Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

This is the last Leaders' Questions of 2018 so I express my thanks to the Taoiseach, the leaders of the parties and all Members for their co-operation throughout the year and the courtesy they have shown to everyone who has occupied this chair. I thank Mr. Peter Finnegan and the staff of the Houses right across the service as they look after all of us very well and are unfailing in their support of us. I thank the press corps for being assiduous, keeping an eye on us and holding us to account. I wish everybody a happy and blessed Christmas. I ask people to enjoy the time with family and friends. I hope people take the time to recharge the batteries as all the indications are that we will back in January facing pretty momentous challenges that will have to be addressed.

On my behalf and behalf of my party, I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his forbearance, generosity of spirit and indulgence of our good selves, the Members of the House, and for his fairness at all times throughout the year. I wish you and your family a very well-deserved break. I wish the same to all Members in the House, as well as to the staff of the House, including Mr. Peter Finnegan, his team and all the ushers, who make life so agreeable to us all. We genuinely thank them. We thank members of the media as well for their very fair and rigorous scrutiny of Dáil proceedings. They keep us on our toes at all times. We had a very agreeable evening last night on this side of the House with members of the press corps. It all augurs very well for 2019. I wish everybody concerned a very happy Christmas and a good break over the holidays.

Having said that, and while wishing the Taoiseach a happy Christmas, it is the end of the pleasantries. It is with some regret that I must state that the Taoiseach is treating the Dáil in a very shabby and dismissive manner when it comes to Brexit preparedness. What has happened this week and in the weeks prior to this is simply not good enough. The Taoiseach has acknowledged that potentially up to 45 pieces of legislation could be required in the event of a hard Brexit, including some statutory instruments, regulations and primary legislation. Deputy Howlin yesterday asked a reasonable question on the Order of Business when he inquired when a comprehensive briefing would be provided to the Dáil on this legislative proposition. The reply was basically that a Member could turn up tomorrow at the stakeholders' forum if he or she wants to find out more. Since when has the stakeholders' forum take precedence over Dáil Éireann in matters of legislation? The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade reiterated the point in his newspaper article this morning by stating the stakeholders' forum "would be the first to know".

Deputy Lisa Chambers asked a very legitimate question yesterday on infrastructure, port facilities and airports etc. and the impact on those from Brexit in general. These are precise and reasonable questions but she was told the Office of Public Works had been in extensive discussions with various Departments and almost everybody else but at the end there was a dismissive line, as it was argued it would be premature to release any details. Why is that? On 20 November, Deputy Chambers asked a basic question of the Minister for Justice and Equality concerning any potential legislative changes arising from Brexit. In fairness to the Department and the Minister, his reply would have been applauded by Sir Humphrey in that great television series, "Yes, Minister", as it was a comprehensive answer that did not answer anything. It simply indicated that there was ongoing analysis but there would be no revelations.

There are only 29 scheduled sitting days between our return and 29 March. Journalists were told last weekend that the Cabinet would be updated on Brexit preparedness and the Taoiseach has indicated there will be a package of measures revealed tomorrow, with legislators welcome to attend the public forum and put up their hands to ask questions on these matters. Why is the Government not willing to inform the Dáil in a timely manner about all of this? Surely detailed briefing papers concerning the legislative measures should be published and presented to the House. Will the Government publish the details of the legislative requirements in the event of a hard Brexit today and present them to the House? Will it publish updated budget projections taking into account a hard Brexit? Will the Taoiseach provided updated and transparent answers on the requirements concerning port and airport infrastructure to the House? Will he send papers on all those points to the leaders of the political parties before the end of the session today?

I join the Ceann Comhairle and the Leader of the Opposition and take this opportunity to wish all Members of the Dáil and Seanad a very happy and peaceful Christmas. In particular I thank those who work here, including all the staff in the Oireachtas and members of the press corps, without whom we could not do our work. Their professionalism makes it a pleasure to come here every week.

The Government could not spin without them.

I would like to spare a moment to think of those who are no longer with us, including those who passed away in the year gone by and those who have retired. We are thinking of them today. I hope that everybody over the break will have the opportunity to spend time with families, friends and those who are dear to them. Perhaps Members will rediscover their constituencies, and I look forward to doing that myself. A new year always brings new challenges and I look forward to being back here in January. I wish everyone a very happy Christmas.

It is reasonable to say - it is an absolutely correct statement - that Brexit is a major threat for Ireland. It is a potential major threat to our economy and our rights and freedoms as citizens. It could of course have major implications for peace and security on our island. Preparing for Brexit is a work in progress; it is a work in progress this week and it will still be a work in progress in January. It is appropriate to allow the European Commission to produce its notices today, as it will, and anything we do must follow what is done by the European Commission and European law. Later today the European Commission will publish a series of notices regarding plans for a no-deal scenario and this evening the Cabinet will be given a copy of a document on our plans, essentially, following from that.

Tomorrow there will be a briefing with Brexit stakeholders and Opposition parties. I have briefly spoken with the Tánaiste and we have no difficulty organising this in any way people feel appropriate. We can deal with spokespersons first and stakeholders second or whatever people feel is appropriate. It has been the case all the way through that briefings have been available to spokespersons whenever they have asked for them. That will not change now. Further information will be produced in mid January. We should bear in mind that Commission seminars continue all the way through January and further information will be provided as this is a work in progress.

Our major and overriding objective is to ensure we do not end up with a no-deal scenario. That is why we are continuing to work with European partners to secure the ratification of the withdrawal agreement both by the European Parliament and by Westminster. I understand a vote will happen in Westminster in perhaps the second or third week of January. This is a work in progress and a dynamic matter. We are very happy to update spokespersons tomorrow and we will update the stakeholder group as we always do. As I have stated, the Commission documents will be out today and we will have a document this evening. We propose to publish it tomorrow and we are of course happy to share it with spokespersons and the stakeholders' group in the morning.

The Deputy asked about the budget and it stands. The budget was written with Brexit in mind and it was written to be Brexit-proofed. We do not have the final or end-of-year figures yet for this year but it may well turn out that we will record a budget surplus this year, which is ahead of schedule.

That will have the knock-on effect of having a slightly larger surplus next year that we projected on budget day. The budget is, therefore, balanced and, in fact, it might be better than that. It could be in surplus. We have established the rainy day fund and provided in the budget for a 25% increase in spending on infrastructure, including transport, energy and housing, all those areas where it is so important we make sure we are Brexit-proof. It is not intended that we would need to revisit the budget or introduce a mini-budget or anything like that in 2019.

This is a parliamentary democracy and there are times when the Taoiseach shows scant regard for that basic fact. What he just said is incredible. This is a work in progress but the Dáil is the last place to know about it. It seems that events have been choreographed to prevent the Dáil from having any meaningful debate on Brexit preparedness, particularly in the context of a hard Brexit. That is scandalous and it is disgraceful treatment of the Dáil. The paper given to the Cabinet meeting this evening should be sent to Deputies. Does the Taoiseach have any respect for Parliament? Tomorrow's meeting is not a parliamentary forum and the Dáil will not be sitting at that point in January. There is talk about emergency legislation being required and the Taoiseach does not even have the basic courtesy to give us a detailed paper on what that might entail. What is the big deal? Why the secrecy? Is it about controlling the message? Talking about the European Commission is nonsense.

There is no secrecy.

The Tánaiste is not involved in Leaders' Questions.

This is Dáil Éireann. The Dáil is scheduled to sit until 11.30 p.m this evening. There is no reason this material cannot be given to Deputies before close of business this evening. It is a matter of basic respect for the House, the Parliament and the institutions of our parliamentary democracy. That is what it is about. The Taoiseach should stop treating people in here with disrespect. The Dáil has been consistently fair to the Government on Brexit and deserves a bit of reciprocal respect in terms of very basic matters pertaining to Brexit. It cannot always be about the Government wanting to control the message.

This is about sequencing. It is not about secrecy. The European Commission will produce its papers today and we will have a paper this evening. It is a paper I have not seen yet because it is not yet finished precisely because we must have the European Commission paper first. I hope or expect to get it between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. today. Once I have read it and shared it with Cabinet, I have no difficulty making it available to Members of the House tonight but it is not ready yet. There is no secrecy here. There is a sequence at play and the European Commission must be allowed to produce its papers. It will do so today and we will produce our paper this evening. Assuming it is ready this evening and I get a chance to read it, I will be very happy for it to be sent to all Deputies tonight.

Of course it will be ready this evening.

It is not ready yet.

Ba mhaith liom beannachtaí a rá ar son Pháirtí Shinn Féin agus Nollaig mhaith a ghuí leis an Taoiseach féin agus leis na Teachtaí Dála agus leis na Seanadóirí agus le foireann iomlán Thithe an Oireachtais a thug cúram maith dúinn i rith na bliana agus leis na meáin fosta agus d'achan duine atá ag obair sa Teach seo. Tá súil agam go mbeidh Nollaig mhaith acu uilig agus bliain úr faoi mhaise agus go mbeimid uilig ar ais anseo, slán, sábháilte in 2019.

A Cheann Comhairle, ba mhaith liom an cheist seo a ardú inniu leis an Taoiseach. Yesterday, the liquidators of IBRC, the successor to Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide, confirmed that unsecured and unguaranteed junior bondholders at Anglo Irish Bank who gambled during the banking collapse will be paid in full a sum of €270 million in the coming weeks. The payment of hundreds of millions of euro of taxpayers' money is a betrayal of the Irish people who bailed out Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide to the tune of €35 billion. This issue was first raised in 2015. A line should have been drawn at that stage but it was not. We were assured by the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, that it would not happen. The former Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, told us it would not happen, as did the then Tánaiste, Deputy Joan Burton. At the time, the current Taoiseach also said it would not happen. Lo and behold, three years later, we all know that these unguaranteed and unsecured junior bondholders are to be paid in full. It is an early Christmas present for the bondholders while the rest of us are left picking up a tab of €30 billion for a bank that should never have been bailed out in the first place.

The former Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Patrick Honohan, argued strenuously against paying these bondholders. In 2015, he told officials of the Department of Finance that there was a moral case for making sure that any money recovered from the liquidation of IBRC was returned to the taxpayer and not to junior bondholders. In one of his emails to the Department in March 2015, he stated: "The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that the State should take further steps to ensure that unexpectedly strong asset disposals by the IBRC liquidator return to the State and not to subordinated debt holders". Instead, under the Taoiseach's watch, bondholders are in line for a bumper payout. This is scandalous stuff but hardly surprising given his track record.

A fortnight ago, a senior banker at Irish Nationwide, who was responsible for all commercial lending originating in this State, was given a minimal penalty for reckless lending. When pressed, the Taoiseach refused to back our call to make reckless lending a crime, despite it being a criminal offence in the UK and despite the Central Bank's support for our call for it to be made a crime. The ongoing prioritisation of the banks, bankers and vulture funds continues under the Taoiseach's watch while mortgage holders and taxpayers are left picking up the bill.

We should not forget that the architects of all of this were Fianna Fáil and the bankers at that time. This is a figure of €270 million being paid to unguaranteed and unsecured junior bondholders who gambled on a bust bank and cannot believe their luck with this Government. What steps will the Taoiseach take to make sure he delivers on his promise in 2015 that these bondholders would not be paid or will it be more of roll-over Leo?

Never mind roll-over Leo, I am starting to wonder where Mary Lou is these days.

She is in Palestine.

That clearly indicates the priorities of Sinn Féin during the busiest and most important week of a Dáil session. To answer the question, the special liquidators of IBRC announced yesterday that they will shortly commence the payment of the final dividend of 50% to admitted unsecured creditors of IBRC. This payment represents the final instalment of amounts owed to this class of creditors of which the State - the Irish Government and the Irish people - will be the single largest beneficiary. As a result of this transaction and this liquidation, the State is now in line to receive €600 million in the coming weeks. This is €600 million out of the liquidation of IBRC that we - the State and Irish people - never thought we would see again.

The joint special liquidators of IBRC also confirmed yesterday that it is their expectation that further funds will be available for return to the State following the expected repayment of other creditors, including subordinated bondholders. The joint special liquidators have given no timeframe regarding the commencement of any payments to subordinated bondholders who are owed €267 million, which is less than half of what the State will get. The outcome of the liquidation has far exceeded expectations at the time of the liquidation in 2013. Not only has the State recovered the full amount in guaranteed payments incurred as part of the transaction, we now stand to receive further funds in the coming years.

Despite extensive liability management exercises, LMEs, undertaken by IBRC in 2010 and 2011, which significantly reduced the cost of the bailout to the State by €4 billion, approximately €267 million of subordinated debt remained in the bank when it was liquidated in February 2013. This debt remained in situ following LMEs due to legal issues impacting the success of those exercises. Under the rule of priority, the distribution of assets under the Companies Acts, these creditors are now entitled to repayment as the next class of creditor in the liquidation. The Department of Finance has received legal advice that indicates that any move to change the priority of distribution would be open to successful legal challenge.

It is a case of more roll-over Leo. The promise given by the Taoiseach, the previous Taoiseach and the then Minister for Finance is now gone. We knew about the legal challenge but even after these junior bondholders went to the courts, the argument was made by the then Governor of the Central Bank that this was a legal battle that was worth having. He impressed on the Department that it enlist debt restructuring lawyers to take on these bondholders.

The Government has no problem with the State taking on victims of cervical cancer, those whose cancer diagnoses were missed in County Kerry, or those who are going to the State to ensure their children will have an assessment of needs and the courts to ensure their children can fulfil their full potential, yet unsecured bondholders who were not guaranteed are being paid in full under the Taoiseach's watch. The taxpayer has been left with a debt of €33 billion. That is the cost of the disastrous policies of Anglo Irish Bank and the Irish Nationwide Building Society which was captured by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Is the Taoiseach going to do anything about this? Are his promises to the people in 2015 not worth the paper on which they were written? He needs to take a legal challenge and the bondholders can fight it in the courts, if they so wish, but the people are sick and tired of the Government continually rolling over when it comes to bankers, bondholders and vulture funds.

It is important to recall what happened. Anglo Irish Bank was a bad bank that went bust and caused enormous damage to the country. It was bailed out by a previous Government of Fianna Fáil and the Green Party to the tune of €30 billion and we will not see very much of that money ever again. The Fine Gael-Labour Party Government that replaced that Government adopted a different approach. It liquidated the bank which was at the time called the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation because the Irish Nationwide Building Society had been merged with Anglo Irish Bank. We pursued the different policy of liquidation. A pot of money is usually left after a company is liquidated that has to be distributed and the Revenue Commissioners, workers and secured creditors receive preference. It all goes down the line. In this liquidation, however, it turned out that a lot more money was left over than people had expected. As a consequence, a relatively small number of junior bondholders will receive about €260 million back. The people and the State will receive back more than twice that amount, or €600 million. That is welcome and positive.

The State should get all of it back.

On behalf of the Labour Party, I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his stewardship of the House during the year. I thank all of the staff of the Houses - the clerks, catering staff, ushers and everybody who makes our task doable. I also record the Labour Party's appreciation of the work of the media. In a world where the media are under stress in many places, the fair presentation of the workings of democracy is really important. I wish all of my colleagues in this and the other House a very happy Christmas.

There are 100 days until Brexit and the United Kingdom and the European Commission are stepping up preparations for a no-deal Brexit, but the Government does not appear to be as equally prepared. Irish ports handled 53.3 million tonnes of goods in 2017, of which 29%, or 15.5 million tonnes, were carried on roll-on, roll-off trucks and trailers. Only three ports in Ireland handle roll-on, roll-off ferries - Cork, Dublin and Rosslare Europort. Rosslare Europort handled just under 12% of all freight vehicles and trailers entering Ireland in that year. Additionally, it handled one third of all passenger cars entering and leaving Ireland last year. The national ports policy designates five ports of significance. Dublin, Cork and Shannon Foynes are tier 1 ports, while Waterford and Rosslare Europort are classified as tier 2. Shannon Foynes and Waterford ports deal in bulk goods, but higher value imports and exports tend to arrive in lorries, which is why roll-on and roll-off ferries are so important.

In the context of Brexit, the need for an upgrade of Rosslare Europort is even more obvious and urgent, a point I have been stressing for the past two years. The previous Government improved motorway access to the port, but we now need to invest an awful lot more. For more than two years, I have argued that we need to make Rosslare Europort a tier 1 port. There is a significant risk associated with putting all of our eggs in one basket, with Dublin Port catering for the vast bulk of trucks and lorries. A single incident in the Dublin Port tunnel could block Dublin Port and stop it from operating. Traffic congestion in Dublin and on the M50 is already problematic. A storm with adverse winds for an hour or two could close the port.

In today's globalised economy we rely on just-in-time imports for manufacturing and construction. Exports are vital to the survival of the economy. It is essential that we expand our port strategy in order that we will be ready to weather the storm that a potential no-deal Brexit could visit on us. There is every likelihood of delays and extra costs in using the British land bridge in any Brexit scenario but particularly in a no-deal scenario.

Irish Ferries has announced that it may not provide services to Rosslare in 2019 which, frankly, in the context of all I have said, is unbelievable. The Dublin-Cherbourg route adds four hours to the crossing time and, as we know, time is money for hauliers. Will the Government undertake to ensure Rosslare Europort is enhanced, not diminished, as a strategic asset in the context of Brexit? What, specifically, will it do to ensure ferry operators from the port of Rosslare are enhanced and not diminished in 2019?

Our Brexit contingency planning for both the central case scenario of a deal and the no-deal scenario requires upgrading works to be carried out at Dublin Airport, Dublin Port and Rosslare Europort in recognition of the fact that Rosslare Europort is a major national asset as a port that can be used as an alternative to Dublin Port and one through which there is a lot of trade between Ireland and the rest of the European Union and the United Kingdom. We will I hope in the next couple of days be able to disclose more information on our particular plans for Rosslare Europort and its surroundings in planning for both possible Brexit scenarios. The Deputy has acknowledged the major investment in road infrastructure which has been of benefit to the port.

I know something about it, yes.

The N11 has been improved and the new Enniscorthy-New Ross bypass will be completed in 2019. The Oilgate to Rosslare Harbour project has not yet been done, but it is going to plan and the Government is continuing the work which the Deputy helped to initiate in improving road access to Rosslare and County Wexford more generally.

Irish Ferries' decision to consider moving the WB Yeats to the Dublin-Cherbourg route, as opposed to the Rosslare-Cherbourg route, in 2019 is disappointing for the south east of the country. The Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, is in contact with Irish Ferries, as other Ministers will be. We are asking it to reconsider its decision to move the route because of Brexit, the negative impact on tourism in the south east and the Government's decision to support and develop Rosslare Europort. We acknowledge that it is a commercial decision and that Irish Ferries claims it can grow the numbers travelling between Ireland and France with this change. Decisions are driven by demand and the company argues that there is greater demand for a Dublin rather than a Rosslare route. The ship, and its capacity, will still be operating between Ireland and continental Europe, albeit from Dublin instead of Wexford. The route from Rosslare has, to date, been seasonal, with three services a week and the majority of traffic being tourist cars, with some freight.

Will the Taoiseach accept that we need diversity in port access to the Continent? We need to strengthen direct links between Ireland and continental Europe in the context of Brexit. I asked the Taoiseach, after publication of the Project Ireland 2040 document, why not one cent had been allocated to Rosslare Europort when a €1 billion investment was expected in Dublin Port, €140 million was to be invested in Shannon Foynes Port and more than €80 million in Cork Port. His response was that Rosslare Europort had not asked for money. Subsequently, Irish Rail has indicated that it will invest €15 million, a pale sum compared to the investments in other ports. Will the Taoiseach ensure we will have diverse access points to ensure that for goods entering and leaving the State, in the context of Brexit, there will be a choice and variety and that we will not have to depend on a potentially congested port in Dublin that will be dependent on traffic using the M50 and the Dublin Port tunnel?

I absolutely agree that we need diversity in port access. We have a very successful and well performing port in Dublin, but there are others too and they are expanding. For example, the Port of Cork has major expansion plans under way, as do Shannon Foynes deep water port and Rosslare Europort. It is important and factual to point out that the investment happening in Dublin Port, Shannon Foynes Port and the Port of Cork is not being funded directly by the taxpayer or the Exchequer. They are commercial semi-State companies which borrow money to develop and repay loans from the charges for using the ports.

Why is Irish Rail not doing so?

That is how it works. It is not the case that taxpayers' or Government money is being given to Dublin, Cork and Shannon Foynes ports and not to Rosslare Europort. It is that Dublin Port, the Port of Cork and Shannon Foynes Port are so commercially successful that they can fund infrastructural developments from the fees they charge port users. The same applies to Dublin Airport, for example. The position at Rosslare Europort is complicated. As the Deputy knows, a €15 million upgrade is planned. It is run by Irish Rail which is, of course, predominantly a railway company, not a port operator. It is suboptimal, but it is not actually owned by Irish Rail; rather, it is owned by a very strange entity-----

They solved it in Fishguard and it can be solved here.

-----the name of which I forget, but it would require primary legislation here and at Westminster to change it.

Guím Nollaig shona ar an Cheann Comhairle agus ar gach duine sa Teach seo, go háirithe ar na hoifigigh a thugann tacaíocht dúinn gach lá agus uaireanta istoíche freisin. I also wish a very happy Christmas to all of the nurses, midwives and emergency staff across the State who provide us with a wonderful service. No doubt they are all reeling in horror today at the news that the bondholders are being bailed out. The Taoiseach said:

Anglo Irish is not getting another cent of our money and any bank coming looking to us for more money is going to have to show how they are going to impose losses on their junior bondholders, on their senior bondholders, and on other creditors before they come looking to us for any more money. Not another cent.

Later, when speaking at an event, ironically in Beaumont Hospital, he described the bondholders as being "At the bottom of the pile." I bet him that the nurses who voted yesterday, by a figure of 94% or 95%, to take strike action after Christmas believe they are at the bottom of his pile. As we hurtle towards Christmas, people who have worked an extra shift a month for the past ten years for nothing and who have given up pay, hours, promotion and pensions in order to bail out Anglo Irish Bank to the tune of €30 billion are sick of it. The money did not fall from the sky; somebody paid it and it happened across the public sector. The nurses are sick of it because not only does it hurt them, their families and careers, it also hurts the people whom they look after because they cannot retain and recruit the staff who are necessary. I ask the Taoiseach to please not give me an answer that nurses are on €70,000 a year because I do not know at what pay scales he is looking. I am looking at the pay scales the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, submit in its weekly magazine to its members, in which it describes exactly what it is looking for in taking strike action 24 hours at a time in the new year. Most nurses are still paid less than gardaí and teachers when they reach almost the top point of the scale after ten or 15 years. It is nothing like €70,000 and they still work. It sticks in their craw that they still have to work a shift every month for absolutely nothing, as the Taoiseach must know because members of his family are in the service. None of us in this House do that and none of the visitors in the Visitors Gallery do so; therefore, why are nurses expected to do it and why are they being left at the bottom of the pile in this way to take strike action?

The Taoiseach has just announced that the State will benefit to the tune of €600 million, but instead of giving it to the nurses to sort out their pay claim and taking them seriously instead of forcing them out onto the streets to take strike action, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, has said he will use the money to reduce the Exchequer bill even further and take more back from the money with which we bailed out the bondholders. I make the point to the Taoiseach that the general secretary of the INMO believes - she does not say this lightly - the reason it is taking strike action is they cannot get other nurses to take up jobs across the board, from general nursing and midwifery to psychiatric nursing. How does the Taoiseach go home from here and tell everyone to have a happy Christmas, except nurses, midwives and psychiatric nurses who are looking forward to having to take strike action after Christmas?

Anglo Irish Bank was not bailed out by a Fine Gael-led Government but by a Fianna Fáil-led Government. We did not give it any extra money; we did not give it a red cent. In fact, we liquidated it, or the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, as it was called at the time. At the end of the liquidation there was, unexpectedly, money left over, which now goes to the creditors, including the State. The State is getting €600 million which we will use to reduce the national debt. Ireland still has one of the highest national debts per head of capita of any country in the western world and it is appropriate that we pay down that debt in order that we will not be badly exposed if we run into trouble into the future and in order that we will never have to get back again to pay cuts or tax increases, as occurred during the recession.

I am aware of the results of the ballots by the INMO and the Psychiatric Nurses Association, PNA. Of course, the Government regrets the decision taken, but it represents the depth of feeling among nurses and midwives about their pay and conditions. We understand this and hear it and I have no doubt about their willingness to strike if it is not possible to come to an agreement before then. However, we have a pay deal, not just with nurses and midwives but with all public servants. That pay deal runs until 2020 and the Government will honour it. It provides for pay increases for all public servants in 2019 and, in some cases, multiple pay increases. There is an extra increase for those earning under €30,000, an extra increase in March for new entrants recruited after 2012, increments for most staff and pay restoration for those earning more than €40,000. Pay restoration for those earning under €40,000 has already occurred. This is well deserved because public servants across the country work extremely hard.

As the Deputy said, average nursing salaries in Ireland, including pay and allowances, are not €70,000. They are just over €50,000-----

That is what the Taoiseach said a few weeks ago.

-----but it is well deserved and they work very hard for it. They are very professional. It is, however, less than the figure for gardaí, for whom the average salary is about €70,000. We have a real difficulty with the current pay claim and need to be honest and upfront with the country about it. The claim is for a 12% increase in pay, parity with physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists. It would cost about €300 million to deliver. Understandably, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists would not accept this and there would be a series of knock-on claims across the public service. We estimate that they could cost €600 million or €900 million and it would not be once off but recurring every year. Over the course of four or five years the cost to the taxpayer could be €4 billion or €5 billion and we just do not have that kind of money.

We would have to borrow it. When we start to borrow money to fund pay increases, we go back to where we were before. We do not want to make those mistakes again.

I want to correct the record. When Fine Gael took office, it was on the promise of burning bondholders, but it capitulated when the European Central Bank, ECB, made a threat that a financial bomb would go off in Dublin. The Government then pulled back from its position. Not only did Fine Gael impose austerity but it also escalated it. In recent years many people have suffered from it but particularly public sector workers. The Taoiseach has just given us the figure of €300 million as being the cost. Ironically, it almost mirrors the amount of money the junior bondholders are about to be paid. The figure is €367 million versus €300 million and we will get back €600 million. We could settle with the nurses, but making a bland statement that physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists would not accept it is just bizarre. The Taoiseach is not the negotiator and cannot make that statement in a bland way. The Government needs to sort out the problem, not just because it is a problem in the lives of the nurses and their families but also because it is a problem for every citizen who has to use the health service, given that we cannot recruit and retain nurses. Children also cannot avail of the psychiatric service because, as the PNA will tell the Taoiseach, it is haemorrhaging psychiatric nurses who are leaving the State because they can do better elsewhere.

This has to be sorted, and sooner or later the Taoiseach will have to face up to it. He should not tell me he will sort it after he forces nurses out onto the streets in the month of January when the health service is creaking at its worst in terms of the crisis.

The Deputy is offering a false and bogus solution, and that is wrong. It is disrespectful to nurses and midwives to offer a false and bogus solution.

The Taoiseach is offering nothing.

A pay rise is not just one-off. A pay rise is recurring and has to happen every year. The Deputy is suggesting is to settle it this year but then take the money back off them next year. That would be wrong.

I did not say it should be taken back next year.

It would not just be a case of settling this claim. There would certainly be knock-on claims. We had that indication already from other unions. The Deputy's policies are so obviously a return to austerity. She does not want us to pay down our debts. She wants us to borrow more money-----

They are not our debts. They are Anglo Irish Bank's debts.

-----to finance pay increases. It was those kind of mistakes that caused the situation seven or eight years ago in which people could not even imagine the possibility of pay rises and we were talking about pay cuts.

The Taoiseach should stop digging. He sounds ridiculous.

The kinds of policies the Deputy pursues, namely, increasing debt and financing pay increases through borrowed money, are exactly the types of policies that land us in austerity.

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