I call the Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, to confirm his appointment as Taoiseach by the President and to move the motion.
Appointment of Taoiseach and Nomination of Members of Government
B'áil liom cead a chur in iúl, mar eolas don Dáil, gur chuir mé m'ainmniú mar Thaoiseach in iúl don Uachtarán agus gur cheap sé mé dá réir.
I beg leave to announce, for the information of the Dáil, that I have informed the President that the Dáil has nominated me to be the Taoiseach and that he has appointed me accordingly.
Go gcomhaontóidh Dáil Éireann leis an Taoiseach d'ainmniú na dTeachtaí seo a leanas chun a gceaptha ag an Uachtarán mar chomhaltaí den Rialtas:
That Dáil Éireann approve the nomination by the Taoiseach of the following Deputies for appointment by the President to be members of the Government:
Proinséas Mhic Gearailt Frances Fitzgerald
I also propose to nominate her as Tánaiste
Pascal Ó Donnchú Paschal Donohoe
Risteárd de Briotún Richard Bruton
Síomón Ó Cómhanaigh Simon Coveney
Cathal Ó Flannagáin Charles Flanagan
Heather Mhic Unfraidh Heather Humphreys
Síomón Ó hEarchaí Simon Harris
Micheál Ó Críod Michael Creed
Donnacha Ó Neachtain Denis Naughten
Seán de Rossa Shane Ross
Caitríona Zappone Katherine Zappone
Micheál Ó Rinn Michael Ring
Ríona Uí Dhochartaigh Regina Doherty
Eoghan Ó Murchú Eoghan Murphy
I intend to assign Departments of State as follows:
Department of Enterprise and Innovation to: Frances Fitzgerald
Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to: Paschal Donohoe
Department of Education and Skills to: Richard Bruton
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, with special responsibility for Brexit, to: Simon Coveney
Department of Justice and Equality to: Charles Flanagan
Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to: Heather Humphreys
Department of Health to: Simon Harris
Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to: Michael Creed
Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment to: Denis Naughten
Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to: Shane Ross
Department of Children and Youth Affairs to: Katherine Zappone [who cannot be with us today and our thoughts are prayers are with her at this time]
A new Department of Community and Rural Affairs to: Michael Ring
Department of Employment and Social Protection to: Regina Doherty
Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to: Eoghan Murphy
I propose to nominate Seamus Woulfe SC for appointment by the President to be the Attorney General.
I also propose to nominate the following as Ministers of State who will attend Cabinet:
Deputy Joe McHugh as Government Chief Whip and Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht with responsibility for Gaeilge, Gaeltacht and the Islands
Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor as Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills with responsibility for higher education
Deputy Paul Kehoe as Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Defence with special responsibility for defence
Deputy Finian McGrath as Minister of State at the Department of Social Protection, the Department of Justice and Equality, and the Department of Health with special responsibility for disability issues.
I have tasked my new Government to build an Ireland, a republic of opportunity as I have spoken about, as one in which every person has an opportunity to succeed and in which all parts of the country have an equal chance to share in our prosperity. I have also tasked it with ensuring Ireland remains at the heart of Europe and becomes an island at the centre of the world. To help create this republic of opportunity, we need to be a Government of purpose, a Government that gets things done.
We are fortunate to be in government with some hugely talented Independent Deputies. These are men and women who have brought with them their own vision for the country, their own determination to do what is right, and their own ideas about what is needed to help all our citizens, and we are stronger because of them. They showed courage in entering government a year ago and they are making a real difference on issues, from medical cards for people in receipt of domiciliary care allowance to child care, judicial reform and broadband. I look forward to a long and enduring partnership with them.
I want this to be a genuine partnership Government that mobilises the talents of all those involved, those in Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance Ministers and Deputies, as well as independent Ministers and Deputies. It will be a partnership built on mutual trust and respect, underpinned by a shared desire to help all our citizens, whatever the challenges or problems that are thrown at us. We will work together in the public interest for the common good.
Today marks the end of one chapter in Irish history and the beginning of another. To those countries around the world that are looking at Ireland tonight, I have a simple message. This country will be at the heart of Europe, the common European home we helped to build, playing our part in the great debates and meeting the great challenges of our time. We will strengthen the bonds with those countries with which we share historical and cultural links, such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America. We also reaffirm our connection with all the countries where we have developed strong links in recent years. This Government is committed to multilateralism and we will face the great international causes of our time, with climate change and international development being two of the most pressing. We will continue to play a role in the United Nations, building on our great history of international co-operation and responsibility. We will work to protect our citizens and we will work to pay our part in combating the growing threat of radical terrorism. I have a special message of support for our diaspora around the world, wherever they are to be found. We pledge that we will provide a voice for your interests and strengthen links to this country.
I shall now set out some of our priorities. I have asked the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to take on the role of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade with special responsibility for co-ordinating the whole-of-Government response to Brexit. We face enormous challenges in foreign policy as relationships on this island, between these islands and across Europe change. I have given Deputy Coveney the task to work towards re-establishing devolved government in Northern Ireland, to secure the best possible deal for Ireland on Brexit, to win seats for Ireland on the UN Security Council and to expand our diplomatic and trade footprints overseas.
I have asked the Minister, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, to serve as the head of two Departments: the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I have asked him to keep our public finances sound, to drive the implementation of a new, ambitious capital infrastructure plan for Ireland, to ensure our public services continue to be reformed and to prepare for the challenges and opportunities of Brexit. In 2011, given the scale of the crisis this country was facing, it was the right decision to create two Departments to deal with the questions of finance, public expenditure and reform. Having restored our economic sovereignty, we are now working to ensure the recovery is shared across the State, and there is now a real logic in having the same Minister in charge of these two areas to ensure integration and co-ordination.
Deputy Frances Fitzgerald will continue to serve as Tánaiste, a role in which she has excelled in recent years. She will also serve as the Minister for Enterprise and Innovation. The Minister is tasked with driving employment growth and investment in Ireland, especially outside the greater Dublin area, with expanding our agency presence abroad and with ensuring Ireland is business ready for Brexit. I also intend to enhance the office of Tánaiste, including attending some State occasions and trade missions and chairing some Cabinet committees.
The Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, will serve in the Department of Justice and Equality where his key tasks will be to continue to reduce crime, to pilot the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill through the Dáil and to drive reform and culture change in An Garda Síochána.
The Minister, Deputy Creed remains as the Minister for Agriculture, Marine and Food and he will prioritise preparations for the next round of Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, reforms, expand Ireland's overseas markets for food, drive the implementation of Food Wise 2025 and look to harness our ocean wealth.
The Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, will stay as the Minister for Education and Skills and will be responsible for the enactment of the Technological Universities Bill 2015, securing a broad consensus on a new model of funding for third level education, and implementing the action plans for education and educational disadvantage. Education is the most effective tool to break cycles of disadvantage and to provide opportunity.
It is also the foundation of a successful and modern economy. Given the importance of education in a society where there is genuine equality of opportunity, I am appointing Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor as Minister of State with responsibility for higher education, attending Cabinet. We need to drive this sector forward, give it autonomy and resource it adequately.
Deputy Regina Doherty will take my place at the Department of Social Protection which, in line with other countries, will gain the labour affairs and labour law responsibilities of the former Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, thus becoming the Department of Employment and Social Protection. Her key responsibilities will include ensuring budget packages are progressive and reduce income inequality, advancing the social insurance reforms now under way, the new deal for the self-employed and providing access to an occupational pension for all employees.
No country has a perfect health service. However, Ireland is an outlier among wealthy countries when it comes to patient charges and patient access. Surely a country and political system that managed to weather the worst recession in a generation, rescue the banking system and bring an end to a conflict that lasted centuries should be able to get this matter right. I am determined that we should do so. The all-party Sláinte Care report provides good guidance. I task the Minister, Deputy Simon Harris, with preparing a detailed response to that report, including proposed measures and timelines. I am also asking him to complete passage of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill through the Houses as soon as possible. He will also be responsible for bringing forward legislation to allow for a referendum on the eighth amendment in 2018.
The Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, remains at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. He will drive the implementation of the transport improvements provided for in the new capital plan, protect our tourism from the risks of Brexit, and work to secure the Rugby World Cup for Ireland in 2023.
Deputy Eoghan Murphy will join the Cabinet as Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. Rebuilding Ireland is working but it may not be enough and so I am tasking him to review it within three months and to consider what additional measures may be required, including consideration of a greater quantum of social housing build, a vacant home tax and measures to encourage landlords to remain in or enter the rental market. He will also take on responsibility for Ireland 2040 and further reform of local government and electoral reform.
The Minister, Deputy Katherine Zappone, remains at the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. Her principal responsibility will be the successful introduction and implementation of the affordable child care scheme and the associated legislation, and also leading the Government's response to reducing child poverty.
I am appointing Deputy Michael Ring to head up a newly reformed Department of Community and Rural Affairs. His role will be to support local communities in all parts of Ireland, urban and rural, and to ensure economic recovery and investment is accelerated in rural areas, market towns and villages which have not experienced economic recovery to the same extent as our cities.
I have long believed that Ireland should have a dedicated Department of Culture, as other countries do. I have been enormously impressed with the Decade of Commemorations so far and with Creative Ireland. I want the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, to continue her excellent work in this area. I want there to be new emphasis and importance attached to the promotion of arts, culture and heritage in Ireland, matched with an appropriate budget. It is our creativity that makes Irish men and Irish women different and we need to foster it. I am assigning responsibility for the Department of Culture and responsibility for Gaeilge, Gaeltacht and the Islands to the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, in addition to his duties as Chief Whip. I am tasking him with the role of promoting the learning and use of Irish in all parts of Ireland and to be a voice at the Cabinet table for our first national language.
The Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, will remain at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. I am determined that the Government should show new ambition when it comes to tackling climate change by setting out a roadmap to a low-carbon economy. Climate will be the first item to be discussed at our first full-day strategic Cabinet meeting in a few weeks. The Minister, Deputy Naughten, will also drive the implementation of the national broadband plan until every premises has access to high-speed broadband.
The Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, remains in his post as a Minister at my Department and as Minister for Defence. I will delegate all functions relating to defence to him, including the Office for Emergency Planning.
The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, remains Minister with responsibility for disabilities across several Departments. As a Government, we are renewing our commitment to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities this year and to improving services available to people with disabilities, especially respite care and emergency residential places.
This will be a Government of purpose. It will be a genuine partnership Government that works to improve the lives of all our citizens and all parts of our country.
I commend the Government to the House.
I dtosach báire, déanaim comhghairdeas leis na hAirí nua atá ceaptha anseo tráthnóna. Is lá ceiliúrtha agus den bhfíorthábhacht é dóibh siúd atá ceaptha agus dá muintireacha. Guím gach rath orthu leis na dualgais a bheidh orthu as seo amach. Is é an rud is tábhachtaí agus is práinní ná béim a leagan ar pholasaithe substaintiúla agus iad a chur i bhfeidhm ar mhaithe le saoránaigh na tíre. Caithfidh an Rialtas an conradh atá againn leis a chomhlíonadh go huile agus go hiomlán. Is léir do chách go bhfuil géarchéim úafásach fós ann i gcúrsaí tithíochta agus sláinte agus go bhfuil easpa muiníne as ár gcóras dlí agus cirt. Ní mór dúinn na fadhbanna práinneacha seo a réiteach go héifeachtach.
To be nominated to serve as a member of Government is a great honour. It carries with it great responsibilities. Each person nominated by the Taoiseach today to continue in government, or to join it for the first time, has the right to be proud of his or her achievement. I offer my congratulations to each of them, their families and the large body of supporters that stand behind them.
This Government is being nominated at a profoundly challenging time for our country, Europe and the wider world. Many of these challenges have grown over the past year because of the policy of drift and inaction which was to be found in almost every Department. In no area has the past year seen sustained progress in setting out or implementing substantial reform, policy or service development. All those appointed will be members of a Cabinet which has run out of excuses and must now start to have an impact. They will be measured not on glossy brochures and launches but on the hard substance of whether they are delivering. The public has long since stopped listening to the spin and is angry with the policy of repeated denial of the existence of problems or false claims of progress based on misleading statistics.
To those who have been left off the list, I am sure that for the time being they are satisfied with reassurances that they will be considered for a position as Minister of State. Given the number of promises that appear to have been handed out during the leadership race it will be interesting to hear what will be told to the five Fine Gael Deputies not on the list and left without a portfolio. The use of the superior junior Minister, conceived many years ago to facilitate former Deputy Pat Rabbitte, is beginning to be abused in that there are now four super junior Ministries. This seems to be an avenue of convenience for taoisigh to resolve very difficult choices.
Deputy Martin might need it himself.
It is at best unfortunate that so many of today's appointments have been done on the basis of internal party concerns rather than on the basis of the most suitable person for the position. If this is to be a transformative, radicalising and modernising Administration, this is a poor start. Certain of the assignments appear unlinked either to past performance or interest. The prominence which is being given to party organisation and electoral preparation is highly unusual and the various minor realignments which have been made go nowhere near meeting the hype which has preceded them.
The Good Friday Agreement represents one of the greatest achievements of constitutional republicanism. It secured the agreement to end an illegitimate campaign, take the gun out of politics, establish agreed institutions and move forward on the fundamental objective of a lasting reconciliation on our island. Key elements of this progress are today under threat. Years of a dysfunctional duopoly, underlying sectarianism and neglect from Dublin and London have caused immense damage. The decision of the Tory Government to rely on the DUP cannot be allowed to threaten or undermine the core dynamic underpinning peace.
While we would certainly have had differences with Deputy Charles Flanagan in terms of the urgency and ambition of his approach to Northern Ireland, he is the only Member of Government to show any interest in this area in the past six years. The decision to remove him from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade undermines the claim that this is a Government whose members and portfolios have been defined by ability.
The issue of Brexit is such that the challenges are changing every day. The terms of reference for the EU-side of the negotiations are very general and a non-specific start to what will be complex and detailed negotiations. A number of Ministries have responsibilities which are profoundly impacted by Brexit, including enterprise, social protection, education, agriculture and health. There is a need for the Government to set out concrete proposals to limit the long-term damage of Brexit.
The outcome of the UK election poses an opportunity to moderate the hard Brexit for which the previous Tory Government was pushing. This is a matter Fianna Fáil has been talking about in detail for some years and our greatest frustration has been the refusal to engage in substantive, rather than symbolic, discussions. It is our hope that today will mark a departure from this.
I congratulate my constituency colleague, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, on his transfer to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It is an excellent Department which had no obvious need for a change of leadership. Over the course of his pitch for the leadership of his party, he toured the country constantly and emphasised that he believes in finishing a job once it is taken on. He criticised his new boss for running out of the Department of Health after a year and a half, but today he is choosing to leave the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government after little more than a year. There is nothing in the housing agenda which is anywhere near to being implemented. A year and a half after the general election, in which the scandal of homelessness was a defining issue, the problem is demonstrably worse. For a shocking illustration of how desperate the crisis is, one need look no further than the Capuchin Day Centre which is accessed by at least 8,500 children for emergency meal services on an annual basis. After the endless stream of announcements and initiatives from the former Minister, Deputy Kelly, we have had a new stream of announcements and initiatives, each one heralding the final conquering of the problem. There are clear commitments in place on social housing and every element of the housing crisis but it is long past time to put a sustained focus on delivering the unequivocal commitments of Government on housing.
The separation of the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform originated directly from the Labour Party demand for a share of the finance portfolio in 2011. With that party's usual genius for negotiation, it got the responsibility for the cutbacks while Fine Gael got to claim credit for an economy which retained the core strengths that drove the recovery. This was matched only by the later decision of the Labour Party to swap education for water. The decision to unify the Departments again is not an unreasonable one but the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, will find himself in the unique position of being a Minister required, by law, to consult and seek approval from himself before taking most decisions.
He is good at that.
In recent days, it has been widely trailed that the Taoiseach intends to abandon the rainy day fund and spend it on infrastructure. However, the fund is not yet in place and its creation is part of the deal which allows this Government to exist. He has no freedom to unilaterally change this policy and any attempt to manoeuvre on the ground for the next election by playing with overall budgetary limits will not be tolerated.
Few areas have been more disastrously managed by Fine Gael than health. A series of damaging decisions and an obsession with managing headlines rather than services have led to real deterioration and hardship. Its record is a lot worse than merely unfinished business. It is a sad reflection on the recent Fine Gael leadership contest that health is seen as a place to keep a Minister to be punished, rather than a challenge to be tackled head on. We have run out of patience over the implementation of agreements on the funding and provision of mental health services and no more delays will be tolerated. The National Treatment Purchase Fund is a proven way to immediately tackle waiting lists and waiting times. Its abolition caused real harm and its proper restoration is required immediately to reduce waiting times for patients. There are now 666,000 people waiting for inpatient and outpatient appointments.
On its first day in office, Fine Gael abolished the place of community development at Cabinet. This has caused hardship in urban and rural communities and the damage is obvious to anyone who cares to look. We regret that this damaging policy will continue. We also regret the fact that no significant effort is planned to address the rising crisis in many rural communities. There is no better demonstration of this than in the massive cuts to and underspending in respect of the Leader programmes. At a time when rural communities are literally terrified of the implications of Brexit, the failure to give their concerns any serious attention to date is an important omission. Investment in education and research is the most effective way to underpin the economic and social development of this country in the future. It will fireproof us against Brexit and other external threats. The Cassells report is a key policy intervention in this regard that needs to be advanced. Investment in and reform of preschool, primary and second level education are also essential. Education should be at the heart of a strategic approach to our people's future and we are prepared to engage constructively with the Minister for Education and Skills, as well as the new Minister of State with responsibility for higher education, in pursuing and advancing that agenda.
The ongoing crisis of confidence in key parts of the justice system has been the hallmark of recent years and was the most important impulse in the decision of Fine Gael to have a leadership contest. This is a topic which requires much fuller discussion. However, we have not yet heard anything that goes beyond the empty promises of reform of which we have been hearing since the days of the former Minister, Alan Shatter. The manner of the appointment of the former Attorney General to the Court of Appeal stinks. This can not be overcome by comments such as, "Ah sure, we'll do better next time". The silence from the Labour Party on this issue is deafening. Why has 23 years of precedent been abandoned for no real reason?
Why was no specific open advertisement issued in recent months for the job?
It is beautiful - the Deputy would want to see it.
Why was the job held open for nearly three months and then filled in this manner?
Why did a Minister, once staunchly opposed to any political involvement in judicial appointments, quietly wave this appointment through?
Was it anything to do with a decision to seek an interim report on facilitating the reopening of Stepaside Garda station, even though the full report is due in weeks? It has been said to me today that it was a good, old-fashioned trade between a judicial appointment and the opening of a police station.
Jealousy is no good.
There was a decision to cherry-pick one part of an interim report for announcement by means of a political banner in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and every member of Cabinet who agreed these measures on Tuesday will carry the cloud of a squalid piece of low horse trading until they fully explain what went on.
Each Minister in the Government is obliged to serve the public interest and implement the basic agreements which helped him or her secure office. A record of growing division and unfairness has been replaced by inaction and drift in the past year. What our country needs is concerted action, not a more effective media policy or political operation. The Taoiseach has every right to enjoy his moment but there will be no honeymoon and no more excuses. He has been given a great opportunity to serve the people of this country and we all hope he uses it in an effective and productive manner.
Beidh mé ag roinnt mo chuid ama leis an Teachta Pearse Doherty.
Ceart go leor.
Déanaim comhghairdeas leis an Taoiseach, an Teachta Varadkar. I congratulate him on presenting himself to Uachtarán na hÉireann and returning to us as Taoiseach. We live in historic times. It is interesting to hear Deputy Micheál Martin, Uachtarán of Fianna Fáil, talk tough while, for the second time, ushering into office a Fine Gael Taoiseach. There has been lots of talk in recent times about abstentionist politics and the evils of abstentionism from the Westminster Parliament but the true abstentionists of Irish politics are, in fact, those in Fianna Fáil.
They sit on the fence and look the other way, giving the new Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, a honeymoon of indefinite duration.
I am underwhelmed by the Cabinet, save for hearing of a Minister by the name of Seán de Rossa. I liked the restyling, the makeover in the new Cabinet to give a bit of Gaeilge glamour.
Up Tipp, Mattie. The Taoiseach talked about courage and cited it as the prime virtue of any person but his first decision reflects caution.
The appointment of the Cabinet, which is the first decision of the Taoiseach, shows caution and conservatism. Far from a team preparing to meet the challenges of our time, he now captains a team of procrastinators, excuse-makers and responsibility evaders.
The Minister, Deputy Harris, has survived the trauma of recent weeks and remains in his post, which is no doubt a great relief to him. He may know that as Cabinet members were wiping their fevered brows and perhaps even wiping away some tears of disappointment today, in the real world, 405 Irish citizens were on hospital trolleys. That is the reality of our health service. Members of the Cabinet have had many chances to remedy that, but have failed. People looking on expect them to fail once again. Let us hope that we will be proven wrong.
I welcome that the Taoiseach has prioritised a 2018 referendum on the repeal of the eighth amendment. He must make it clear that that will take place early in 2018 because Ireland is rightly and roundly internationally condemned for failing women and for acts of cruelty through commission and omission by the State. That cannot continue. If the Taoiseach’s courageous new world and commitment to equality is to mean anything, it must translate into improvements in real time and real terms for women.
Simon the elder now assumes the portfolio of foreign affairs. The partition of Ireland and the Irish peace process are not foreign affairs. They are core domestic policies. I put it to the Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy Coveney, that the commitment to Irish unity which they both vigorously proclaimed in the course of their leadership campaign must now find real life through the preparation of a Government White Paper on Irish reunification.
Now is the time to plan for that new Ireland. The Taoiseach has invoked the memory of Michael Collins more than once in recent times. The Taoiseach will recall Michael Collins’s thinking, which was not uncontroversial at the time, about the freedom to achieve freedom. The Government now has the opportunity to chart a course-----
The Deputy is a belated convert to that.
-----to achieve that freedom. I hope it grasps that opportunity. I hope that the Taoiseach, the new Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, and the Government are familiar with the Good Friday Agreement and the fact the Government is currently in default of that agreement, among others, which dubious honour it shares with the Tories in Great Britain. The institutions in the North came down not because of belligerence on the part of Sinn Féin, as some people would have others believe, but because of corruption within those institutions. If political experience in this jurisdiction has taught us anything for the future, it is that there is a cost to tolerating or acquiescing in political corruption. Sinn Féin and the late Martin McGuinness were not prepared to look the other way when the renewable heating initiative, RHI, scandal broke. The institutions also came down because of the default that I have mentioned in respect of agreements.
Tomorrow, the Sinn Féin leadership will travel to London to meet with Theresa May. On Friday next, it will meet with the Taoiseach.
But it will not go to Westminster.
I hope that will mark the beginning of a process whereby outstanding issues can be resolved. As the Taoiseach knows, those issues include matters concerning Acht na Gaeilge.
The Taoiseach should understand that Sinn Féin is not the biggest threat to democracy. Some Members of Sinn Féin smiled when he said that. For the Taoiseach’s purposes, Sinn Féin is more a threat to the status quo. If that hurts the feelings of any members of the Government, that is too bad, because Sinn Féin makes no apologies for the political stances it takes.
The Minister, Deputy Flanagan assumes the justice portfolio. He should be clear that the position of the Garda Commissioner is no longer tenable and has not been so for a significant period of time. He should be clear that he cannot credibly allow the culture of impunity within the most senior ranks of the Garda Síochána to go unchecked. He now carries a responsibility for morale within the force and also for public confidence in the administration of justice.
The Deputy should know by now that I do not take lectures from Sinn Féin.
As for the housing portfolio, same old, same old. Members have listened to that rhetoric for as long as Governments of which the Taoiseach has been a member have been in office.
In terms of the portfolio of employment and social protection, the Taoiseach has set out the objective of income equalisation. I say bravo to that. I note that the issue of welfare fraud has been dropped. Is it not very odd, in the context of the Taoiseach thinking only a short time ago that it was suitable to spend €200,000 on a campaign to stamp out all this fraudulent activity, that it now does not feature as a matter of priority? That raises a question about the manner in which the Taoiseach assumed his office. It seems that he very deliberately thought it politically smart to target people who he believed to be powerless or at least very, very vulnerable. If he proposes to govern, design policy and carry himself politically on the basis of cheap shots or targeting people on the margins or anywhere else who he believes to be vulnerable, Sinn Féin, which he believes to be a threat to democracy, will stand toe-to-toe against that.
Déanaim comhghairdeas leis an Taoiseach úr, an Teachta Varadkar, as an éacht atá déanta aige agus é tofa anseo inniu ar 57 vóta le tacaíocht Fhianna Fáil. Déanaim comhghairdeas lena theaghlach, lena pháirtnéir, Matt agus lena mhuintir go léir. Déanaim comhghairdeas fosta leis na hAirí uilig atá ainmnithe go dtí an Binse Tosaigh anseo. Tá cuid mhór acu anseo le tamall fada anois. Bhí an pobal mór amuigh ansin ag fanacht leis an lá seo. Bhí muid ag cluinstin sna meáin le tamall fada go raibh ré úr agus ré órga ag teacht isteach le Taoiseach úr agus le Binse Tosaigh úr a cheapfadh an Taoiseach úr. Caithfidh mé a rá go bhfuil cuma iontach sean ar an Bhinse Tosaigh seo agus ar an Rialtas seo.
There has been much hype about this day and the election of a new Taoiseach, along with much hope that this would be a new era led by the youngest ever Taoiseach and that there would be energy and excitement about the new Government. The Cabinet was appointed 20 minutes ago and the picture speaks volumes. Its members look quite old, stale and lacking a bit of insight and ambition. The reason I say that-----
The Deputy is looking very beautiful.
That is the same script the Deputy used last year.
The reason I say that is because one can easily get caught up in the bubble of everybody wanting to find out which Minister will occupy which Department minutes or seconds before the announcements are made. However, it is not about personality politics. It is about politics of substance. Members, Ministers and the Taoiseach need to recognise that this country faces substantial and serious issues.
I wish the new Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, well in his role. That role will be very challenging for him but will be more challenging for the people of this country if he follows the script that the new Taoiseach outlined in debates with the Minister, Deputy Coveney, during the Fine Gael leadership campaign. The Taoiseach made it clear that he wants the limited fiscal space of less than €400 million that the Minister will have available in the 2018 budget to be used for tax cuts for the wealthiest in society.
He makes this grand gesture that nobody should pay a marginal rate of 50% or more, knowing that every single person earning under €70,000 pays less than 50%. What he is talking about is a tax cut that is worth over €500 million to people who at least earn twice the average income. This is at a time when we have countless homeless families. This is a time when we have children with life-limiting conditions whose parents want them to enjoy the last number of years that they will have and to be allowed to die with dignity in their own homes not being supported by the HSE. This is a time when there are hundreds of thousands of patients on hospital waiting lists and hundreds of people on trolleys in hospital corridors.
The new Taoiseach speaks about there being no left or right and that he wants to appeal to the centre. It cannot be denied that if one argues for tax cuts for the wealthiest, it will come at a cost to health, education, rural areas or infrastructure. This money cannot be conjured up. I am asking him to prioritise the needs of the country. We are almost ten years into the economic crisis and yet 80,000 families are in mortgage arrears. Is this new Government going to stand up for the banks? I doubt it. We have not seen anything yet. We will have a new Minister with responsibility for community and rural affairs, yet 100 bank branches across rural Ireland and elsewhere are becoming cashless, shutting customers out from across-the-counter services.
They are afraid they will be robbed.
The outgoing Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, said a year and a half ago that it was unacceptable. Will the new Government stand up to the banks or just dish out more of this type of cheap shot?
The new Minister of State with responsibility for the Gaeltacht is going back to his old position. I wish him well. He is a constituency colleague of mine. Let us be clear. There are fewer people speaking the Irish language now than ever before. Sa Ghaeltacht agus taobh amuigh de. Tharla sin i ndiadh sé bliana de Rialtas Fhine Gael. Tá sé iontach maith go bhfuil Gaeilge mhaith agus líofa ag an Taoiseach - cuirim fáilte roimh sin agus beidh go leor díospoireachtaí ansin - agus tá sé iontach maith gur fhoghlaim an Teachta Joe McHugh Gaeilge nuair a rinneadh Aire Stáit dó. Caithfidh sé bheith níos mó ná siombalachas. Caithfimid cinnte a dhéanamh go bhfuil an infheistíocht á cur isteach sa Ghaeilge, sna pobail Ghaeilge agus sa Ghaeltacht sa dóigh is go dtig linn borradh a chur ar an teanga. Caithfidh sé bheith i bhfad níos doimhne ná mar a dúirt an Taoiseach inniu.
There are great challenges facing this country, one of which is Brexit. I want to welcome the appointment of Deputy Coveney as Minister for Foreign Affairs. Hopefully, Sinn Féin can work with him on that issue. However, this Parliament voted for special status for the North and that it remain within the European Union. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has a mandate to make that the central negotiating position during the forthcoming talks. I remind the new Taoiseach of the commitment he gave to the effect that, as Taoiseach, he would negotiate for the North to remain within the customs union and the Single Market. There is no doubt that there will be toing and froing over the next number of weeks and months until this Government eventually collapses.
I propose to share time with Deputies Penrose, Sherlock and Jan O'Sullivan.
On my own behalf and that of the Labour Party, I offer my congratulations to each of the new appointees. Some have had the honour of serving in government and others are experiencing that honour for the first time. I call it an honour because that is what it is. Collectively, they are now required to act according to the requirements of the common good. They are the highest office holders of our sovereign, independent and democratic State. Each holds within his or her grasp the ability to shape our collective future. They have the power to better the lives of our people. I hope that power will be used judiciously.
Approximately one week ago I flagged my concern that Deputy Varadkar as Taoiseach would seek to appoint one Minister to lead two Departments, namely, the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform. I put on record my reasons for saying what I did. The scale of the jobs to be done in those Departments requires, in my view and experience, a dedicated Minister for each. The job of public sector reform is far from done, and I was concerned that this would be the issue that would be abandoned on the desk of an exceptionally busy Minister. The legal complexities around a Minister being required under law to consult with himself is significant. It was my mistaken view that the chatter around the possibility was simply that and that our new Taoiseach would have the wisdom not to make this mistake, but it seems I was wrong. While the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, is a good and capable Minister, the decision taken by the Taoiseach is a mistake - the first mistake on his first day in office.
People may say that I have a vested interest in this area, and I suppose I do. I do not raise this issue to score points but to bring attention to a very real issue. It might be suggested that Minister of State can have issues delegated to them and that would prevent any conflict between the new Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe. That suggestion would run counter to the law. Under the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment No. 2) Act 1977, a delegated statutory power is exercisable by a Minister of State subject to the general superintendence and control of a senior Minister and it remains vested concurrently with the senior Minister. In other words, neither version of the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, can delegate a matter to a Minister of State and he does not actually retain control over himself. For the new arrangement to operate, a full Cabinet Minister would regularly have to step in a play one or other of the roles assigned to the Minister, Deputy Donohoe. That, I am afraid, has already been determined by our courts. The House should be informed as to which other Minister is going to periodically be asked to bear that task.
The leader of Fianna Fáil was critical of the Labour Party for taking the spending Ministry in the previous Government. I remind him that what we did in government was negotiate an open and public collective agreement with 26 public sector unions, unlike the decision by Fianna Fáil while in government to impose wage cuts on public sector workers without even discussion, much less agreement. That is one of the reasons that we took that office.
My colleagues will address a range of issues that now stand before the Taoiseach and his Ministers. Each of those deserves attention. I want to briefly mention some issues. Brexit remains the greatest challenge our country faces. My party has published a set of tangible actions that Government should take on immediately. I hope that we can have discussions with the new Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, to advance those. I also hope that we can begin to deal with a matter of greater substance, which is the future of this island. My party, among many others, has floated ideas about this in recent weeks and months. It is time that we got past individual statements and started to engage meaningfully on how to create an agreed island. Perhaps the Taoiseach might invite party leaders to discuss an appropriate forum or convention that might allow this discussion to become tangible.
The Taoiseach and his Ministers have reading to do. I hope that will be done in detail. I hope that they enjoy some celebrations tonight and tomorrow, and that when we come back next Tuesday that we will all get down to the real job of work that faces us all.
I congratulate the Taoiseach and his new Cabinet. I wish to focus on issues relating to rural Ireland and the need for the Government to focus on the regions. I particularly compliment the new Minister with responsibility for community and rural affairs, Deputy Ring. I have no doubt that he has earned his spurs, and he will make sure that rural Ireland's problems are addressed and not forgotten.
There are many challenges facing rural Ireland, with Brexit being the main one. Farming organisations have said today that farming and the food and drinks industry must be one of the Taoiseach's top priorities in the Brexit negotiations. They are not wrong. We have already seen the mushroom industry decimated by the impact of Brexit and we cannot afford to have any other industry suffer in the same way.
The new Minister for Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Fitzgerald, should note that the midlands has the lowest number of IDA Ireland-supported jobs of any region, followed closely by the north west and mid-east.
She must prioritise investment in small towns across the regions but in particular in those areas that have not benefited from the recovery in employment. There is no substitute for infrastructural investment by the State for long-term development. There is no substitute for advanced factories and offices, high speed broadband, good quality roads and public transport connections. Indeed in Mullingar there is a fine industrial estate of 27 acres ready to go in Marlinstown and the Industrial Development Authority Ireland, IDA Ireland, has failed to deliver there. It is like the forgotten child, bypassed every time. If regionalisation and development of the regions is going to mean anything the Minister should start in the midlands. State investment is critical to securing foreign investment and IDA Ireland must spearhead this in small towns.
Connectivity and increasing the scale of high speed broadband is critical for rural areas. It can transform them. The Ludgate Hub in Skibbereen is an outstanding example of how transformation can be achieved. The World Bank has suggested that a slight increase in broadband speeds can raise local gross domestic product, GDP, by 10%. Once super fast broadband reaches an area success follows. Connectivity is a key. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. The Ludgate Hub serves as a beacon of innovation for rural Ireland and this can be replicated across the country if there is a will to do so. Talk is cheap but bringing the whole community together and installing the necessary infrastructure can bring results. Let us resurrect rural villages and bring people back into rural towns.
The Minister knows that villages are being decimated. I live in one. Shops are closing. Very soon there will be no shop between the two major towns of Longford and Mullingar. Petrol stations and newsagents are disappearing. We do not want to impose rates on shops that are not making a tosser by calculating them on the basis of leasing values. What sort of a message does it send to rural areas when the rate for a shop that has been for sale for six years without an offer is calculated on the basis of a leasing value relative to a town? Shops in rural towns and villages create four or five jobs. They pay the proper wage and they pay their taxes. There is no black economy in those shops but they are being decimated by Government policy. It must be reversed. I ask the Minister for Community and Rural Affairs, Deputy Ring, to make sure that will be achieved. There is a report on the post office network and now is the time to implement it. In County Kildare, the service available at the post office was widened and it is going to thrive in Ballymore Eustace. That is the prototype that should guide us forward.
I congratulate all the Ministers and wish them well. I am, however, disappointed that there will be one woman fewer sitting at the Cabinet table than before this reshuffle. That is particularly disappointing.
That is not true.
The Attorney General was female so there will be one fewer women at the Cabinet table. That is particularly disappointing at a time when we need to see more women in positions of power and influence. I very much regret that.
I very much welcome, as Deputy McDonald has done, an indication that there definitely will be a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment to the Constitution. I do not think the Government has said that before but the Taoiseach has specifically tasked the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, with arranging for a referendum, which I hope will be early in 2018. I ask the Taoiseach to set the date as soon as possible.
The first speaker in the round of debates today, the outgoing Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, referred to the need to address child poverty. The new Taoiseach has referred to it in connection with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone. Addressing child poverty, however, needs to be led by the Department of the Taoiseach. It is one of the most important issues the Government needs to address, particularly as there is economic recovery and more money in the economy but many children still live in consistent poverty. I am glad the outgoing Taoiseach brought it up as one of two or three issues he specifically referred to when speaking this morning. I hope the new Government will place it centre stage because it is so important.
Among the children most at risk are those who are homeless. I wish the new Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, well in his job in that Department. It is a very challenging job. While there has been a plan and many announcements there has been very little real action. We need real action and the provision of homes for all our people. A suggestion was slipped out very quietly last week by, I think, an official of Dublin City Council, that the target of taking all families with children out of hotels by the beginning of July may not be reached. If that is the case it is most disappointing and I urge the new Minister to ensure immediately that particular target is met.
I welcome the fact the Taoiseach has said the issue of vacant homes will be addressed because there are almost 200,000 vacant homes around the country. That can be the quickest win but we have not yet seen the vacant homes strategy. That needs to be announced very quickly. I also welcome the fact the Taoiseach did suggest that he would consider a vacant homes tax. We need a tax to ensure that empty houses become homes for the many people around this country who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness. There are several housing issues that are most urgent but we particularly need to see action rather than simply words and announcements.
I join in wishing the Taoiseach and the new Cabinet well in their endeavours. I particularly wish the new Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, well in his new role. I acknowledge his commitment to and role in the negotiations in Northern Ireland. He has made an impact and the parties in Northern Ireland will miss his solid engagement there.
There was a so-called public sector pay agreement that has yet to be balloted upon but there was nothing in the Taoiseach's speech tonight to give comfort to those public sector workers and trade unions about who now has political responsibility for continuing the work. I wish the new Minister for Finance and for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, well in his endeavours. If he is to continue to lead in this it will be an onerous task in addition to responsibility for finance, public expenditure and reform. I worry that the Government will take the foot off the pedal in those important talks with the public sector unions.
In respect of Innovation 2020, I have noticed in the past year that the foot has been taken off the pedal of Ireland's research, development and innovation agenda. The innovation agenda was a key pillar of the last Government and continued to be, under the Minister of State, Deputy English, when in the Department of Jobs, Innovation and Enterprise and by the Minister, Deputy Bruton, until he became Minister for Education and Skills. It has now slipped off the agenda. Ireland is now far below average in its spending on research and development and the number of PhDs in real terms is decreasing. If we are talking about becoming an innovative island on the western periphery of Europe, Brexit has permutations too in respect of our ability to attract world class researchers to our shores. The Government needs to give priority to that and we must ensure that our spending on research, development and innovation does not become a lower priority. It needs to be given greater weight by Government.
While I congratulate the new Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, I fear that we are going to lose him because the foreign affairs agenda will perhaps take him away from the Cork agenda and the Munster agenda and the regional economic development-----
It is alright. I will look after that.
-----of Cork, Limerick, Galway and Donegal, the western seaboard of this island, and the investment in the Cork-Limerick bypass.
Kerry too. The Deputy is forgetting Kerry.
Kerry as well. We should not forget Kerry. It is important to speak to the action plan for jobs which has specific targets in respect of job creation beyond the pale and that includes those counties I have just referred to. That needs proper infrastructure.
Go raibh maith agat a Cheann Comhairle. Beidh an Teachta Mick Barry ag úsáid leath den am atá agamsa. Ba mhaith liom an Taoiseach a mholadh mar gheall ar an iarracht a bhfuil á dheanamh aige an teanga a labhairt sa Dáil. Má choimeádann sé leis an iarracht sin, b'fhéidir go dtabharfaidh sé cic sa tóin, mar a deirtear, don Dáil go léir níos mó úsáide a bhaint as an teanga.
I admire the Taoiseach for making that effort as it is important.
I am quite puzzled by much of what the Taoiseach said. One point which really puzzled me was that he claimed this Government will neither be left nor right because the old divisions of yesterday do not comprehend those challenges today. The Taoiseach and his Cabinet will need to explain that over the next period. As one goes through each of the Ministers, one will find a common thread, namely, they all believe in low taxes for multinational corporations and for the very wealthy. All of them are committed to the privatisation of services. The Taoiseach himself has made a renewed commitment to restricting workers’ rights, which no doubt will be contained in the public sector deal of the new Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe. The central myth that the free market will solve all our problems lies at the heart of the Taoiseach’s policy and Cabinet. When he says he is neither left nor right, he is actually saying he does not recognise the class system which dominates this globe. I am afraid it recognises him. More importantly, it recognises the poor, the marginalised and the majority of people on this planet who do not have the privilege and equality the Taoiseach and many of his Ministers have.
To claim he is neither left nor right is nothing new. This is a claim made by Tony Blair, Macron and the centre of Europe, to which the Taoiseach seems to be so devoted. It has been the rhetoric of many governments for about three decades. What has it given us? It has given us the most unequal society ever on the globe with the widest gap between wealth and poverty that we have ever seen. It has given us the 1% versus the 99%. It has given us the few versus the many.
The Taoiseach's commitment to equality is an idea. In practice, however, he will have to show that. It baffles me how he cannot recognise that there is a class structure in this world while at the same time claiming he is committed to equality. In practice, if he wants to commit to equality, he will have to recognise that difference to bridge the gap between it.
For example, Linn Dara, a child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, inpatient unit in Ballyfermot, lost half of its beds in the last week. Many of those who suffer with mental health problems are young gay people. The rate of mental health disadvantage among gay people is equal to that of the Traveller community. Young gay people are four times more likely to be suicidal and to self-harm. However, the Government has allowed half of the ward in Linn Dara to be closed down, which equals one fifth of mental health beds available in the country. If the Taoiseach wants to address inequality, he would immediately tell the new Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, to end inequality in nurses’ pay and address the fact the health services cannot retain or recruit nurses. He would instruct the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to reopen these beds. The Taoiseach would tell the new housing Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to bring back rents to realistic levels in order that nurses can afford to live in Dublin city. In that way, the Taoiseach would address the inequality with which adolescent young people are treated.
It is abstract to say there is no such thing as left or right. The only place that it really matters is when the Taoiseach agrees with Deputy Micheál Martin to shut up this side of the House. He wants to shut down what we have to say precisely because we are shining a light on and throwing open the contradictions that he stands for. I looked over a speech which the Taoiseach made last summer at the MacGill Summer School. He shared a platform with Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett who spoke eloquently about the issue of equality. In his speech, the Taoiseach acknowledged that a free market was amoral and did not address the question of equality. I know he keeps saying that he is progressing, maturing and changes his mind along the way. Less than a year ago, he acknowledged the free market cannot address the question of inequality. How will the Taoiseach and his Cabinet do this? It amazes me that every single Minister will make that commitment to, on the one hand, supporting the rich and inequality in this country, while, on the other, making a commitment to the Taoiseach who says there is no such thing as a class divide and one cannot claim to be either left or right.
We have to deal with the housing crisis, the health crisis and, crucially, with the inequality meted out to women in this society. I am glad it was mentioned that the Taoiseach is reducing the number of women in his Cabinet. Shame on him. It is a backward step. I hope when the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, looks at the role of the Citizens’ Assembly that, along with other Deputies who will take part in that, he will insist it meets throughout the summer in order that we can hurry up a referendum on the eighth amendment, not slow it down. We have waited 33 years for it. All my adult life, we have been fighting for equality and abortion rights in this country. The young woman who last year was incarcerated in a mental institution because she asked for an abortion reminds me of the X case, all of more than 25 years ago. Let us put an end to that.
The only way we can do that is by giving people a say in how this democracy is run. It will not be done by throwing open the entire project to privatisation and the free market or giving away all the rights to NAMA to do what it wants with empty properties or to throwing homeless people into hubs and not homes. These only worsen the situation. I look across at the Cabinet members and I do not believe they have a commitment to actually address the question of inequality. I believe the Cabinet will perpetuate it, as will the Taoiseach. I believe we will remain here to challenge them on this.
The only thing the Taoiseach can agree on with Fianna Fáil is to try and shut us up on this side of the House. Everything does not happen in here. It also happens outside. On Saturday, thousands of women and men will gather in Galway, Cork and Dublin to demand the repeal of the eighth amendment. Thousands will also gather to demand an end to the housing crisis. That will continue. Life also exists outside the Dáil, as does opposition.
Deputy McHugh is to be the new Government Chief Whip. I am sure he was listening carefully to the Taoiseach’s acceptance speech today, where he indicated quite strongly that he supports a change to the rules that apply in the House. The Taoiseach framed this as a democratic issue. The real agenda, however, was shown yesterday on the front page of the Irish Independent, which ran the headline, “Fianna Fáil deal with Leo will quieten left parties in the Dáil”. He will have a hard job doing that, but we will take it as a backhanded compliment. Those who would wish to quieten us feel we are speaking rather loudly on issues such as water charges, the eighth amendment, strikes and the housing crisis, among other things.
I would point out to the Taoiseach and the new Chief Whip that what is being raised here is the idea of tearing up a rulebook which they themselves wrote barely 12 months ago.
It is rewriting it.
These were the rules that they agreed at the Dáil reform committee just over 12 months ago. Our group, Solidarity-PBP, will make it clear tonight that those rules will not be changed without our strong opposition and resistance, as well as that of all the other Opposition parties, apart from Fianna Fáil.
And the groups too.
Deputy Eoghan Murphy is to be the new Minister with responsibility for housing. He will face major challenges. Before I speak about them, I want to make some comments about the Minister leaving that post, the Minister, Deputy Coveney. In the course of the Fine Gael leadership election, he spoke about wanting to fight in the interest of the man in the sleeping bag.
There are many more men and women in sleeping bags now than was the case when this Government took the reins. In fact, when Deputy Coveney took the position of Minister with responsibility for housing in May of last year, there were 1,994 children homeless in this State. The figure is now 2,708, which is an increase of 35%. We saw the scandal last month of 12 families with more than 30 children being told to go to Garda stations for accommodation overnight.
That is not true
Three families were forced to sleep rough in a nearby park.
That is not true either.
It is not true.
It is not true.
It is true.
It is not true.
The Deputy is misleading the House.
Let me say as well, a Cheann Comhairle, that the Minister can shout about fake news all he wants-----
It is true that it is fake news.
It is fake news.
-----but the fact is that the number of homeless children in this State on his leaving his watch is far above when he took over the job.
It has increased by 35%. That is a fact.
That is a fact by any standards. Will we have more of the same from the new Minister, Deputy Murphy, or will we see a change in policy? The Taoiseach indicates that there is to be an increase in local authority house building. We will hold him to that, and it must not and cannot be a small or token increase. There needs to be a major - even a massive - increase in local authority house building. We will watch that one very carefully. We also need rent controls to take on the landlord interests and a banning of economic evictions. We will continue to push for that.
Deputy Paul Kehoe is to be reappointed as Minister of State with special responsibility for defence. I do not think that they will be jumping up and down for joy in the barracks up and down the country this evening. He has failed to address the low pay crisis that exists among the ranks of the Defence Forces. One in five is on family income supplement so that their families might live free from poverty. It was tremendous at the weekend to see the wives and partners of the Defence Forces group organise the largest protest of Defence Forces families seen in this State in 25 years. It happened in County Kildare when more than 200 marched to the Minister of State's Department headquarters. That group will do so again because that is a movement that is on an upward curve. I will leave that point except to state that we will be putting forward a Bill in this House next week on the question of union rights for soldiers. The Minister of State can expect sharp debate on the issue.
The final point I would like to make relates to a very particular case. That the Minister, Deputy Harris, is back in the Department of Health has been spoken of as some kind of punishment. If I were Minister for Health, I would see it as a tremendous opportunity.
So do I.
If Deputy Barry was Minister for Health, we would be in trouble.
It would be an opportunity to introduce a national health service, which is what is needed in this country. However, the very first thing I would do is attempt to ensure justice for Vera Twomey. I drove down to Vera's home in Aghabullogue, County Cork, at the start of this week and sat with her over a cup of tea in her kitchen. She told me about how she is being forced to go abroad with her family. Why? To access medicine for her sick child. Tonight, as this debate is taking place, she is packing her bags and making the preparations to go, perhaps as early as next week.
The Deputy should not be abusing Vera Twomey for political reasons. He is a disgrace.
She is texting us here.
She is texting us here.
I talk to her too. The Deputies should not be politicising her case.
Let us see what Vera Twomey thinks about the debate here tonight----
Let us see what she thinks.
-----and what the Minister, Deputy Coveney, has to say on the issue.
She is a vulnerable person and the Deputy should not be using her for political reasons.
That is cynical. The Minister broke his promises to her.
Yes, she is a vulnerable person which is precisely the reason-----
She is a good person and a vulnerable person and the Deputies should not be using her for political reasons.
She is a good person. I agree with that entirely. What should be done on foot of those points are two things. First, stop the foot dragging and the attempt to delay the Bill to legalise medicinal cannabis-----
The Deputy is not a doctor.
-----and do what needs to be done and talk to the people in the HSE to ensure-----
Let doctors make decisions and not politicians.
The Deputy is abusing a vulnerable family.
Thank you, Deputy Barry. Your time is up.
The Government has ignored the Irish Medical Organisation.
Did the Deputy bring the cameras with him?
The Irish Medical Organisation has called for change on this issue.
Did he bring the cameras with him?
It is the Government's foot dragging-----
The Deputy's time is up.
My time is up because of the interruptions.
That is what he spends his life doing in this House.
I will finish on this sentence.
Stop provoking them, please.
I will finish on this sentence. I have the record tonight of being interrupted by the greatest number of Ministers. Is that not some record to have?
The record for making the most outrageous allegations.
Stop delaying. Stop the foot dragging on the legalisation of medical cannabis and do what needs to be done to assist Vera Twomey. Stop the scandal of her being forced to leave the country to get medicine for her sick child.
I am surprised at Deputy Boyd Barrett.
Leave her out of politics and the Deputy might help her.
Our next speaker is Deputy Clare Daly.
The Deputy knows that is an unfair exploitation.
It is absolutely not. The Government absolutely let Vera Twomey down consistently. Ask her.
The Deputy is not a doctor.
They drag her into politics.
They exploit a vulnerable woman.
We would expect more of the Ministers to try to restrain themselves and not be provoked.
When they bring someone like Vera into the conversation-----
I call Deputy Clare Daly.
In deference to the hour and the tetchiness of the Front Bench, I will try to be briefer than the time allotted. I am sharing that time with my colleague, Deputy Tommy Broughan. I wish to start by saying that there is an incredible irony in tonight's situation. We heard the resounding applause earlier about the talk of curtailing the rights of Members on this side of the House, yet Deputy Micheál Martin, the great advocator of equality of speaking time, managed to hog the entire 30 minutes of Fianna Fáil's speaking time entirely for himself.
It makes a bit of an irony out of proportionality and inequality and leads us into a situation, which we have heard a lot of tonight, where language is losing its meaning.
I do not claim to know the Taoiseach at all but I remember him as a larger person than he is now when he was a member of Fingal County Council. He usually arrived in late to the meetings - he had probably been at work - with a can of Coke and a Mars bar in his hand. However, I also do not ascribe to the points made by other people earlier who said that he did not distinguish himself in his ministerial offices and that he had not stood out. As far as I am concerned, he did a good job in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. When I had to go to him on issues of health, he distinguished himself to me. I associate myself with the remarks made earlier by Deputy Wallace that we respect him, but that does not mean that we will spare him. It is very much in the context of those remarks and in all sincerity that I can genuinely say that I am utterly gobsmacked and underwhelmed by the announcement of his new Cabinet tonight. In some ways I just cannot believe it. It is not a good sign for his term of office and I genuinely think he has made a serious mistake here tonight.
People identify the Taoiseach as someone with a bit of backbone who is not afraid to stand out from the crowd. He displayed that when he was the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and he was the first Minister that Maurice McCabe went to. We remember the time when we could not get issues about Maurice McCabe's case onto the agenda. He was the Minister to whom Deputy Wallace tabled a question about something else but brought in the whistleblowing points. In fairness to him, he answered Deputy Wallace on those points and put the issue on the record for the first time - showing backbone and balls.
However, we did not see it here tonight. The Cabinet we got is mediocrity and political expediency. Without being derogatory, I know he did not have an abundance of people to play around with, but he could have shaken things up more than he did. By arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, the Taoiseach has ensured that he is on a collision course for an iceberg. To me it has shown that this Government can only be short-lived, helped by its friends in Fianna Fáil.
I could talk about a lot of things but I know that everyone is tired. They justly want to go and spend time with their families and so on.
I am not tired at all.
I could talk about my friend Dermot, whose 87 year old mother went into hospital this day last week with chronic pain. She ended up breaking her hip in that hospital - the Bon Secours - and was sent to Beaumont Hospital over the weekend, where they would not operate on her. She was then sent to the Mater Hospital and was only operated on days later after sitting on a trolley. I could talk about the hundreds of people who turned out for a school meeting in Lusk last night because their children cannot get access to proper decent facilities in the community school there. We could talk about the fact that the average house price is now €350,000 in Dublin, meaning a couple would have to have an income of €90,000 to get a mortgage.
Only 7% of the population is in that category. We have a crisis in the State in needs that are not excessive and which people thought were normal such as the right to health care when one is sick. The belief people have that their children can be educated and given the opportunity which they perhaps did not have and the idea of a roof over one's head were delivered on in the past but are under threat now. We have a serious crisis in the State. I do not have time to develop those points but the challenges are huge. There is an incredibly sad irony in the fact that as we sat here today the Charleton inquiry was under way. We heard evidence that 11 of the 15 phones that Mr. Justice Charleton needs to access are lost. Nobody can find them - surprise, surprise. We heard that Martin Callinan was talking broadly about Maurice McCabe being a "kiddie fiddler" and that nobody should listen to him. We heard today in the Committee of Public Accounts about the ongoing crisis in An Garda Síochána.
I am not being personal but the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, has shown no interest in any of these issues previously. If we are to believe the media, he did not want that job. He was not happy to get it. I can guarantee him we have made up our minds to make it absolutely the case that he will not be happy in that job unless the hard decisions, which unfortunately were not taken by his predecessor, are taken. There are two very simple measures which could be taken immediately that would signal to the people that the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar's Government is different from the last one and that he intends to clean up the show and to deliver confidence. The first issue is the role of the Garda Commissioner who has lost all credibility. Removing her from that position would demonstrate leadership and seriousness and it would give an absolute boost to the men and women of An Garda Síochána and the people the length and breadth of the country. It would be a fitting conclusion to the journey started with Maurice McCabe all those years ago. If the Taoiseach does not do it, he will be letting him down.
It is in that context that I found yesterday's announcement of the promotion of the Attorney General to a lucrative position in the Court of Appeal as utterly shocking. I do not say facetiously that she is probably the worst Attorney General in the history of the State. She lost court cases taken against the Government and her advice in the children's referendum was found to be wrong. She was roundly discredited by Mr. Justice Fennelly as being the catalyst for the removal of Martin Callinan and putting the former Minister for Justice and Equality and the Taoiseach in an invidious position. That a person would be given a job he or she supposedly did not look for, in that context, is utterly shocking. I do not have any further time. I want the Taoiseach to enjoy his night tonight but I think he has made a mistake. I hope he thinks on some of the points because, as Deputy Wallace said earlier, we want him to succeed. It is in the interest of the people that he does. Unfortunately, his Cabinet decisions do not give us an enormous degree of confidence in that regard.
I am delighted to have the brief opportunity to comment on the appointment of the new Government or, rather, this rehashed and still very feeble Government. On a personal level, I am sure the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, and his Ministers will find their elevation satisfying. I wish the new Taoiseach and his ministerial team the very best in their new and old portfolios. There is no indication this restructured Government, with its minus 22 seat minority, will give any better direction and care to the Irish people than the earlier Fine Gael-led austerity Government has since 2011.
In May 2016, in a speech on the formation of the Government of the Thirty-second Dáil, I called it a sham Administration which was providing cover for its Fianna Fáil puppet masters to pretend they and their conservative Fine Gael partners were both in Government and Opposition at the same time. I note that at least the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, has not ruled out a Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil coalition in the future. Hopefully Dáil numbers in the Thirty-third Dáil will not permit Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to swap places and carry on the current charade after the next general election. The ambition of all parties on the left of this House should be to work towards the day when both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will be together in Opposition in this House.
Deputy Broughan will be back in Labour.
I called repeatedly for a dedicated Brexit Minister over the past year and I welcome that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, has been given that task as part of the foreign affairs and trade portfolio. It is very disappointing and regrettable that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, has chosen to walk away from the Department of Community, Housing, Planning and Local Government. The most telling judgment on his tenure in the Department is that the new Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is to carry out a three-month review of Rebuilding Ireland, with a brief mention of further housing policy solutions. It is testament to the failure of the Minister, Deputy Coveney.
All of those who warned against merging the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform were correct. One of the few good initiatives of the 2011-16 Government was the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The change is happening just as the budgetary oversight office is being appointed to invigilate State spending and report to the Committee on Budgetary Oversight. Any committed, serious Government would keep all aspects of expenditure under close scrutiny. Proper attention was just beginning to be given at last to the very high cost of tax expenditures such as the research and development tax credit which we were informed today costs us three quarters of a billion every year.
My colleague, Deputy Clare Daly, has addressed some aspects of the justice portfolio. It was being mooted that the only way of changing the culture of the Department of Justice and Equality was to separate the security and home affairs function from the justice and reform function. It is something the Government has chosen not to do. Once again, Fianna Fáil is the anchor of this Fine Gael Administration. The conservative dead hand of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil together has resolutely refused to implement a housing emergency programme to house the tens of thousands of families on housing lists and in hotels and guest houses. On this day, the day the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, was elected, many of us got calls from mothers of families in desperate situations facing eviction in the next few weeks. The HAP programme is not working in the Dublin region and we have had no hope in this area.
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael together have refused to address the urgent needs of 660,000 citizens on health waiting lists or to finally implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Together, they have starved the education sector of resources and opposed pay equality for young teachers. From 2008, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael together, because of their joint and continuing support of the blanket bank guarantee, have allowed public investment to fall below minimum depreciation levels and allowed our infrastructure to wither and fall into decay. I noticed the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, did not have a word to say today in his introductory speech on the Government about our infrastructure. I was no admirer of the Deputies Kenny and Noonan Administrations which carried on the programmes of the former Deputy Cowen and also the late Deputy Lenihan of needless steep cuts and austerity which seriously damaged many of our people. It was laughable yesterday listening to journalists and some Members of this House waxing lyrical about the so-called achievements of Deputies Kenny and Noonan. Their performance at EU level was pitiful and their cowardice in not standing up to Chancellor Merkel and the EU Commission has left Ireland with an incredible and dangerously high national debt. We very rarely see our journalists writing about that.
This afternoon, the chief economist in the Department of Finance told us at the Committee on Budgetary Oversight that the national debt still stands at just over 100% of modified gross national income, GNI*. Irish citizens per capita have one of the highest national debts on the planet and there are continuing grave worries about the necessary refinancing of those huge stacks of our debt in 2018 and 2020. The Minister, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, knows a little bit about that. That is the true legacy of Deputies Kenny and Noonan. The Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, was always at the heart of this policy failure. As I mentioned a few weeks ago in a health debate with the Minister, Deputy Harris, the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, managed to ghost his way through three major Departments since 2011 without having any discernible positive impact on public policy. I am aware from my own work that he did at least take a small interest in road safety issues at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport but there was very little legislative change to make our roads safer until he had long departed that Department.
It is fair to judge; I do not agree with my colleague, Deputy Clare Daly, on that score. It would also be fair to judge that the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, made no impact whatsoever in the health sector either in terms of budgetary expansion for additional resources or in implementing the totally misconceived Fine Gael health insurance plan. What happened to that plan? The Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar's tenure in the Department of Health had only the one consolation that he was not the former Minister, Senator James Reilly. It was striking this morning that Deputy Kenny picked out a policy initiated by Deputy Shortall during her tenure as the only thing that could be shown from the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar's tenure.
In the past year, I repeatedly asked the then Minister for Social Protection questions about the restoration of pensions after the cruel budget cuts of 2012, especially for senior women workers and retirees. He steadfastly opposed their restoration or any changes that would ease the hardship to lone parent families caused by cutbacks introduced by the Government in office from 2011 until 2016. As many Deputies stated, the then Minister's recent campaign against social welfare fraud has no credibility because in his ten years in the House, I have never heard the Taoiseach once refer to tax evasion and avoidance. We know from basic reports presented by Revenue to the Committee of Public Accounts, of which I was twice a member, that the tax evasion we know about is probably 100 times greater in scale than social welfare fraud.
Many of my constituents found utterly disrespectful the then Minister's comments, when contesting the leadership of the Fine Gael Party, that he wants to represent people who get up early in the morning. Those comments revealed the arrogance of a classic neo-liberal. The Taoiseach's reference to a republic of opportunity reminded me of the old refrain of Fine Gael in the 1990s that it would provide ladders for people. Besides those who bought ladders, attached them to their bikes and went off cleaning windows, the ladders at that time were just a dog whistle for the richest and most powerful vested interests in society.
While I wish the Ministers well in their portfolios, this is not the Government Ireland needs in this dramatic era of Brexit and Trump. The Taoiseach or Deputy Micheál Martin should call a general election as soon as possible and let the people give us a proper Government.
I wish the new Taoiseach, his Ministers and the Government as a whole all the best during their time in office. We do not know how long that will be but we hope everything goes well because people depend on them.
The health system is a shambles and in need of a serious overhaul. The HSE does not seem to be accountable or providing value for money. As highlighted in the media a few days ago, one HSE manager is being paid €600,000 a year. This issue must be addressed because no man or woman in the country is worth that kind of money in any year for whatever job he or she does. Too many people are on waiting lists. Since my election, I and my brother, Deputy Michael Healy-Rae, have been highlighting the cases of people waiting for cataract procedures. The position has still not improved and people are going blind. Youngsters and teenagers are waiting for four or five years for orthodontic treatment. Girls are embarrassed to go out and nearly too embarrassed to go to school because they are waiting for this treatment. It is too late when they are 17 or 18 years of age because their gums have hardened and the treatment does not have the positive effect it should have.
People on the public list must wait for a year and a half or two years for a hip operation. Some of them are unable to sleep at night because they are waiting for operations, which is not fair or right. Two weeks ago, in the middle of summer, 17 or 18 people were on trolleys in Tralee University Hospital. What will happen in winter? Even in Cork University Hospital, people waiting for heart bypass operations have been sent home because no intensive care beds would have been available for them after surgery. That is not acceptable.
On a point of order, is it in order that only nine Cabinet Ministers and one "super junior" Minister of State are present for this debate? There must be some procedure in place. People whose position rests on a vote of the Dáil must show courtesy to the House.
That is not a point of order.
I did not interrupt anyone. This is not fair. We do not do that.
Deputy Thomas Byrne should let Deputy Danny Healy-Rae speak. He should not interrupt.
The Deputy is a shame and disgrace.
I want to make very clear that the issue Deputy Thomas Byrne raised is not a point of order. Moreover, I have no jurisdiction over who should attend the House. I have been here for many debates on the election of Governments and it is not necessary that all Ministers be present. That is the custom and practice. It may be a matter of courtesy.
The interruption was a tactic.
It is a tactic being used against Kerry.
We stopped the clock.
Kenmare and Dingle community hospitals are only half open. Deer Lodge, a 40-bed mental health facility on St. Margaret's Road, was completed two years ago. Why have its doors not opened yet? I ask the Minister for Health to demand from the HSE that the facility be opened forthwith. It was completed two years ago and it is not fair to people with mental health problems that they are not allowed to use it. The St. Mary of the Angels home is a wonderful facility that is being shut down by stealth because no new patients are being admitted. This is not fair on those who were dealt a bad hand and are being prevented from using the facility.
The decongregation model will have to be reviewed because one size does not fit all, as I have told the Minister previously. My blood boils when I hear the Minister say people can be moved from these facilities into the community. I know a person who was born 45 or 46 years ago and who is crumpled up in a little ball, cannot see, walk, talk or move his hands or legs. If the Minister is suggesting that this person can be moved into the community, he is away with the fairies. I ask him to review the decongregation model. People with physical and mental disabilities are not receiving enough help and assistance. Their parents have been dealt a hard hand and I ask the Minister to do more for them.
The people of Kerry have been denied proper infrastructure for years. Surely the Macroom bypass project will proceed now that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Michael Creed, is to remain in place. I ask him to put his shoulder to the wheel because if he does not-----
Did the Deputy not get the contract for fencing it?
Yes, but that is only to keep the animals off the road. We want the road built.
The fencing has to be done before the road can be built.
More money is needed before it can be built.
Most of rural County Kerry does not have broadband coverage and some areas do not have telephone coverage. If an industrialist flies into Farranfore Airport and drives for one mile on any of the three roads leading from the facility, he or she will find there is no telephone coverage. That is very unfair.
I note that the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, is to be appointed Minister for Community and Rural Affairs. I ask him to address the anomaly of the local improvement schemes. It is unfair that people in rural areas do not have a proper road to their front doors. They are as entitled as people in Dublin 4 are to have a good road to their doors.
I will deal with that.
Dublin is gaining jobs at the expense of rural areas. While we do not begrudge jobs to people in Dublin, the capital and the east of the country are prospering and the Government is not doing enough to rectify the imbalance. Houses are not being provided at the pace required to address the housing shortage. The Department has placed too many hurdles in the way. Despite all that has been said, rural Ireland is still in decline. Post offices and Garda stations are closing and services are being centralised. To take the centralisation of the ambulance service as an example, last Sunday evening a person in Sneem spent an hour on the road waiting for an ambulance. That is the gospel truth and it is not acceptable.
Last week, The Kerryman highlighted that farmers' incomes in County Kerry are at an all-time low. The fair deal scheme militates against farmers. The Government opposed a motion we introduced on this issue.
Fianna Fáil abstained and did not support farmers. I thank all those on the left - Sinn Féin, the Green Party, the Boyd Barretts and so on - for voting to support them.
And the Mary Lous.
Farmers are being over-regulated. What will the MOT testing of tractors and the doing of away of splash plates on slurry tanks cost farmers? What about not being allowed to spread slurry at certain times of the year, even when the weather is fine? In Northern Ireland farmers can spread slurry the very same day above the ditch.
The new drink driving rules, if introduced by the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, will impact on and further isolate people in rural Ireland. That is to be deplored because they are already isolated.
Brexit is a major concern for every farmer in the country. The Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, has an almighty task on his hands.
Am I out of time?
No, but the Deputy is depriving his colleague of some time.
I will finish on this point because I was interrupted.
The Taoiseach is starting off on the wrong foot by acceding to the request made by Deputy Micheál Martin to curtail speaking time for smaller groups and Independents, denying us the right to speak in this Chamber on behalf of the people whom we have been elected to represent. It has become clear to me over time that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil would like to get rid of all of the Independents and smaller parties, but try as they might, they will not muzzle us here or out there. Whether it be on the highways, back ways or other roads around the country, we will take them on. We are not one bit afraid of them. Try as they might, they will not stop us from representing the people who voted for us and elected us to Dáil Éireann.
Deputy Mattie McGrath has five minutes.
And the one that we lost.
I, too, congratulate and wish the new Taoiseach, his Ministers and everyone else the best. I thank the Taoiseach for being helpful in his previous role as Minister for Social Protection on the many issues we raised. The Tánaiste was also helpful. I hope she has placed work on Clonmel Garda station in the safe hands of the new Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and that the project will proceed.
As I look along the line of Ministers still present in the Chamber, Deputy Charles Flanagan did well in his role as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, as did the Ministers, Deputies Michael Creed and Simon Harris. As there is a lot of unfinished business in the area of health, I am glad to see that the Minister, Deputy Simon Harris, has been left in his role.
As for the new Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, it could be a case of smoke and mirrors, with him needing to look in the mirror every day to see which Department he is representing. Nonetheless, I am delighted that the two Departments are back under one umbrella. If the legislation has to to be changed, all the better. It was Deputy Brendan Howlin who wanted the little position of Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform for himself all those years ago and he was given it.
The Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, will welcome the move out of the area of housing. The Minister prior to him, AK47 or the King, was going to sort out the problems in housing provision, but he has not attended to hear one syllable of this debate. He got Deputy Brendan Howlin to speak for him. He failed as housing Minister. Big Phil the Enforcer failed before him. There is a massive housing crisis, with thousands on the housing list in every county and homeless persons all over the place. The Government is also forgetting about those in mortgage arrears. It is abandoning them and throwing them to the wolves and vulture funds. Will the Taoiseach, please, rein in the banks, NAMA and the vulture funds? He should show the compassion about which he has been tweeting for many years and deal with the ordinary people who are struggling.
AIB is being fattened. I wish the former Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, well in his retirement, but I did not support him in what he did with AIB. The shares in it are to be sold to vulture funds; some of the largest of which in the world will come in again. What about farmers and small business people waiting in their homes tonight for the sheriff to arrive, on behalf of the courts, AIB and all of the other funds that lent money recklessly? We paid them back and bailed them out. We have to look after the people and allow them to be re-energised to enable them to house themselves. Many of those in mortgage distress did not ask for council houses or free loans. The economy was wrecked and they suffered. They are now suffering again. The Taoiseach should instil some compassion into his Ministers, including those from the Independent Alliance, to enable people to help themselves and live reasonable lives instead of being forced into ill health by fear and strain caused by threats from the sheriff. A couple of years ago I brought a book into the Chamber, Waiting for the Sheriff, but nothing has changed since. Since I entered the Dáil, this is the third Government for which a Taoiseach has been appointed for which I have been unable to vote and that is the reason. I quoted the song "Won't Get Fooled Again" by the band The Who. We do not want to be fooled again and neither do the people.
As Deputy Danny Healy-Rae said, the Government must look after ordinary people - the homeless, the sick and the 400 or 500 on trolleys everyday. Thousands of people are on waiting lists; some of whom have been waiting for five years - I receive letters which I would not even send to them - for simple procedures, for example, cataract or hip operations. There is a four or five-year waiting list for orthodontic treatment. Young children who are entering secondary school and going out to meet their peers cannot have these desperately needed operations performed. There are no psychology services available in County Tipperary, which has been abandoned. Last week we found out, however, that 9% more managers were employed last year in the HSE. We can have managers but not nurses. There is something rotten in the state of Denmark. We have to rein in the HSE and HIQA. I wish the Minister, Deputy Katherine Zappone, well in what is a troubled time for her, but she has to rein in Tusla also. There is quango after quango that the Government stated it would not set up but which it did.
I see the new Minister, the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, looking at me. That fellow did a Pontius Pilate on post offices. He could not get away from them fast enough, but he is being appointed Minister with responsibility for rural development.
Just like the Deputy ran away from Fianna Fáil.
I am shocked that he will now be the Minister with responsibility for rural development. If that is what he did to oifig an phoist, what will do to small farmers? What will he do to Tús workers? What will he do to the farm grant schemes? God help us all. I am very disappointed by the poor judgment shown. I know that he came out and said he would vote for the new Taoiseach to undermine the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, from the perspective of a rural constituency, but he is being shoved onto the people of rural Ireland. A man who comes from rural Ireland should know better, but he handled the post office issue appallingly. He could not wait to hand over the issue for Cabinet decision and dissociate himself from it. I do not look forward to what is going to happen.
I do look forward, however, to the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, who is laughing, dealing with DEIS schools in my constituency next year.
The Deputy is all over the-----
I am glad that the Minister is still in the Cabinet and the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, likewise as she will look after the issues that the Government-----
Go away out of that. The Deputy would be over here if he got the chance.
It is welcome that-----
He would love to come over here.
Will the Ministers of State, please, not interrupt?
Yes, please. They were going to-----
We should hear the truth. He would come over here if he got the chance.
They never stop interrupting.
If the Ministers of State get an opportunity to respond, they can share time, if their party colleagues agree to it.
Some of them have left and more are half asleep. Some are waking up, however, and realising they are still in government. They will need to pinch themselves, but they should know that they must look after the people. It is a privilege to be elected to this House. Our duty is to be Teachtaí Dála, messengers of the people. I welcome the Taoiseach's command of the Irish language and his appointment of a Minister with responsibility for the arts, culture and heritage, which is important, but Government members must know that they are public servants and represent the people. They should not forget about them when they are re-elected, pull up the ladder and to hell with the rest.
We need to fill the places that IDA Ireland did not fill if we are to deal with the impact of Brexit. It is too serious.
Next are the speakers for the Social Democrats and the Green Party who I understand are sharing time.
I seek to share time with Deputies Róisín Shortall, Eamon Ryan and Seamus Healy.
I read with interest the manifesto of the new Taoiseach, particularly where he described Fine Gael as a compassionate party that was committed to open rather than closed politics. He used the foreword to tell us that as a young man he had been attracted to Fine Gael because he had been inspired by what he described as the party's "unshakeable integrity" in how politics should operate. Today, however, we watched as someone who had been the subject of the gravest findings by the Moriarty tribunal became Fine Gael's kingmaker. Deputy Michael Lowry now has access to the Government and the highest political office in the land because the Taoiseach can count on him. The Moriarty tribunal ran for 13 years and cost the State in excess of €55 million, yet its findings have not been acted on. We find ourselves in a situation where the election of a Fine Gael Taoiseach is being facilitated by one of the key players in that tribunal, while a controversial company, Siteserv, now known as Actavo and owned by the other person against whom the tribunal made its findings - they were about corruption - was the supplier to the Houses of the Oireachtas of the barriers used for the Taoiseach's walk of honour in the grounds this afternoon. It beggars belief and serves only to remind us why trust in government and politics has been decimated. If the Taoiseach believes in the phrase "Start as you mean to go on", the events of today mark an inauspicious start for the Government. Is this the unshakeable integrity the Taoiseach says inspired him about Fine Gael's politics?
Politics and governing must be about an ethical enterprise.
One cannot ask people to have faith and trust in anything less. The programme for a partnership Government talks of greater openness, improved accountability and delivery of more effective public participation but the challenge of the new Cabinet as it sits here this evening is not to spend time finding nice lines about accountability and restoring trust in politics, lines that work in manifesto documents, but to make actions speak louder than words. The newish Cabinet assembled here tonight will be judged on its actions rather than its words. I wish people well in their new positions but now that the phony war is over, we need to start seeing some real actions on some key issues such as, for example, housing.
At the outset, I congratulate the Ministers of State, Deputies Eoghan Murphy and Regina Doherty, on their elevation to Cabinet and I wish them well in their new roles. Apart from that, I have to share the points made by other speakers suggesting that the reshuffle that has taken place has been quite uninspiring. In some of the areas where reform is most needed there is not too much sign that it will happen. There has been much comment on remarks the Taoiseach and the outgoing Taoiseach have made in respect of child poverty. The reality is that one in nine children now live in consistent poverty. Since 2008, that figure has doubled. The Taoiseach, during the period of the last Government, and his predecessors in government, Fianna Fáil, contributed very significantly to that doubling. That is a shameful record by any standard. Words ring very hollow. We can only judge the Taoiseach by his actions, not by his fine words on a day like today. There is no doubt but that the impact of austerity fell disproportionately on children. That has created huge problems and the loss of childhood for many thousands of children.
The Taoiseach spoke about giving the Minister, Deputy Zappone, a priority job to do, which was to tackle the area of child poverty. That is all very well but is he prepared to give her the requisite funding? The initiatives taken in the past in respect of area-based childhood programmes have been starved of funding. Their funding is only guaranteed for another few months. The Taoiseach needs to put his money where his mouth is if he is serious about tackling the scandal of child poverty. Is he prepared to provide the kind of funding needed for those areas most affected by poverty, in order to provide the kind of investment that is required in family support services, infant mental health services, general child health services, education and child care?
A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I am sorry. There are few enough Ministers here.
I have no control over-----
We are listening to the Deputy.
Wait now, the Deputies cannot do two things.
For God's sake, we are listening to every word the Deputy says.
They are in a little huddle whispering to each other. At least pay people the courtesy-----
I am adding some of the facts the Deputy has not acknowledged, such as child poverty decreasing in 2015.
The Deputies should pay people the courtesy of listening.
It increased when Deputy Shortall was in government.
The fact of the matter is that child poverty doubled between 2008 and last year. The fact of the matter is that the Government introduced five regressive budgets, which widened the gap between rich and poor. Let us find out what the Taoiseach is actually about. Let him leave aside the fine words today. He is very much untested. Is he serious about doing something meaningful in respect of the poverty, exclusion and inequality that exists in our society or is he using empty phrases? We do not know where he stands on key issues. We do not know whether he has any vision for the country. We do know that he cannot promise tax breaks and promise to tackle the problem of poverty and inequality. The two things just do not add up. Will the Taoiseach come out clearly and let us know what it is he is actually going to do? Is he going to serve the few or the many?
I have to echo the earlier comments of Deputy Danny Healy-Rae. We are with him in a whole new rural-green alliance. We were right. We were proud to vote for the Deputy's motion and proud that our two votes counted. He is also right that we will not be silenced. I was very disappointed to hear the Taoiseach echoing Fianna Fáil and that he is seeking to silence the smaller parties in this new Dáil. He will not find us so easy to silence. I mentioned Deputy Healy-Rae because the key point I want to make relates to the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, who has been nominated as a Minister. Unfortunately, he has just left but I am sure he will be listening-----
Has Deputy Ryan found God?
No, it is just that rural development is something we need to get right. My mother comes from a town Deputy Creed knows well. All points from there to Gougane Barra and in between are as important to us as anywhere in south Dublin. Rural development is key to what the Government needs to get right. I am concerned at the nature of the change in that regard. I very much welcome the arrival of the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy - that phrase has a nice ring to it - into his position. I would have thought that he would have a key role in terms of rural development. My understanding the direction being taken with the national planning framework, as it was devised by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, was that the question would be put back to rural Ireland, as well as towns and cities across the country, as to how they were going to develop as part of a new national plan. My understanding was that was the key planning change from the original strategic plan we were going to carry out.
My concern is that I am not too sure how we will do that when there are now several Ministers responsible, namely, a Minister for Community and Rural Affairs, a Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, who has a role and a Minister for Culture, who also has a critical role. I am not too sure that dividing that Department into two is the right thing; in fact I think it is the wrong thing. It makes the culture Ministry too small and that cultural element will be missing from rural development. I do not see it working. Given that the creation of a new Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and a new Minister for Community and Rural Affairs is the key - and really only - change from the previous Cabinet, this is not an insignificant issue. I am interested to see how that will work but it has to work. It has to connect to what we will do in the national capital plan review and the national climate dialogue.
The reason I mentioned a rural-green alliance is because that is the nature of what is needed. Regarding what I said earlier about us making this leap and taking this whole climate change issue seriously, I say to the Minister, Deputy Creed, that farmers are the front line. I had a meeting with Teagasc and 250 of the top farmers last week. We absolutely saw eye to eye. We recognised that they are the front-line key scientists and they have to be the people tackling climate change. This is a rural development issue as much as anything else. I simply do not see in the Cabinet reconstruction how that is going to work. Perhaps it will. If I am proven wrong and the incoming Minister, Deputy Ring, works with the incoming Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and with the Minister, Deputy Creed, then I will step back and say "fair play, you have done it". I have concerns, however. I am not sure what is the strategic thinking behind those new Departments. I am not sure what the culture Ministry is doing out on its own or what the rural development Ministry is doing, if it is not doing Deputy Eoghan Murphy's new job, which is this whole planning issue about how we develop and particularly how we develop towns. Rural development is not just about farming. It is about Boyle, County Roscommon, Macroom, County Cork and Charleville and every other town.
It is not all west of the Shannon either.
No, it is the exact same in Leinster but that is our problem. How do we revive our 19th century market towns as part of rural development? That is a planning issue. How will the new Minister, Deputy Ring, manage that? It is okay in Westport, which is working because it is a tourist boom town, but there are not many Westports out there. How do the towns which are not Westports make it? I would love to see how that will be resolved between the new Ministers, Deputies Ring and Murphy. That is one of the key questions I have.
I will make one last point, if I may. We have too many "super junior" Ministers of State. Teams of 15 or so make sense. There is something in the human condition that means we work well when we are around a table of 15. Once 20 is reached, which is where we are at now, cohesion is lost. It is almost akin to a UK Cabinet. One of the problems with the UK is that it has a Cabinet with 25 or 30 people in the room. It does not work as a team. There are too many super-junior Ministers. I am sorry, it must be a very difficult decision and a hard call when some people have to lose jobs but there are too many people around the Cabinet table.
In terms of new politics there are three things we have to do: we must establish a universal health system, we must get climate right, and we have to decide how third level education will be funded. I cannot understand how the Minister for Education and Skills is not responsible for answering that key question in conjunction with the House. It gives me a certain lack of confidence that we will be able to answer that question in the remaining time that we have. They are some of the concerns. I wish all of the officeholders well. I wish the Government well. However, Deputy Danny Healy-Rae and I are going to be all over this rural development issue. We will work together on it because there is common cause.
That is an unholy alliance - Deputies Eamon Ryan and Danny Healy-Rae.
That is what we need. We will need to get the Minister, Deputy Ring, to work with the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, in the same way to make it work.
Do not sit on the fence.
I call Deputy Healy.
Deputy Danny Healy-Rae is not taking up the offer.
He is not reciprocating. He is not responding.
Time is very limited. Deputy Healy has just short of three minutes.
The cruel capitalist extremist policies of recent governments have devastated Irish society, have devastated low and middle-income families, have created poverty for families and children and have facilitated evictions from family homes. Of course, they have left the country with a chaotic health service and a housing and homeless crisis.
In the very short time available to me I want to address the Minister, Deputy Harris, regarding health matters. Nine months ago in October 2016 he visited South Tipperary General Hospital. He described the conditions in the hospital as utterly unacceptable and said that solutions needed to be found. He went on to say that a decision would be made before the end of the year. Nothing has happened. The hospital is a progressive, forward-looking and efficient hospital. However, unfortunately, despite the best efforts of staff, there is horrendous chaos in the hospital. This month, June, there have been as many as 31 trolleys in the corridors of the hospital. What, in God's name, will it be like in the coming autumn and winter?
Patients on trolleys have no dignity or privacy. They lack access to adequate bathrooms and washing facilities. Staff are run off their feet and are struggling to provide a safe service in a highly pressurised atmosphere. South Tipperary General Hospital has been in crisis for more than five years. It has experienced savage cuts in funding and staffing, despite increasing its emergency department, outpatient and inpatient activity. The hospital is bursting at the seams. It is operating at 130% capacity. The medical department is operating at 150% capacity. Normal capacity at full occupancy is regarded as 85%.
The hospital urgently needs additional inpatient beds as promised by the Minister on his visit. I call on the Minister to fulfil that promise and make funds available immediately for 40 additional inpatient beds to address the chaos at the hospital, which has been caused by the policies of this and previous governments.
I call the Tánaiste who, I understand, is sharing.
I propose to share my time with the Ministers, Deputies Donohoe and Ross.
They will have three to three and a half minutes each.
It is great privilege once again to serve in government - a Government of purpose that will work towards a prosperous nation for all and in every community. It has been an honour to serve as Minister in two Departments. Throughout my time as Minister for Justice and Equality, there have been major changes in significant areas of public life. I am very proud of those changes for which I have campaigned my whole life. I believe the commission on the future of policing will represent a seminal moment when it comes to the future of An Garda Síochána.
As the first Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, I had the privilege of introducing a number of ground-breaking reforms, including the comprehensive reform of the child protection and welfare system. I am very proud of the successful referendums on children's rights and marriage equality.
I am honoured to continue in my role as Tánaiste. Life is a series of new challenges and I am very pleased to accept this new portfolio, which at its core is about creating opportunity. Getting a job, being able to pursue a career and provide for oneself and one's family is the best opportunity a person can get. It is the best way out of poverty and the best way of giving the kind of support that future generations need.
Unemployment is falling. There are challenges on the horizon. I noticed that not one Opposition speaker has mentioned that unemployment has reduced from 15.4% to 6.2%. That represents a major change in the lives of so many of our citizens and it is what they want to see. The task now is to create and innovate, to spread opportunity in enterprise far and wide, as the Taoiseach said, to the four corners of the country and everywhere in between. We now have the green technology, the artificial intelligence and the economic foundations on which we can build the future of Irish industry with endeavour, creativity and investment.
We are an island at the centre of our global world. We will redouble our efforts to attract talent and investment. I greatly look forward to playing a central role in this Government which will be totally guided by the absolute priority of providing equality of opportunity to each and every person in this Republic. We have to banish the disadvantage and exclusion that still cripple too many lives. As I have often said, until we do that, our democracy is unfinished. We have to use our economic growth to ensure that nobody is left out. We will ensure that we protect and use that growth to transform Ireland into a modern, progressive society.
This will be a Government of delivery that ensures that everyone can have opportunities for themselves and their families in the time ahead. The Taoiseach spoke so eloquently of a republic of opportunity. The task ahead must be to restore opportunity to those who have lost it and to provide opportunity to those it has passed by.
The Tánaiste may have a further two minutes if she so wishes.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.
We believe in a State that stands for social justice and equality of opportunity. We believe in turning our face towards the world, holding out our hand in welcome, remaining at the heart of Europe as we have made clear repeatedly, and seeking to capture new hearts elsewhere. That is what we will be judged on. The Government is totally committed to that goal.
Let me return to words I have used in the past. Democracy is not about entitlement; it is about contribution. Each and every one of us in this House has a contribution to make to the exciting future that can lie ahead for all of our citizens.
The Independent Alliance is delighted that the Taoiseach has decided-----
To reopen Stepaside Garda station.
-----that we should be kept in the same roles as we held previously. We share his vision for equality of opportunity. We are also delighted that we have the opportunity to reinforce the programme for Government which we agreed with the Minister, as he was then, Deputy Varadkar, and the Government of the day this time last year. We are grateful and pleased that we managed to agree that many of the things we believed in have been accelerated in the programme as it will go forward in the future. That includes the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the judicial appointments-----
Come off it.
That also includes two Bills introduced by the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran, and a programme by the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan.
The Minister without interruption.
All of those are agreed to be accelerated and, we have been assured, they will be accompanied in many cases by more free votes in the coming years of this Government.
Against the Attorney General's advice.
This is welcome.
I wish to address some of the issues raised by Fianna Fáil and by Deputy Troy with his interruptions - not his contribution because his interruptions are always far better than his contributions.
The Minister has been here a long time and knows that all his comments should be addressed through the Chair.
Deputy Troy is trying to win the heckler of the year award.
No bilaterals in this House.
In particular, I would like-----
None of my contributions has been for the Minister.
The same applies to Deputy Troy - no bilaterals.
I wish to address the issue on which he has been interrupting all evening, which is the issue of Stepaside Garda station. I thank Deputy Troy for the opening. Let me address that for him to satisfy him a bit. Deputy Troy is right that I campaigned for the opening of Stepaside Garda station.
And I gave the Minister a hand with it.
He is right that it was part of my platform at the last election. He is right that I have campaigned for it since I came into government.
And he delivered.
Let me say one thing. When I was negotiating on the programme for Government on this particular issue, does Deputy Troy know who the biggest pushover on the issue of Stepaside Garda station was? It was Deputy Micheál Martin.
I went to him first and I asked if he would give us Stepaside Garda station and he said: "No problem, it's over. It's yours."
-----and today he has come back and said it was a pork barrel deal. He was offering pork barrel politics by the bejaysus at the time.
We had to explain the judicial appointments process to the Minister, Deputy Ross, when we were in the negotiations. The Minister does not seem to have learnt much about it.
Do Members want to know what these guys over here said? They said, "No". They said, "We can't do it. We can't pull it because we can't interfere with the workings of Government", but the Fianna Fáil guys were fine. Deputy Micheál Martin was the guy who went up to Stepaside during the previous general election-----
That is right.
-----and he said on television - it was recorded - when he was asked if he could reopen Stepaside Garda station that it would definitely be reopened. Today he is saying it is a pork barrel deal and he disapproves of it. Come on.
What about the deal with the former Attorney General?
Come on, Deputy Troy.
She was appointed to the Court of Appeal.
The new ethical Fianna Fáil.
Deputies should not interrupt.
Let me say this, if there is another opportunity-----
She is now going to the Court of Appeal.
I ask the Minister not to invite interruption.
No, I will not. I am sorry.
He traded a judicial appointment for his local Garda station.
He is not like that.
When I next come to negotiate a programme for Government, I can assure the House that I will be looking over there to Fianna Fáil for the pork barrel deals, because I cannot get them out of these guys but Fianna Fáil is a pushover.
They got their judicial appointment off the Minister.
Let me address something else.
He might want a few gardaí in it.
In silence. The issue was addressed again by Deputy Micheál Martin this evening. He said that there was some trade-off between Máire Whelan's appointment and the Stepaside Garda station.
The Minister, Deputy Ross's Cabinet colleague agreed with him.
Deputy Troy should please not interrupt.
I am sorry.
Let me tell him something.
I ask Deputy Troy to refrain from interrupting.
I am sorry.
Let me tell him something, without interruption.
We are all mature politicians.
Yes, that is correct.
Members on all sides should act as such.
You are right, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.
Members are not allowed to talk-----
Let me tell the Deputy this. I have to clarify this issue as it is important. I learned first about Máire Whelan's proposed appointment yesterday morning. When I learned about it, there was no conversation about Stepaside Garda station. There has been no link of any sort between the two.
There should be.
Let me tell the Deputies this - I am not going to take any lectures from Fianna Fáil on political appointments, and particularly from Deputy Micheál Martin. Let me tell the Deputies why. Does Deputy Martin remember a woman by the name of Celia Larkin? She was appointed by him to the National Consumer Agency.
The Minister is a hypocrite.
The Minister should refrain from mentioning names of those who are not here to defend themselves.
We all know who it was.
I will not mention her name but-----
I am just giving the Minister guidance.
Do Members remember this-----
I am sorry. The Minister might be a Minister but I am in the Chair and I did not think he would need that type of advice.
Okay, that is fine. I apologise a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I will just remind the Opposition of this case. The person in question, whom I will not name, was appointed by Deputy Micheál Martin-----
The Minister is a hypocrite.
-----without interview and without conversation-----
That is right.
-----but she did happen to be his boss's partner. That, presumably, gives him every right to criticise other people for appointments here.
The Minister said he would change how judges are appointed.
In the appointments made by Fianna Fáil to the Judiciary the party stuffed it with their own people for years and years.
I call on Deputy Michael McGrath.
I will introduce a judicial appointments Bill, or rather the new Minister for Justice and Equality will do so next week-----
The Minister cannot extend the time.
-----to sort out this problem once and for all.
After the deal was done.
The Minister cannot extend the time.
The old system is rotten and should not be tolerated.
The Minister cannot extend the time. The Fianna Fáil slot has ten minutes. I understand Deputy Michael McGrath is sharing time with Deputies Billy Kelleher and Thomas Byrne. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I congratulate the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, and all the members of Government on their appointment this evening. It is a huge personal honour for each and every one of them and I genuinely wish them well in their portfolios. There is no doubt that, collectively, they all face enormous challenges. Among the priorities must be protecting Ireland against Brexit, managing the economy, fixing the health system and delivering houses for people.
I wish the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, well in his role. The forthcoming budget in 2018 will have to be built on those key priorities. Delivering homes for people has to be a top priority. I wish the Minister, Deputy Coveney, well in his new role and I congratulate him, but we will now have the third Minister with responsibility for housing in less than 16 months to face up to what is the single biggest emergency that people face. We will now have a three-month review of a plan, Rebuilding Ireland, that is less than 11 months old. I question the level of priority the Government is giving to the issue.
I say to the Minister, Deputy Ross, that as the man who has been such a fearless opponent of cronyism, such a passionate advocate for judicial reform, that when it came to what he reassured the House is an absolute coincidence, namely, that the announcement of the reopening of Stepaside Garda station and the appointment of Máire Whelan to the Court of Appeal without the Government even going through the process he regarded as inadequate – the principled opposition to cronyism, the principled advocacy for judicial reform went up like a puff of smoke. As they say in Cork, the Minister is a gas man indeed.
Among the priorities the Taoiseach and Ministers will have to face are helping people in this country who are in dire straits, who cannot get home help, who cannot access home care packages or get respite care for people with profound disabilities. There are young people in an absolute crisis who cannot get access to mental health services. I could give the Government a list of them. There are children with special needs in my constituency and I am sure all over the country waiting 18 months and longer for even an assessment of need not to mention gaining access to any service whatsoever at the end of the process.
The Government is facing some very big questions. The performance to date of the Government has not been good enough. It has not been up to standard. Among the big questions it faces is the future of the universal social charge. The new Taoiseach said it will remain but the programme for Government says it is on the way out. Are we going to deal with the pensions crisis? Are we going to have auto-enrolment into pension schemes? Are we going to do anything about climate change – the greatest challenge to human kind? Are we going to even aim for balanced regional development across the country? Are we going to tackle the issues of social inequality and child poverty? Are we going to prioritise the best long-term investment of all that we can make in the country, namely, the education system? Those are the challenges. The Government has not succeeded so far and it now has one final opportunity to do so.
On a personal level I congratulate those who have been reappointed and those who have been elevated to the Cabinet. In the absence of the Taoiseach I congratulate him on the privileged position he now holds. With that privilege comes huge responsibilities and we do need to ensure that those responsibilities are discharged by all the members of the Government collectively to address some of the significant challenges we face in this country.
I wish to refer to health for a moment although the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, is not present. We have a situation in the public health system which can no longer be tolerated. Children with scoliosis now wait 18 months for an MRI scan to diagnose the fact that they have scoliosis. Children are waiting two years for surgery to address the life-limiting condition of scoliosis. That is what is happening at present. I speak directly to the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, because he is now the man in charge of both taxation and spending. We need to address the significant deficiencies in health. The Taoiseach spoke today about an Ireland for all, and that everybody should be given an opportunity but people with scoliosis face insurmountable challenges. I continually meet parents who are put to the pin of collar as they see the life slowly leave their children because of this condition. That is what is happening as I stand here today.
In this short contribution I urge that we make some progress towards addressing those issues. We hear the broad parameters set out about a Government that is caring, that is centrist and that will address the challenges and afford an opportunity to everybody but we should spare a thought for the challenges that face those children. In the October budget I urge the Minister at the very least to address the most vulnerable in society. They are primarily people who are on hospital waiting lists across the country.
Some 660,000 people today are waiting for an inpatient or outpatient appointment. It is simply not acceptable and I believe that collectively the Ministers have a duty to address these huge challenges in health. I do not underestimate the challenges but to date they have been very lacking in respect of real commitment to addressing it.
The then Minister for Health, the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, said that he had unfinished business in the area of health. It was the understatement of the century because the fact of the matter was that there was no business done in health for a long time under the last Fine Gael Government and this Government. We abandoned universal health insurance, the underpinning of what was going to fund the public health system, and we have simply stripped away the ability of our public health system to deliver services. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, who I have congratulated and wish well personally, have significant opportunities and power in their hands to address the major deficiencies that are causing inordinate suffering to vulnerable people, especially children who are waiting for scoliosis operations.
Go raibh maith agat a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Ba mhaith liom mo chomhghairdeas a chur in iúl don Taoiseach nua, an Teachta Leo Varadkar. Tháinig an bheirt againn agus an bheirt Teachtaí Mhic Graith isteach sa Dáil deich mbliana ó shin inniu. Is onóir mhór do Theachta Varadkar agus a chlann gur thogadh ina Thaoiseach é inniu. Táimid lán-sásta leis sin agus táimid ag súil go ndéanfaidh sé gach iarracht an tír seo a chur chun cinn. Má dhéanann sé an iarracht sin tabharfaimid tacaíocht dó, fiú muna tabharfaimid tacaíocht do gach polasaí atá á chur i bhfeidhm aige. I also congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Regina Doherty, from my constituency on her elevation. It is an honour for the constituency, as well as for her and her family.
I want to refer to education. I was briefly heartened with the news that a "super junior" Minister of State was to be appointed with responsibility for higher education. I was very happy with the appointment of the Minister, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, because Fianna Fáil has very much pushed the issue of further education. I thought that finally, at last, the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, is getting to grips with this and realising it is an important issue. I was, however, somewhat confused and there were question marks in my head when the Taoiseach spoke. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, was mentioned as having responsibility for the Technological Universities Bill and third level funding. Media reports are now coming through that what happened, in fact, was a row behind the scenes when the Minister, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, was offered a justice and equality brief, refused it and was given higher education instead. This disappoints me greatly because if this is the way higher education is being treated by the Government - this is being reported by The Irish Times this evening - then my hopes were completely unfounded and all the fears we have about Fine Gael and higher education are absolutely true.
All the fears that have been expressed throughout the university sector and the higher education sector are well founded. They worry about Fine Gael's commitment to higher education and its funding. Now the whole sector has been thrown as a bauble to keep someone who is getting a demotion happy. Higher education should be promoted, not demoted. This is an absolute scandal and an insult to a sector that could be one of the ways of rescuing Ireland from Brexit. It is one of the first bad moves made by the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, and he will have to answer for it. We have said to the Government that the Technological Universities Bill can be brought forward and passed by the summer recess. We urge the Government to do this and we want it, somehow, to finally get the message. Tonight, it does not look as though the Government has got that message. The Minister, Deputy Bruton has a job ahead of him. I do not know who is responsible for the sector; no one knows who is responsible for it. The Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, has demoted not only the Minister, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, but he has also demoted higher education.
Turning to the appointment of Ms Máire Whelan SC as President of the Court of Appeal, I worry for the Government that the appointment will carry with it the stain of original sin for the entire length of the rest of the Taoiseach's term, one for which I wonder if there will be any redemption. This appointment will hang over the Government like a sword of Damocles. It will damage this Administration unless the questions that were raised legitimately by my party leader today are answered fully.
There has been a huge degree of excitement around the House today for those newly appointed Ministers and "super junior" Ministers of State and their families. There is obviously a significant sense of achievement for them, while for others there is a sense of disappointment. Large numbers of people beyond the gates of Leinster House, however, will be deeply unmoved by what they have heard today. I am talking about the 7,680 homeless people, including 2,780 children, who tonight will sleep in emergency accommodation; the more than 90,000 families who are languishing on local authority housing waiting lists; and the tens of thousands of struggling renters and potential first-time buyers who are locked out of the housing market.
For six years, we have had Fine Gael in government. By any indicator, the housing crisis is worse today than it was when it took office. The outgoing Minister with responsibility for housing, the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, took office some 12 months ago. It genuinely gives me no pleasure to say this, but never has a Minister with responsibility for housing promised so much and yet delivered so little. His legacy is a 20% increase in adult and child homelessness in the State, increasing numbers of people at risk of homelessness, spiralling costs for the rental or purchase of homes and a snail's pace delivery of social housing. The Minister, Deputy Coveney's first self-imposed test in the housing action plan was to end the use of hotels for families and to house those adults and children in permanent homes. Just weeks before the deadline for this measure was to pass, it is unfulfilled and he walks away. Just 12 months into a six year plan he is, in my view, turning his back on the thousands of families who were looking to him and to whom he promised hope for the future.
Ultimately this was a decision of the new Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, I have no doubt that if the Minister, Deputy Coveney, had really wanted to stay in housing, he could have done so. This is the sixth Minister in five years with responsibility for housing. Is it any wonder that the crisis has yet to be resolved? It sends out a very worrying signal that the Taoiseach neither understands nor is serious about tackling the housing crisis.
The proposed appointment of the Taoiseach's close ally, the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, as the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government is a big surprise. I know the Minister of State from over the last years and he is very smart. I have no doubt that he will work hard, as the former Minister, Deputy Coveney, did, in the brief. The Minister of State, Deputy Murphy, however, has shown little interest in housing policy during his six years in the Dáil. In total, he has raised the issue of housing on the floor of the House 25 times. He has mentioned the issue of homelessness five times and social housing four times. He has mentioned the private rental sector just once. The Minister of State has an awful lot of catching up to do.
On hearing that he was appointed as the Minister, I wrote to the Minister of State formally, requesting a meeting at his earliest convenience in order to outline our ongoing and deep-rooted concerns over the failure of his Government's housing policy. As I said to his predecessor when he took office, if the Minister does the right thing I will support him and I will stand here and welcome initiatives that he takes that would relieve acute housing stress. When he makes mistakes, however, we will do everything we can to hold him to account.
I note with interest that the Minister of State, Deputy Murphy, has been asked to undertake a review of the Government's housing plan and part of me would like to welcome this, especially the promise of potentially increased social housing delivery and the possibility of a vacant home tax. Given the level of disappointment that many of us now feel after 12 months of the Minister, Deputy Coveney's failure to tackle the housing crisis, I am not going to hold my breath that much is going to change in three months' time.
Sinn Féin will, of course, engage constructively in any review and we will continue to offer credible policy alternatives to tackle the housing and homeless crises. Crucially, we will continue to argue that the over reliance on the private sector to meet social and affordable housing needs, and the weak regulation of the private rental sector, are central to the failures of this Government's and previous Governments' policies. The housing crisis can be solved, but only if the right policies and, crucially, the right level of investment are put in place to ensure that secure and affordable housing is a right affordable to all and not just to the few.
I begin by recognising the contribution and achievement of the former Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan. It is an honour to follow in his footsteps in leading the Department of Finance in addition to my current responsibilities at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. In the budget that I had the honour of introducing in the House with the former Minister, Deputy Noonan, I concluded my words with a statement.
It was a statement used by others in the same debate, namely, that the centre must hold and that we must find a way of reassuring those who are looking for progress and stability that centrist, normal politics is capable of delivering them. The election of the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, and a Cabinet that is honoured to serve him, is an important development that deserves the support of some in the House and, I hope, the interests of those outside the House. What the Taoiseach recognised in his contribution as a member of the Fine Gael Party in his efforts to become leader of Fine Gael is that in the face of the vacuous negativity that we hear on a constant basis from Sinn Féin and other Members of the far left, it is not enough to hold the centre, we must redefine, re-energise and renew it. That is what the election of this Taoiseach, whose life story and achievements in political life reflect the kind of Ireland that all of us aspire to create, is about. I salute and recognise Deputies who are willing to play their part, make the hard choices and seek to be constructive in electing a Government and at least to allow it to serve before condemning it and criticising it as a failure, as others seek to do.
The Taoiseach has asked us - it will be my privilege as Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform to do so - to look at what more steps can be taken to ensure that we have a republic of opportunity and to ensure we have a society and not just an economy that is capable of delivering opportunity for all, regardless of where one comes from, where one is born or one's age. That is the kind of Ireland that this Government, consisting of Fine Gael and colleagues in the Independent Alliance and other Independent Members, is committed to doing. Some of the contributors to this debate, including Deputy Mattie McGrath, Deputy Broughan and the Social Democrats, referenced the need for action but they showed no interest in coming into government. What we have heard from them tonight is a desire to point out what is wrong. We know what is wrong. We know what needs to be changed. We know the opportunities that our country has to meet. We know the anguish that we must seek to quench.
Some Members spoke about our national debt, with no recognition of the progress that has been made in reducing our deficit or of the fact that, as we move into next year, this Government will ensure that our country does not need to borrow to fund the public services on which we depend. As they point to what we need to achieve in regard to child poverty, for example, could they not also recognise that in 2015 a total of 13,000 children were lifted out of poverty. It is our desire and ambition to create a society in which more children, families and older people are lifted out of poverty and an Ireland that reflects the ambitions, hopes and worth of all citizens. That is what this Administration, led by the Taoiseach, is determined to do.
I heard so many members of the far left describe this House as a bubble. It is not a bubble. This is a Parliamentary Chamber in which the voices of the people of Ireland are represented and in which those voices are heard. This Administration will hear those voices, their dreams and their concerns. It will seek to build on what has been done and to achieve far more. I had the privilege this morning of attending the re-opening of the wings of the National Gallery of Ireland along with the outgoing Taoiseach, on whose foundations we will all seek to build. It is more than a place: it is a space in which people can come together to look at our arts and to reflect on it, all of which was facilitated by the changes in our economy that so many here tonight said would never happen.
This is a Cabinet and a Taoiseach that will be working night and day, conscious of what needs to be done and what we need to achieve but also conscious of the journey that our country has made.
- Bailey, Maria.
- Barrett, Seán.
- Breen, Pat.
- Brophy, Colm.
- Bruton, Richard.
- Burke, Peter.
- Byrne, Catherine.
- Canney, Seán.
- Cannon, Ciarán.
- Carey, Joe.
- Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
- Coveney, Simon.
- Creed, Michael.
- D'Arcy, Michael.
- Daly, Jim.
- Deasy, John.
- Deering, Pat.
- Doherty, Regina.
- Donohoe, Paschal.
- Doyle, Andrew.
- Durkan, Bernard J.
- English, Damien.
- Farrell, Alan.
- Fitzgerald, Frances.
- Fitzpatrick, Peter.
- Flanagan, Charles.
- Griffin, Brendan.
- Halligan, John.
- Harris, Simon.
- Heydon, Martin.
- Humphreys, Heather.
- Kehoe, Paul.
- Kenny, Enda.
- Kyne, Seán.
- McEntee, Helen.
- McGrath, Finian.
- McHugh, Joe.
- McLoughlin, Tony.
- Lowry, Michael.
- Madigan, Josepha.
- Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
- Moran, Kevin Boxer.
- Murphy, Dara.
- Murphy, Eoghan.
- Naughten, Denis.
- Naughton, Hildegarde.
- Neville, Tom.
- Noonan, Michael.
- O'Connell, Kate.
- O'Donovan, Patrick.
- O'Dowd, Fergus.
- Phelan, John Paul.
- Ring, Michael.
- Rock, Noel.
- Ross, Shane.
- Stanton, David.
- Varadkar, Leo.
- Adams, Gerry.
- Barry, Mick.
- Boyd Barrett, Richard.
- Brady, John.
- Broughan, Thomas P.
- Buckley, Pat.
- Burton, Joan.
- Collins, Joan.
- Collins, Michael.
- Crowe, Seán.
- Cullinane, David.
- Daly, Clare.
- Doherty, Pearse.
- Ellis, Dessie.
- Ferris, Martin.
- Funchion, Kathleen.
- Healy-Rae, Danny.
- Healy, Seamus.
- Howlin, Brendan.
- Kelly, Alan.
- Kenny, Martin.
- McDonald, Mary Lou.
- McGrath, Mattie.
- Martin, Catherine.
- Mitchell, Denise.
- Munster, Imelda.
- Murphy, Catherine.
- Nolan, Carol.
- O'Brien, Jonathan.
- O'Reilly, Louise.
- O'Sullivan, Jan.
- Ó Broin, Eoin.
- Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
- Ó Laoghaire, Donnchadh.
- Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
- Penrose, Willie.
- Pringle, Thomas.
- Quinlivan, Maurice.
- Ryan, Brendan.
- Sherlock, Sean.
- Stanley, Brian.
- Tóibín, Peadar.
- Wallace, Mick.
- Aylward, Bobby.
- Breathnach, Declan.
- Browne, James.
- Butler, Mary.
- Byrne, Thomas.
- Cahill, Jackie.
- Casey, Pat.
- Cassells, Shane.
- Chambers, Jack.
- Curran, John.
- Donnelly, Stephen S.
- Dooley, Timmy.
- Grealish, Noel.
- Harty, Michael.
- Haughey, Seán.
- Healy-Rae, Michael.
- Kelleher, Billy.
- Lahart, John.
- Lawless, James.
- McConalogue, Charlie.
- McGrath, Michael.
- Martin, Micheál.
- Moynihan, Aindrias.
- Moynihan, Michael.
- Murphy O'Mahony, Margaret.
- Murphy, Eugene.
- O'Callaghan, Jim.
- O'Keeffe, Kevin.
- O'Rourke, Frank.
- O'Sullivan, Maureen.
- Rabbitte, Anne.
- Scanlon, Eamon.
- Smith, Brendan.
- Smyth, Niamh.
- Troy, Robert.