimensions of the crisis, consumer prices, labour market activation and the funding of higher education.
Deputy Micheál Martin made some interesting observations. Nobody foresaw Brexit six years ago. It was not even on the horizon. Until 11 o'clock on the night before the referendum, those in favour of a leave vote believed it was never going to happen. That it did was an indictment of the failure to have proper political involvement in the context of explaining to people what Brexit was about. There were so many different-----
My question was not in respect of Brexit.
I am aware of that. The Deputy said that nobody foresaw the economic crisis. One could not have foreseen Brexit. When Fine Gael was in opposition during the years 2002 to 2007, Deputy Bruton repeatedly spoke about the housing bubble and stated that it was going to burst. What was he told? That things would get boomier and boomier.
He proposed that we reduce taxes in that regard.
A person sat in this chair and said that we did not need any more tax receipts from housing. Deputy Michéal Martin knows that the whole thing stagnated for nine months as a result of that. We now have to deal with the repercussions.
Deputy Richard Bruton proposed a cut in stamp duty which would have fuelled the boom.
I understand that. There is a massive effort to provide supply of houses. I hope that, at its meeting tomorrow, the NESC shows an adaptive approach and deals with these issues.