Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

Coverage of the budget and related events will probably have overshadowed the very significant speech by Mr. Michel Barnier on the withdrawal treaty and the progress achieved in that regard. I understand from his speech, as covered in a RTÉ report this morning, that some 85% of the agreement between the United Kingdom and European Union has been agreed. The remaining 15% applies directly to Ireland and to how goods are imported and exported east to west and north to south. The progress is welcome. I commend all the Irish officials who have been involved.

In this House, we agree that a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is absolutely unacceptable for political, human and economic reasons. Mr. Michel Barnier stated yesterday:

The UK wants to and will leave the Single Market and the Customs Union.

This means that there must be checks on goods travelling between the EU and the UK – checks that do not exist today:

- customs and VAT checks;

- and compliance checks with our standards to protect our consumers, our economic traders and your businesses.

We have agreed with the UK that these checks cannot be performed at the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

It looks like this will be a unique set of circumstances, if agreed by all EU members and, of course, the Parliament in Westminster. Again, this is good news but the mechanisms now have to be worked out.

I am concerned about the response from the DUP. In particular, it is latching on to old arguments and, unfortunately, old language by mentioning "blood-red lines", saying it will not be treated differently than others in the United Kingdom. This is highly politically charged and unnecessary language. It does not represent the views of the majority in Northern Ireland, who just want to get on with their lives and with doing business and creating and retaining jobs.

Has the Tánaiste any plans to meet the DUP to discuss its concerns over and approach to these issues and to reflect his concerns and the Government's input regarding these views? Is he concerned about the DUP position threatening a budget in the United Kingdom and how that position might affect the UK Government's approach to the last stages of these talks? Could he confirm that the reports on RTÉ this morning reflect the current status of the negotiations? What is his view on there being a conclusion to those negotiations next week?

The Deputy asked a lot of questions - a lot of good questions. I caution against people taking their lead in respect of these negotiations from media reports today. There have been intensive efforts this week by both negotiating teams to try to find a way forward. As Mr. Michel Barnier said yesterday, the vast majority of the text of the withdrawal treaty has been agreed. That is not new; we have known that for a while. The last 10% to 15% is difficult. Most of it involves Ireland. There are some other issues also. The intensification of discussions this week is primarily about trying to find a way forward to follow through on the commitments that have already been made in these negotiations, including last December and last March, to have a legally operable text that follows through on last December's commitment to an Irish backstop, which provides the guarantee that there will be no border infrastructure on this island in the future. The British and EU approaches to that have been somewhat different. The two negotiating teams are trying to find a way such that the European Union can be sure it protects the integrity of its Single Market and customs union in the future. The United Kingdom obviously wants to try to protect the integrity of the United Kingdom economically and reassure unionists, in particular, that there will be no significant new barriers to trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. There is a difficult political job for the negotiators. We need to give them the time and space to do it. I expect we will get a report on Monday to what is called COREPER in Brussels. We will have a General Affairs Council meeting. I will be meeting Mr. Michel Barnier on Tuesday morning, at which meeting we will get an in-depth readout of where the negotiations have gone over the past week or ten days. We are obviously speaking to the task force on a daily basis and getting briefings from it.

There is much focus and media attention on this issue because so much is at stake. We should, however, rely on the accounts that come from the task force and the British negotiating team directly rather than on rumours and reports that may or may not be based on fact. We are at a very delicate stage in these negotiations at which we need to find agreement, and time is running out. I am optimistic that an agreement can be reached. To my knowledge, the two negotiating teams do not yet have an agreed position on the Irish backstop, but the work continues.

I thank the Tánaiste for his response. That uncertainty makes it all the more important to engage the DUP. That was the core of my question. Has the Tánaiste plans to meet the DUP to reflect his proposals to it directly given that Mrs. Foster has met Mr. Barnier? She has obviously got the relationship she has with the UK Government. Do we intend to communicate the Irish Government's position to the DUP?

By contrast with all the media reports, Mr. Barnier's speech is quite detailed. I refer to the European Parliament speech and the subsequent statement, which outlines specific roles for Dublin Port in all this. Is the Tánaiste confident that, if agreement is reached, he will have the proper resources and facilities in place at the port and that nothing will be added to the burden or cost of business because of the extra responsibilities there? Is there proper investment not only at Dublin Port but also at all our ports to deal with this new environment? What are the Tánaiste's plans to meet the DUP?

We are engaged in ongoing communication with the DUP. Sometimes it involves direct meetings, sometimes back channels, and sometimes officials talking to one another. I have always said, however, that we talk to and consult all parties in Northern Ireland, not just one. We need to listen to all their concerns. The DUP is a very important voice in Northern Ireland but it does not represent a majority there. While the DUP has a special relationship with the British Government in the form of a confidence and supply agreement, which makes the relationship a close one, I hope we have a relationship with all political parties in Northern Ireland that allows us to meet them and listen to their concerns. Later today, the Taoiseach and I are meeting a series of parties in Northern Ireland here in Leinster House.

The answer to the Deputy's question is that the DUP does understand the Irish Government's position, as I hope do all the other parties in Northern Ireland. What we are looking for is an outcome that everybody can live with, protects the status quo as much as possible and does not interrupt in any major way trade between Northern Ireland and Britain but at the same time honours the commitment on guarantees to have no physical border infrastructure on the island of Ireland.

Any issues relating to contingency planning linked to Dublin Port, Rosslare Europort, Dublin Airport or other airports may involve businesses having to alter their normal export or import patterns. That is why we are holding big meetings with businesses on getting Brexit-ready. There will be one in Galway tomorrow, weather permitting, and we were in Cork last Friday. We want to ensure that businesses understand the potential consequences of Brexit and that they prepare and invest accordingly.

The tendering process under the national broadband plan, NBP, has been chaotic, to say the least. The big players, namely, Eir, the ESB and Vodafone, have pulled out. SSE Airtricity has left the consortium led by Mr. David McCourt. The John Laing Group, which was one of the companies providing cash and firepower, is also gone and Enet has been relegated to the role of a subcontractor in the process. Just one company remains in the process and all the others are gone. The State, which owns Enet, is to become a subcontractor to a private venture firm from America but will bankroll the project. It is essentially becoming an employee of a venture capital company. It is absolutely bizarre that we are in this position.

To add to this, there are serious questions about the contact between the Minister responsible for the process, Deputy Naughten, and the head of the sole remaining consortium, Mr. David McCourt. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment facilitated a lunch in Leinster House for Mr. McCourt and his family in April, paid for by the Minister. That was on the same day he was answering questions in the Chamber about inappropriate contact regarding the takeover of Celtic Media Group by Independent News & Media, INM. The Minister later met Mr. McCourt in June and he also met him at a dinner in New York in July. All of that happened at a crucial point in the tendering process. The Minister has acknowledged that the process was in its final stages. He has said that he did not discuss the process with Mr. McCourt at the dinner in New York, that he was at the table but that the officials were engaged in the discussion. That is simply unbelievable. Information on the discussion is contained in the minutes. This is despite the communications protocol for the process, which is laid out in black and white, stating that officials from the Department outside the team involved in the process could not meet the bidders at any time. It is protocol No. 1 on page No. 7 and it states that it should not happen. It is forbidden. The protocol is there for particular reasons.

While the Minister may not have been part of the discussion, as he claims, he was at the table. It is clear that he breached his own rules. He says that he did not, but the rule is laid out in black and white for everybody to see and it shows that he did. The Taoiseach said this morning that he has full confidence in him. Frankly, the process has gone from chaotic to farcical. All the while there are significant doubts about the capacity of this consortium to deliver. Leaving aside the inappropriate contact between the Minister and Mr. McCourt, there is no evidence that we are any closer to knowing when the roll-out will begin and whether the Government has a plan B to deliver broadband to the 542,000 households if this process falls apart.

Has the Tánaiste spoken to the Minister about his contact with Mr. McCourt? Were there just those three contacts with that individual over the past year or 18 months? Does the Tánaiste accept that the Minister breached his own protocols, set out in black and white, in respect of the tendering process? Does he have full confidence in the Minister? Would he do what the Minister has done, which is meet with a person who is involved in a serious bid worth €500 million, facilitate his family in private dining and meet him where issues were discussed? Finally, will the Tánaiste ensure that the minutes of the meeting of 28 June, which we discovered yesterday, are published in advance of the Minister coming to the House so that Members of the Opposition can thoroughly question and tease out aspects of that meeting?

First, I am glad to put on the record the process that is under way to ensure the approximately 500,000 properties that will be unable to get high-speed broadband through normal commercial channels will be able to get it through a national broadband scheme which the Government is determined to deliver. The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment has advised that the bidder in the national broadband procurement process is led by Granahan McCourt Capital and includes subcontractors Enet, Nokia, Actavo, the Kelly Group and KN Group. Enet will provide access to the metropolitan area network, MAN, infrastructure together with day-to-day operational activities. Nokia will provide a wide range of high-speed broadband equipment throughout the intervention area and the Kelly Group, KN Group and Actavo will provide the necessary staffing and construction expertise when building the fibre over the Eir network. Eir is also a key subcontractor to the bidder and will provide access to more than 1 million poles and 15,000 km of ducting to serve consumers in the intervention area. This tendering and procurement process is moving forward so we can complete the job of ensuring that homes and businesses in parts of rural Ireland can enjoy the high speed broadband connectivity they need to run their businesses and to interact, as many households do, with cities and towns.

On the second issue, the Minister, Deputy Naughten, has agreed to come to the House between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. today. He has agreed to make a detailed statement and to take questions from the Deputy and other Members who wish to ask them. It is appropriate to give him the opportunity to outline in detail what his involvement has been in meetings with Mr. David McCourt or anybody else, and to answer the questions Members are entitled to ask about a process as significant as this procurement process in order that he can reassure the House that his meetings and interactions have been appropriate and in no way have undermined the credibility of that process.

I asked my questions of the Tánaiste in his capacity as the second most senior member of the Government. Does he have full confidence in the Minister? Would he have done what the Minister did repeatedly at a late stage in the tendering process, which is continue to meet one of the main bidders? Will he ensure the minutes of the meeting of 28 June, which we discovered yesterday, are published so that we can scrutinise them before the Minister comes to the House? Does the Tánaiste accept what is stated in black and white, that officials from the Department, outside of the NBP team, will not at any time discuss the procurement process? He blatantly breached that. Has the Tánaiste sought any assurances or is he just going on blind faith? Has he spoken to the Minister? Has the Minister confirmed to the Tánaiste that these three occasions were the only occasions he has engaged with Mr. David McCourt? Perhaps he shone a light on what he told the committee on 8 February, which is that he had spoken directly at that time to Mr. David McCourt regarding their intentions in the bidding process, another event we do not know about.

I thank the Deputy.

We also know that the meeting which emerged yesterday is not included in his official diary.

I know that the Deputy's time is up.

Has the Tánaiste received any assurances in that regard and does he believe the Minister breached his own protocols?

First, I spoke to the Minister this morning. I rang him and he rang me back. It was a relatively brief conversation. I asked him to outline the detail for me, some of which the Deputy has asked about, and he did that. I expect that there will be no problem with publishing minutes of meetings. He has done that in respect of the minutes relating to the dinner in New York. The Minister would like a fair hearing in this House and he is happy to field detailed questions from Members who wish to ask them so that he can reassure the House and the Government of his bona fides on this issue. Nothing he told me this morning undermines my confidence in him. Members should give him the time and space to outline in detail the meetings he has had with Mr. David McCourt and the nature of those meetings so we can try to put this issue to bed.

As stated by the Tánaiste, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, is to make a statement in the House this afternoon. I seek clarity from the Tánaiste on the central issue. Despite what the Taoiseach said in the House yesterday, it is inappropriate for a Minister to have any contact with a bidder during a procurement process, and every Minister knows this. As a former Minister with responsibility for procurement for five years, I note this was made crystal clear and drilled into everybody. The Minister, Deputy Naughten, said that he has no hand, act or part in the bidding process. This displays a fundamental lack of understanding of his role under the Constitution and the law. The Minister is in charge of this procurement process, ultimately. Putting it mildly, in meeting the bidder he may have contaminated the process. He certainly has opened it up to legal challenge. We know that there have been three engagements involving the Minister, Deputy Naughten, and Mr. McCourt, whose investment firm is currently leading the broadband consortium that is bidding for the contract. The Minister, as we know, bought Mr. McCourt lunch in April. Bizarrely, at the same time he was standing in this Chamber to apologise for having taken a phone call from a lobbyist in another contract. The Minister told the House that everybody had his telephone number and that he took a call when he should not have done. The House gave him a fool's pardon at that stage. At the same time, he was arranging a lunch for a bidder in a bigger contract. The Minister had to be reminded by an official yesterday that he met Mr. McCourt on 26 June. There was no public announcement in this regard and, as has been said, the minutes of that meeting have not been released. We know that in the New York meeting, there was a discussion on this matter, although it is said that the Minister was not directly involved. It is taking it to extremes to say that there was a discussion on the matter between the bidder and officials and that while the Minister was sitting at the table, he was not involved in that discussion. This just is not how it works. Does the Tánaiste believe these meetings were appropriate? In light of the standards set by this Government, does he think that it was appropriate for the Minister, Deputy Naughten, to have these meetings?

We learned in recent days, that the former lead in the consortium, Enet, is now relegated to being a supplier and that the Irish Infrastructure Fund, a fund owned by the State, has bought Enet in its entirety. We now have the bizarre situation whereby the State is going to contract a private supplier - an investment company that has nothing do with telecoms - to hire a company, Enet, which the State owns, to provide broadband at a significant cost. Is the Tánaiste concerned about any of these matters?

Following on from the Deputy's remarks, I am sure he will agree that it would be inappropriate for me to discuss the detail of the procurement process and the proposal that is currently being assessed. The Deputy and I know that Enet is a company that manages metropolitan area networks, MANS, in which the State and the private sector have invested a great deal of amount. The company installs fibre rings around towns across the country and uses this fibre network to connect into a national broadband-----

I ask the Tánaiste to answer the questions I put to him.

I will come back to them. The Deputy has cast aspersions perhaps on the appropriateness of Enet being part of a solution being proposed by a bidder.

I did no such thing.

He did the opposite.

My understanding is that Mr. McCourt is a telecoms investor and as such he is not someone that has nothing to do with telecoms.

He is not a telecoms man. He is a man who owns a financial investment company.

He is a telecoms investor. He has invested in Enet in the past and he is now the lead bidder in a procurement process that is at a delicate stage.

On Ministers meeting bidders-----

-----it is not appropriate for a Minister to discuss the detail of any procurement process or bidding process while that tendering process is ongoing.

May a Minister sit beside an official as he or she is doing so?

Deputy Howlin will be aware from his time in government that this bidding process has been ongoing for over three years. It has involved multiple different players in the Irish telecommunications industry. The idea that the Minister with responsibility for telecommunications would not have had discussions with the head of Vodafone, Eir or others-----

I did not ask about that.

A Minister should not do so during a tender process.

-----over the past three years, because this tendering process has involved some of their companies, is not realistic.

The guidelines are crystal clear.

They are crystal clear. It is inappropriate for a Minister to discuss the detail of a procurement process or a bid in the context of that Minister's Department assessing that bid. It is important to say that the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment has nothing to do with the assessment process of the bid in technical terms.

The Minister is the person in charge under the law.

The Minister's responsibility is to come to Government for funding requests and to ensure that the process remains on track and on time. He has no role in terms of finalising the recommendation in regard to the bidding process. There needs to be, and has been, a separation between the Minister and his office and what is being assessed by the Department.

I asked the Tánaiste whether it was appropriate for the Minister, Deputy Naughten, to have two meetings with the lead bidder in the most significant contract being overseen by his Department. It is a simple and straightforward question. I have had engagements with procurement officers in the context of the protocols for this area, which I drew up during my time as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Interestingly, when I tried to access them online at the weekend I noted they have been removed from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform website. Under those protocols, a designated official with a designated email address was the only point of contact in a bidding process. Ministerial staff and the Minister were debarred from having any contact with a tenderer during the tender process. This was rigidly adhered to and, I believe, is still rigidly adhered to in most Departments. It is particularly bizarre that this is not the case in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, in particular because following on from the Moriarty tribunal, the guidelines are clear that there should be no meetings between a Minister and bidders during the bidding process. Any meetings between officials - there should be a designated official - should be minuted and published, whether or not commercially sensitive.

Thank you, Deputy.

Why do these protocols not apply in this case?

For reasons that I have outlined, namely, this has been a long procurement and tendering process that has involved multiple players in the telecommunications industry in Ireland. As Minister with responsibility for telecommunications, Deputy Naughten would have been at events where-----

Not with the lead bidder in the final stages of a contract.

For much of this process, there was not a lead bidder. Two other-----

There was at this stage. The Minister went to New York to meet him.

-----companies were part of this process but pulled out. There is one remaining bidder. It would be, and is, inappropriate for a Minister to discuss with this bidder any detail that relates to the bidding process or the procurement process.

I am sure the Minister did not do so.

The Minister, Deputy Naughten, wants an opportunity to come before this House to explain that he maintained a separation between both processes.

Yesterday, the funeral cortège of Emma Mhic Mhathúna passed Leinster House. It was a very emotional afternoon. A very pointed message was being sent by Emma. It was not directed at any particular person but at the people inside who they wanted to do something. What can the people in here do? We can investigate the actual cause of the death of Emma and 20 other women and ensure that unavoidable mistakes never happen again. Following Emma's death, her solicitor, Mr. Cian O'Carroll, said on an RTÉ radio programme that he is dumbstruck as to the reason the HSE and the Government are hell bent on avoiding the laboratory issue. He said that when the issue is raised with the Minister, Deputy Harris, and the Government, they focus on non-disclosure. Non-disclosure did not kill Emma. Emma died owing to failures in a laboratory in 2010 and 2013, as he said.

It is inexcusable that today, following her death, there is still not a clear and determined statement from the State saying that it will investigate why those slides along with so many hundreds of others were critically misread in the laboratories in the USA and Ireland. He also made the point that the 221 errors have not been properly investigated. They are not being looked at, and neither are the actual laboratories. The laboratory that misdiagnosed Emma and many others is still being used. I want to read a section from a report from Quest Diagnostics to the Tánaiste. It reads:

- We generated double-digit revenue growth in our near-patient - or "point-of-care" - - testing business.

- We continued to reduce our cost structure and improve our efficiency.

- We opened our lab in India.

As my colleague, the former Deputy Joe Higgins, said ten years ago, they could be producing cement for all that could be judged from statements like that. Is it not the reality that the Government's lack of interest in focusing on the labs is because political parties in this Dáil took a decision that cost would be the overriding criterion in deciding on the testing service?

Dr. Scally made the point yesterday that he did not give the labs the clean bill of health that the Minister has been so determined to suggest. He also made the point that a whole host of women could also be affected because the HSE and CervicalCheck took a decision to limit it to within an 18 month range. Dr. Scally and his investigators made the point there was not a clear and unambiguous international accreditation awarded to the labs. Why is it that a decision was taken that cost would be the fundamental criterion for the testing service and is it not the case that the Government decided to do medicine on the cheap and that many women are now paying the price?

I thank the Deputy for the question. First, on behalf of this House, I recognise the significance of Emma Mhic Mhathúna's funeral passing this House and other significant institutions of the State yesterday. I hope that this House will be able to honour the legacy of an extraordinarily brave woman and ensure the truth is fully understood in regard to what happened to her and others so that we avoid making the mistakes made in the past again in the future. The Minister, Deputy Harris, and this Government are absolutely committed to doing that and I thank other parties in this House for supporting us in this work.

I refer to what Dr. Scally said yesterday but first I thank him for his continuing work and his continuing support to the Government and the Department of Health on this. I thank him for his appearance at the committee yesterday and for speaking on his excellent report, which I encourage everybody to read. The reality is that we have known for a long time that the numbers may increase after we get the report of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which is currently under way. We know that the overall number being reviewed is higher than the CervicalCheck audit because there were a number of cases notified to the National Cancer Registry but not included in that audit. Members will recall that as soon as the Minister, Deputy Harris, learned this he informed the House straight away. Dr. Scally has done great work in setting out answers to questions. His recommendations have set the Government a goal, and we have adopted entirely those recommendations. The aim of eradicating cervical cancer through a programme of screening and vaccination is now what we want to implement. Dr. Scally is continuing his work and will continue to support the Government. He will independently oversee the implementation of many of his recommendations. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists work is under way, which is an independent, outside, expert review of smear tests and which will provide answers to some of the questions the Deputy is asking today. It is not appropriate to draw conclusions, however, without having the benefit of that report.

The Government is certainly not focusing on using labs for this purpose on the basis of cost. My understanding is that the cost of labs outside of Ireland is no less than the cost of labs used in Ireland in regard to assessing screening results.

I urge caution here because we have made mistakes in the past and jumped to conclusions. Let us wait until we get the detail of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists report which will hopefully be available in early 2019. Let us continue to work with Dr. Scally to ensure that we provide the supports necessary and that we learn from the mistakes that Dr. Scally, to his credit, has uncovered.

Dr. Scally told the Joint Committee on Health that there are still serious issues with slides sent by Clinical Pathology Laboratories Inc., CPL, to other labs in the USA. This is the outsourcing that the HSE did not even know about. Mr. O'Carroll made the point that when a mistake is made in other countries, the person in the lab who made the mistake is debriefed as to why he or she might have made the mistake. That has never been done in any of the labs that CervicalCheck has used. The reason is that CervicalCheck did not even know what labs were doing the testing. That is what we have now discovered in many cases. The outsourcing was being re-outsourced.

I ask about the tender documents. Why is it that we cannot get our hands on the tender document for the labs? It was revealed by Dr. Scally that original tender documents were shredded by the HSE. Was an email ever sent? It is 2018 and there is only one original document, so was it delivered by plane? It reminded me of the quotation that Mr. Tony O'Brien apparently had on his wall about speaking truth to power. When I heard about the shredding of the contract it reminded me of Noam Chomsky's words, "power knows the truth already; it is just busy trying to conceal it." It seems that is the case with the HSE and the original tender documents for the labs.

It is still going on. Sonic Healthcare, which is a parent company of MedLab Pathology and CPL, is now outsourcing to Australia. The kernel of the issue in regard to the death of Emma and other women is still not being investigated and has still not been changed.

I do not accept the Deputy's last statement. The kernel of this issue has been, and continues to be, investigated and if mistakes have been made we will learn from them, fix them and make sure they are not made in the future. We need a screening system in Ireland that women can trust and believe in. That is why Dr. Scally is, and has been, so committed to this effort and why he continues to want to engage with the Government and healthcare system to ensure we follow through on the recommendations he has made. I suggest that we work with him and I support the Minister in those efforts.

I do not have any information on original tender documents but I am sure there is an explanation for it. There are processes under way, some of which have not been completed, and we should not be drawing conclusions in the absence of that information. We also need to ensure that we have the continuing use of laboratories so that we can keep a screening system in place and functioning into next week and next month so that Irish women get the benefit of an effective CervicalCheck screening process. That is an ongoing discussion and negotiation between the Department of Health and the relevant laboratories. We need to maintain a screening process, we need to make sure that it is credible and we need to make sure that any mistakes that have been made in the past are fully uncovered and people are held to account for their actions so that we can learn lessons and fix it for the future.

General practitioners, GPs, are the cornerstone of our primary care services. Primary care is at the front line of health service provision and deals with the bulk of the health needs of our population. It has lower costs than acute care and can deliver a better preventative quality of care faster and closer to home. I do not need to emphasise the importance of our GPs but for the avoidance of doubt, last year according to the Irish College of General Practitioners approximately 25 million patients were seen in Irish general practices. That is a sensational performance, particularly when it is factored in that the care that is delivered is world class. It is even more sensational when it is factored in what the Government has done to general practitioners and primary care through savage funding cuts.

The Government cut 38% from general practice under FEMPI legislation and there has been a steadfast refusal to reverse this. The Government claimed the budget would signal that Ireland had exited recession. That is absolutely meaningless to GPs, those working in primary care or those who need access to primary care services. What the Government is doing does not make any sense in terms of healthcare or economics. The Government has exhibited an absolute poverty of imagination when it comes to addressing the problems in primary care. Instead of investing properly in our GPs and primary care, which is much cheaper than secondary acute care, the Government prefers to starve the sector. The result is that our GP network is now close to collapse. The Government's actions, particularly in this year's budget, have done little to address the recruitment and retention crisis among GPs because nothing has been done to reverse FEMPI measures. It has made no progress on the GP contract negotiations. Instead, it produced a report yesterday claiming €100 million could be saved in efficiencies to completely undermine GPs. This represents a poor start to the contract negotiations. GPs are operating at and above capacity in a primary care system creaking with problems and the Government has the cheek to throw out reports claiming GPs and practice nurses are inefficient. GP practices in my area, particularly in Swords and Balbriggan, are closed to new entrants. I do not know how GP practices can become more efficient. Suggesting that GPs and practice nurses are not working to full capacity is nothing short of insulting. General practice is in crisis and the Government refuses to acknowledge it or do anything meaningful to address it.

Considering the recent restoration of Deputies' salaries by the Government, when does it plan to reverse FEMPI in respect of primary care, which took a disproportionate 38% cut during the austerity years? When can GPs expect negotiations on a new contract to be concluded? What concrete steps is the Government taking to increase capacity in primary care?

A big part of Sláintecare and the Government's health strategy is about investing in primary care to keep people out of hospitals in the first place, as the Deputy will be well aware. That is why we have invested tens of millions of euro in primary care facilities throughout the country in many of the towns, cities and constituencies represented in this House. As announced in this week's Budget Statement, 100,000 more people will qualify for free GP care due to the changes we are making in qualifying thresholds. This is intended to make life easier for families to help with health costs which we have also done by reducing the cost of medicines. This is also in line with Sláintecare.

Separately in budget 2019, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, secured significant funds to invest in general practice. We recognise that GPs need to be supported in a sustainable manner to deliver the increased services we are asking them to deliver. We also want to deliver on the Sláintecare reforms to move more care into the community, which is better for everybody. We need to ensure general practice is ready and able to do that and we are investing in that. We have a significant multi-annual investment to make, which is worth many millions of euro. Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, officials were in the Department of Health yesterday and I expect to see progress soon on a process the Government and the Minister for Health are eager to see delivering an agreement as quickly as possible. We are about trying to reverse cuts of recent years; we are doing it across all sectors.

My note tells me the Sinn Féin budgetary position did not even provide for the development of a new GP contract.

The Tánaiste's note is incorrect.

The Deputy might send me information on that if I am wrong.

I will be happy to.

The Minister for Health is at the point-----

This is Leaders' Questions.

-----of trying to get agreement with the IMO on primary care and creating a supportive environment for GPs to be able to provide expanded services which we are both planning for an investing in through the budget this week.

Scotland has 4,953 GPs for a population of 5.2 million. Wales has 2,887 for a population of 3 million. We have 2,500 in the State to cover a population of 4.7 million. Where are the tens of millions of euro the Tánaiste referred to going? Every time I ask a question about the development of primary care services, I get the same answer, which is services will be provided from within existing resources. We will be 1,000 GPs short over the next decade. More people do not have an entitlement to access their GPs. They will go onto a waiting list and wait like everybody else for healthcare. Seven in ten GPs can no longer take on new patients. Where will the new patients go? The Government is doing nothing to address the underlying causes of these problems. When does the Government plan to reverse the FEMPI legislation completely for GPs? When will the negotiations be concluded? What concrete steps will the Government take to increase capacity, which is key? Making a promise it cannot keep seems to have become the hallmark of this Government. It is telling people they will now have access to a GP when seven in ten GPs in the State are saying they will not take on any new patients.

I am not aware the Deputy's party made a promise in its pre-budget submission on a new GP contract.

As I told the Tánaiste, we did.

Perhaps the Deputy can send me the detail on it.

I will send it. As Deputy Coppinger pointed out, this is Leaders' Questions.

I notice the Deputy has not referred to it.

There is somebody in the Deputy's office going through it right now-----

This is Leaders' Questions, so, with respect-----

I will answer the questions.

-----I ask the questions.

The Tánaiste is not here to ask us questions.

I will answer the questions. It is important that if the Deputy is making accusations across the House that she takes a look in the mirror. On the resources that are needed to expand our primary healthcare system, we are providing an additional €1.2 billion for healthcare next year, which is a massive increase in health expenditure. Much of it will go into primary care. I have stood in some of the new primary healthcare facilities in various constituencies. There are many of them and GPs are moving into them to try to improve the facilities that GPs operate in.

There is no staff in them.

With regard to the financial resources that are needed for a new GP contract to ensure GPs are fairly paid for the increased workload we are asking them to take on, negotiations are going on right now and the Department of Health hopes to make progress with the IMO. We had meetings on that issue as late as yesterday.

On Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, issued a stark and frightening report on humanity's impact on the world around us. The day after the report was published, the Government did a U-turn on carbon tax. Carbon tax is not the be-all and end-all of climate action and it needs to be balanced with supports to stop fuel poverty. This move showed exactly where the Government's priorities lie. As Professor John FitzGerald has said, carbon pricing alone will not deliver the necessary emission reductions but delivering emission reductions without a sufficient carbon price will almost be impossible and much more expensive. The Government has a Minister with responsibility for climate action who did not even seek an increase in the carbon tax in the budget. He should resign on that issue alone and that is before we get into the issues of the impropriety of his dining habits.

The Government has a national development plan, NDP, which has not been climate-proofed. At meetings of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, three Secretaries General have looked like deer in the headlights when asked how we will close the 100 million tonne emissions gap. The Government has a transport plan that is all roads, roads and more roads. The NDP provides for more than 60 motorways or national road projects. There is not a single major public transport project in construction today. With the exception of the Royal Canal greenway, there is not a single cycling project in construction today. The Government keeps pushing public transport projects into the future. It delayed metro north by a decade. The DART Interconnector is in the plan for after 2027, if at all, and the Navan railway line, which was ready to go, is also on the long finger for at least another decade. What is the public transport plan for the Tánaiste's city of Cork?

The Government's tokenistic actions on climate and environment have been woeful. Last month, Fine Gael launched its very own green week. The irony of having a single green week where the party deflected its own shameful lack of real action on climate issues onto the people seems to have been totally lost on Fine Gael. The Taoiseach highlights the benefits of switching to a reusable coffee cup while, at the same time, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment continues to block the Green Party's Waste Reduction Bill.

The Government has opposed our Bill and the Labour Party Bill to ban microbeads, has opposed Deputy Bríd Smith's climate emergency Bill, and has continually declared that Ireland is open for business when it comes to fossil fuel extraction. At the end of the day, on the international stage, Ireland is the second worst performer in the EU on climate change. We are bottom of the class.

The Ministers assure us we will have massive reductions in our emissions by 2030 but no one can see that. The Committee on Climate Action says we are completely off course, and the Environmental Protection Agency predicts our emissions in 2035 will be higher than they are today, yet we are presented with a national development plan with no idea of climate impact. Does the Government accept that the national development plan is not fit for purpose? It is not climate-proofed, it is not real climate action and it needs to change.

The Deputy asked many questions. I agree with her that the report published at the start of the week needs to be a wake-up call for us all on climate action and its prioritisation in everything we do, from education and transport to waste and planning for the future in how we live, move around and so on. As a Minister who has been part of the story of the Ireland 2040 plan, which the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government is now delivering on, I know that a big part of that discussion was about climate and changing how Ireland functions in the context of the responsibilities we have to reduce emissions.

The decisions made this week on carbon were the correct ones. We already know both petrol and diesel have increased significantly in price in recent months and will continue to increase because world oil prices are increasing. We need to learn lessons from the water debates that if one is to change how people perceive increased charges, and if one hopes to change their behaviour by doing so, one needs to bring people along. This Government will commit to steady increases over time in carbon taxes but we will try to bring people with us rather than tell them how it needs to be without preparing the ground for doing that.

On the national development plan and the €116 billion we are committing, approximately 20% of that expenditure is linked to climate action, more efficient energy and more efficient transport movements. In regard to planning for my city, which I hope the Deputy might look at in a bit more detail, we are planning €200 million of expenditure in new BusConnects projects. We are planning for a light rail system for the first time in the city. We are planning for much higher density and much higher quality buildings in order that people can live closer to each other and benefit from real economies of scale that do not require people to drive their own car to work any longer because we are planning for a more climate-efficient society in the future.

Much of what we are doing and have done in this budget through vehicle registration tax changes, supporting electric transport and public transport, and providing more funding for greenways next year, is to ensure the green agenda is real in government.

Monday's report was obviously not a wake-up call for Government. In Cork, all that the Government has agreed is to expand the road network.

To return to my main question, the national development plan is not a plan to achieve a low-carbon economy and it is not fit for purpose. This is my main question today to the Minister. Will he admit it is not fit for purpose? No strategic environmental assessment was carried out for the national development plan. There was only one for the national planning framework but, most importantly, it did not provide a quantitative level of emissions reductions at all - no numbers and no target.

The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment spends so much time talking about the one in five euro that will be spent on climate action under the national development plan, as the Tánaiste has just mentioned also, but they fail to note that €13 billion of that €21 billion was already committed by the ESB to standard energy expenditure anyway. The budget provided for €25 million for retrofitting the State's stock of 150,000. We need €5 billion. At this rate, it will take 40 years. The Government is not serious about climate change, or at least that is what all the evidence suggests. If I am wrong and the Government cares, will it lead and take action?

Limiting climate change to 1.5° Celsius is a matter of survival for us all. It is not about the distant future. We have 12 years for this Government to show leadership and take brave and bold political decisions. Does it have that courage? If it does, it should take the brave and bold step here in the Dáil today and admit that the national development plan is not fit for purpose and it needs to change.

As someone who spent many hours trying to be part of designing a much more sustainable way forward for this country through 20-year planning for the first time, and as the person who ensured independent review of the sustainability of that plan happened, I will not say that our national development plan is not fit for purpose on climate change.

Where are the figures? We cannot see them if they are not there.

Sometimes I think the Green Party does not want this Government to be seen to be achieving on climate change.

I do not want this Government.

The Green Party could have been part of this Government but it chose not to be.

The Green Party could have joined us.

It chose not to be because it did not want to take on the responsibility of Government. It is unfortunate because I would have liked the Green Party to be part of it. I ask it not to start painting a picture which is not accurate. Let us talk seriously about what is and is not happening. More needs to be done on climate change, which I accept, and more needs to be done on emissions. Certain sectors in Ireland are not performing on reducing emissions as well as they need to. We want to work with the Green Party on that.

The Government needs to act first.

The Government must lead.

What I will not accept is the painting of an inaccurate picture of the prioritisation of climate in the context of the policy and funding decisions we are making and have made this week.

That concludes our extended Leaders' Questions. Before proceeding to questions on promised legislation, I understand the Government Chief Whip, Deputy Joe McHugh, has a business proposal to put to the House.