Ceisteanna (Atógáil) - Questions (Resumed)

Departmental Operations

Brendan Howlin


1. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the social policy and public service reform division of his Department. [5375/19]

Mary Lou McDonald


2. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the social policy and public service reform division of his Department. [6557/19]

Richard Boyd Barrett


3. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the social policy and public service division of his Department. [7980/19]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.

The role of the social policy and public service reform division is to assist me as Taoiseach and the Government in delivering on the programme for Government objective of public policies and services which drive a socially inclusive and fair society and to assist in renewing and transforming the public service. The division assists the work of Cabinet committees B, E and G and the associated senior officials' groups. Cabinet committee B covers social policy and public services, including education, children, social inclusion, the Irish language, arts and culture and continued improvements and reform of public services. Cabinet committee E deals with issues related to health, including the delivery of health service reforms. Cabinet committee G provides for political oversight of developments in relation to justice and equality issues, including implementation of the Government's programme of reform in the areas of justice and policing.

The division also promotes the Civil Service renewal programme, including the Civil Service Management Board, and assists in the delivery of Our Public Service 2020 through membership of the Public Service Leadership Board and the public service management group. The division has departmental oversight of the National Economic and Social Council and advances Dublin's north east inner city initiative, including through its programme office, programme implementation board and oversight group. The division incorporates the programme for Government office monitoring the implementation of the commitments contained in the programme for Government across all Departments and ensures all departmental strategy statements reflect the programme commitments for which that Department is responsible.

In addition, a policing reform implementation programme office has recently been established within the division. The office will drive the implementation of the policing reform plan entitled, A Policing Service for the Future, which was approved and published by the Government in December 2018. The division also provides me with briefing and speech material on social policy and public service reform issues and participates in relevant interdepartmental committees and other groups.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. Among other things, the division handles health policy. I have a few particular questions in that regard. The Department of Health's acute policy unit was in communication with the division and the Taoiseach's officials on the national children's hospital contract from November 2018. The relevant emails have been released to us. Was it only after an awareness of escalating costs emerged in the public sphere that the unit asked for and received updates on cost overruns? Was there no monitoring or communication in advance of November 2018 on this major health and infrastructural project? The Taoiseach might explain to the House how the division monitors matters and ensures issues which should be brought to his attention and that of the Government are communicated.

I also have a question on the general issue of Government and public service reform, which was an integral part of the agenda of the last Government of which both the Taoiseach and I were members. Is that running? The Taoiseach will recall the raft of legislation that was introduced, ranging from freedom of information updates to the registering of lobbying and everything that flowed from that. Is there still the same focus on reform?

Finally, has there been any advance in respect of Ireland's membership of the Open Government Partnership? Again, that was an important initiative undertaken under the previous Government. How is that process advancing?

Last year the Government spent a staggering €695 million on rent subsidies to private landlords and property owners across four schemes administered by two Departments. The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection spent €175 million on the rent supplement scheme and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government spent €100 million on long-term leased properties, €143 million on four year rental accommodation scheme leases and €276 million through the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme. One might argue that this demonstrates the need and demand and is a symptom of the Government's more general failure in the housing area, but spending these very large sums does not represent good value for the taxpayer. To put it in perspective, the total budget allocation to local authorities to build and buy new homes last year was just over €560 million. That is almost 20% less than the sum paid to private landlords, which hardly makes sense.

While subsidies for low income households are an important part of any stable housing system, they should be short-term and declining in number and cost. Instead, the figures highlight the Government's over-reliance on the private rental sector to meet long-term housing need while at the same time underinvesting in social housing. We should also note the very insecure nature of rental accommodation for people now, due to the Government's negligence. These policies must be urgently reviewed and a plan must be put in place to reduce the number of subsidised tenancies in the private rental sector. This will only be achieved through a significant increase in the capital budget for local authorities and approved housing bodies to build and buy permanent social housing.

In the debate later on the motion of no confidence in the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, we will discuss the litany of failures in the area of health. However, the one I cannot understand and which the Government does not appear to wish to resolve given the casual indifference it is displaying is the series of strikes taking place in the national ambulance service. There was one last Friday and there will be others on 28 February and 1 March. It would not cost a penny to resolve this, but the Government appears to be totally uninterested. It is about union recognition and the right of hundreds of ambulance drivers to be in the union of their choice, in this case the National Ambulance Service Representative Association, NASRA, branch of the Psychiatric Nurses Association, PNA. Can the Taoiseach explain why he would not wish to act to resolve this by simply accepting people's right to be in a union of their choice and to be recognised in that union in the context of something as critical as the delivery of an ambulance service?

In addition, will the Taoiseach comment on Mr. Owen Keegan's comments in The Sunday Business Post about homeless accommodation acting as a magnet for the homeless? They were staggering comments. Does that reflect the Government's thinking? Whatever debate we may have on the success or otherwise of the Government's housing policy surely the Taoiseach would accept that the State is failing people who are homeless or who are waiting ten or 15 years on housing lists. The State should be somewhat apologetic and show a little humility in the face of that failure, rather than victim blaming and suggesting that emergency accommodation for the homeless is an attractive option for people in desperate housing need.

Access to public services is still a major issue for many people across the country. Over half a million people are waiting for hospital appointments and there are 10,000 homeless people, but the waiting list for special needs assessments is particularly damaging for the children on that list. We know that early diagnosis can mean more effective early intervention particularly with therapies such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy, audiology and speech and language therapy, yet thousands of children are waiting for an early needs assessment and their rights are not being realised. I raised this in the context of the last budget to get additional posts appointed, but one wonders whether the division in the Taoiseach's Department has alerted him and the Government to the emergency in that area alone. It is simply unacceptable that parents of young children are at the end of their tethers trying to get an assessment, diagnosis and proper intervention. This has been going on for a long time and the lists have been growing to unacceptable levels over the last two to three years. Will the Taoiseach respond on the level of awareness in his Department, particularly in the social policy and public service reform division, of that issue alone?

Many commitments have been made with regard to the safe access Bill. This Bill would prevent any planned protests or interference with women who are trying to access termination services. Any reasonable person would agree that no woman should be intimidated if she attends a hospital or a GP surgery. Last December, the Minister for Health pledged to bring forward legislation to provide for exclusion or safe zones around premises that women would be attending. That is well intentioned but that approach ran into difficulties in the United Kingdom. Given that we do not have abortion-specific clinics here, are there legal issues in that regard? The United Kingdom tried to introduce a similar Bill but it encountered legal difficulties. Will that arise here? Can the Taoiseach give an indication of when the Bill will be published?

On the initial question Deputy Howlin asked on health, I have not seen any of the emails he mentioned. I presume they are emails between officials rather than emails to which I was a party-----

-----so I am unable to comment on their content. However, the monitoring of the capital plan, the national development plan and the implementation and delivery of Project Ireland 2040 is done by both the line Department or agency that is responsible for a project and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, which has overall oversight of the delivery of the capital programme. It is not done by my Department. We have a system, however, whereby a Department can make me and my office aware of a problem. That is the early warning system which is carried out at Secretary General or Minister-to-Minister level. I often receive early warnings of things that may or may not happen through that system, but did not about the children's hospital.

I will have to get an update on the Open Government Partnership for Deputy Howlin. He was very enthusiastic about it when he was a Minister and we were making progress on it, but I am not up-to-date on it. When I get the update I will pass it on to him.

The Government's policy on housing is to increase the stock of social housing, and we are doing that. It is the best way to reduce reliance on rent supplements and HAP into the future. It has to be scaled up because for a long time very few houses were built by the State. That is changing. The figures produced today by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government show that approximately 8,500 new homes were added to the social housing stock last year. Roughly half of those were built by local authorities and affordable housing bodies such as the Iveagh Trust, Clúid Housing Association and so forth.

The other half consisted of voids brought back into use, houses purchased by local authorities or affordable housing bodies and houses that were leased for the long term. This represents a very considerable increase in the social housing stock. I do not know when the last time was that the social housing stock was increased by 8,500. It could be a very long time ago. Of the 18,000 new houses and apartments built last year, roughly 4,500, or 20%, were built by the State. Again, I am not sure when the last time was that the State built 20% of the homes in the country but we need to be at that kind of level, going from 18,000 a year up to something closer to 35,000 and increasing our social housing stock by approximately 10,000 homes a year. Obviously, if the social housing stock is increased by 10,000 homes a year, it will be increased by 100,000 homes in a decade. This would be a considerable step change in the amount of social housing and public housing we have, and that is what we plan to do.

In talking about the budget mix, we always need to bear in mind the difference between capital and current. As a long-term investment, building or purchasing houses and adding them to the social housing stock makes more sense than HAP or rent supplement. On a very logical and micro basis, however, it must be borne in mind that it may cost €150,000 to build a new home from scratch for a family in need of social housing but that for the same amount of money one could rent ten houses. For the same amount of money spent in one year, therefore, one could house one family or ten. When one is faced with huge demand for housing and huge housing need, it often makes more sense to house the ten families rather than the one, even if one takes the 20-year view that it would be cheaper to house the one and not the ten, if that makes any sense.

Regarding Owen Keegan's comments the other day, I do not believe that anyone chooses to be homeless. Certainly, I do not think any children are homeless by choice. There are really two main causes of homelessness, in particular family homelessness: one is family breakdown, which I do not think is a choice; the other is a notice to quit being issued by a landlord who is renovating, moving back into or selling on the property. Again, that is not a choice made by the tenant in respect of whom the notice to quit has been issued. Therefore, if there are people who are making themselves homeless to skip the queue or to avail of services, I imagine they are very few and far between and are exceptional cases. I therefore do not agree with Mr. Keegan's comments. It was interesting, however, that in the debate that was held there was wide agreement from Owen Keegan to Mike Allen of Focus Ireland that homeless services had improved considerably in Ireland and in Dublin in recent years. This is happening through the development of the family hub programme. Hubs are much better for all kinds of reasons than shelter accommodation, bed and breakfast accommodation or hotels. I refer to the availability of the HAP place-finder, for example, and the additional social and other supports that are provided to people who find themselves homeless. It was good that while there was disagreement on what Owen Keegan had to say, there was widespread agreement, from NGOs to political parties, that homeless services had improved very considerably in Dublin in recent years. It was good to hear that acknowledged.

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Micheál Martin


4. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has met church leaders recently. [5680/19]

Brendan Howlin


5. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meetings with church leaders. [6510/19]

Mary Lou McDonald


6. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he has held recent meetings with representatives of churches and faith communities as part of the church-State structured dialogue process. [6558/19]

Richard Boyd Barrett


7. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on recent or planned meetings with church leaders. [8378/19]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 7, inclusive, together.

On 25 August 2018 I met Pope Francis during his visit to Dublin Castle. The meeting provided an opportunity for us to discuss several issues.

On 22 January, I met representatives of the Church of Ireland and the Presbyterian and Methodist churches in a formal meeting under the structured dialogue process between church and State. We discussed social and economic issues facing Irish society as well as international issues. This was the second in a series of meetings I will hold with dialogue partners.

On 31 August 2017 I held a formal meeting under the structured dialogue with representatives of the Catholic Church, led by Archbishop Eamon Martin.

Some of the issues we discussed at these meetings were challenging. They are issues on which people have deeply held views and which are considered to be matters of conscience. Our discussions were valuable not just because they dealt with important issues, but particularly because they were conducted in an atmosphere of respect for the views of others, where everyone sought to be constructive.

Like public representatives generally, I meet church leaders informally from time to time in the course of attending official functions and public events.

In particular, with the recent presidential inauguration and the visit of Pope Francis, I attended several events that gave me an opportunity to engage with representatives from various religious groups.

During the years of progress in securing the end of the illegitimate campaign of violence in the North and the building of a new peaceful model of co-operation on this island, the churches played an absolutely central role, to be fair. This went well beyond the number of now widely and rightly acclaimed clergymen. It really was a consistent approach through the entirety of the leadership of the churches in Ireland and at every stage they pushed a positive agenda of reconciliation and played a very important role as advocates of Border communities.

It is in this context that we must take very seriously their warning about the damage being caused by Brexit and the further damage it threatens. The political paralysis in the North is a huge concern for them. Equally, they are deeply concerned about what will happen on the Border in 37 days' time, or whenever Brexit happens, if there is no deal. Yesterday I asked the Taoiseach for what I believe is the fifth time in recent weeks to say what would happen on the Border, were there to be a no-deal situation in 37 days' time, and yet again he refused to answer. He repeated what is not being planned or contemplated - I get that - and he then added the remarkable comment that the situation "will cause a dilemma". Is this the best he can do? Communities and businesses across the country, in the Border area in particular, are crying out for some basic information on what they should be planning for if - and we hope it does not happen - a no-deal arrives in 37 days' time. It beggars belief that there are no arrangements in place as to what to do on the Border if a no-deal scenario comes to pass next month. The Taoiseach's entire argument for the proposed deal is that only it avoids a hard border. I know what the Government is not planning and not contemplating, but will the Taoiseach please tell us what he believes will happen?

Regarding the Taoiseach's meeting with church leaders, a swastika was recently painted outside the synagogue in Terenure. Has the Taoiseach met representatives of the Jewish community in recent times? I think we are all concerned about a very significant rise in anti-Semitism across Europe, very noticeably in France and other European countries. Should we be alert to this in this jurisdiction? The only law dealing with hate crimes here is the rarely used Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act, which in its 30 years of existence I understand has resulted in only five convictions. I would be interested to hear the Taoiseach's views as to whether our protections are robust enough in this regard.

On a separate matter, the Irish Daily Mail reports today that a test excavation has begun at a second mother and baby home in Sean Ross Abbey, near Roscrea, County Tipperary. This is following directions from the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters. Has the Taoiseach discussed this matter with church leaders? Does he expect more sites to be investigated? Is he satisfied that the commission has the capacity and the resources to carry out its very important task?

I wish to pick up on that theme. A geophysical survey of infant burial grounds will begin today at the site of the former Sean Ross Abbey mother and baby home, near Roscrea, County Tipperary. Records of deaths at the home show that 269 children died there between 1934 and 1967 but, due to the failure of the order to keep records, the number of children who died there is not known definitively. In the past two interim reports the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters has highlighted its difficulty in finding out more about the burial arrangements for children and women who died in these homes. The commission has noted that there are significant gaps in the information available on the burial of babies who died in a number of the institutions under investigation and has warned that it will prove difficult to establish the facts. This statement tells its own story of the State's direct hand in the treatment of children who died, none of whom reached his or her first birthday in the case of Sean Ross Abbey.

As the Taoiseach will know, statutory inspections of maternity homes began in 1934, which means the majority of the children who died in Sean Ross Abbey died on the State's watch. The Tuam Home Survivors Network has asked the Government to begin collecting its members' DNA samples immediately due to their age and health profile. It wants to eliminate any delay in returning human remains to identifiable relatives for dignified burials and provide the samples voluntarily.

When does the Taoiseach expect to receive the report of Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, commissioned by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, to consider whether the network's request can be granted? Will the Taoiseach personally ensure that the network is informed of its findings before the report is made public?

Outside the count centre in Citywest on the day we waited for the results of the referendum to repeal the eighth amendment, the Taoiseach and I had a brief conversation about the likely result. I suggested to him that one consequence of the result was that we needed to move forward to the complete separation of church and State and he replied that we would leave that conversation for another day. That day has come and, indeed, well passed. In the Taoiseach's conversations with church leaders, particularly of the Catholic variety, what has he said to them? What is he doing to accelerate the divestment programme, which was much lauded by the former Deputy, Mr. Ruairí Quinn, in 2012 and which was intended to do something about the fact that 90% of schools in the country are controlled by the Catholic Church?

Since that much-trumpeted announcement of the divestment programme, a grand total of 11 schools have been handed over, while there was only one last year and ten in the few years before that. Divestment, therefore, is not happening. In this day and age, in the aftermath of marriage equality, the repeal of the eighth amendment and everything that signifies, which the Taoiseach and everyone else in the House knows, the time has well passed to transfer control of schools from the hands of the Catholic Church - or at least from the extent where 90% of them continue to be in its hands. What is the Taoiseach doing about that and what has he said to church leaders about it? It is just not happening.

I agree with Deputy Micheál Martin's comments about the vital role that the clergy, the Catholic Church and other churches played in helping to bring about the peace process in Northern Ireland. I believe they still have a role to play in that regard in the future.

If we end up with a no-deal scenario in a few weeks' time - that is, no-deal without an extension, which I assume is what the Deputy means, although there could be a no-deal with an extension - we will be in uncharted territory and it is not possible for anyone to predict with certainty how matters will play out. What I can say, as I have stated previously, is that we do not have any proposals or plans to install any infrastructure on the land Border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. We are putting in place infrastructure at Dublin Port, Rosslare Port and Dublin Airport to allow us to carry out any necessary veterinary, sanitary and phytosanitary or customs checks etc.

If we end up in a no-deal scenario without an extension, it will create a difficult dilemma for Ireland, the United Kingdom and the EU. The UK will be bound to implement World Trade Organisation rules and we will have a responsibility to protect the Single Market, which we want to do, given that it is our Single Market and given that our industrial and economic policy, employment and much more are based on our full membership of it. Above all, there will be our commitment to the Good Friday Agreement. We would be in a situation where we would have to come to an agreement on regulatory alignment and customs, but that is what we already have. That is why our efforts are focused on securing the ratification of the withdrawal agreement, including the Irish protocol and the backstop, which is the best and only way to give us an assurance that a hard border will not emerge on our island, whatever else happens as a consequence of Brexit. As one can see from the events in London today, the situation is unstable and it is hard to predict what will happen in the next couple of weeks. All we can do is prepare for the different and most likely scenarios.

I had the opportunity to meet members of the Jewish community in the past couple of weeks with Maurice Cohen, head of the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland, and the Chief Rabbi at a public event. I hope to find a way to engage with the Jewish community at Passover. I attended a seder last year, although I do not expect to be able to do that this year. While I share the Deputy's concerns about rising anti-Semitism around the world, I am not sure that it is really a feature in Ireland. Nevertheless, it is something we always need to watch out for and perhaps we need some further debate on the matter in the future.

On the divestment programme for schools, parents of preschool children are being surveyed in a number of schools to find out what they want. I agree that we need to accelerate the programme of divestment but choice is also important. People have different ideas as to what the separation of church and State means. I do not think it should go as far as totally banishing religion from the public sphere. Many people want to continue to have a school under the patronage of the local parish and many people from a Church of Ireland background are very attached to Church of Ireland primary and secondary schools. The same applies to the Jewish congregation, while many Muslim people also like to have their own school. I do not believe in a form of separation of church and State that seeks to put away any form of religion and to strike it out of public life. Religious bodies and bodies inspired by religion, such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and CROSSCARE, do highly valuable work, provide many Government services and receive much Government funding. I would not like a form of secularism that tried to defund those organisations or banish them from public life because it is a little too extreme. I appreciate that other people may wish to have all schools divested and those bodies defunded but that is not my view.

On the mother and baby homes, the commission of investigation has informed the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs that it is conducting geophysical testing on the burial grounds located on the site of Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, County Tipperary. The work is being undertaken following the receipt of information from a member of the public. We were advised today that following initial geophysical testing, the commission began test excavations on Monday, 18 February and they are expected to take approximately three weeks. The House will be aware that the terms of reference for the commission of investigation task it with examining burial practices at the sites of mother and baby homes and that the commission is independent in the conduct of its investigations. It has all the necessary power and resources to carry out these investigations but neither the Minister nor the Government has any role in this stage of the process. The commission is due to deliver an interim report next month on burials at the sites of former mother and baby homes, which the Minister will bring to the Government as soon as she receives it and has the opportunity to review it.

On DNA, a new unit has been established in the Minister's Department to work on the legislation required to implement the Government's decision on the site of the former mother and baby home in Tuam. Additional staff from other Departments are expected to be assigned to the unit in the coming weeks and scoping of the legislation has commenced. There is no precedent for this kind of project in Ireland and, therefore, it is vital that we get it right in the interests of the survivors and relatives and the dignity of those buried at the Tuam site. The approach taken will be further informed by the forthcoming report in March by the commission of investigation on burials at mother and baby homes. In parallel with the legislative project, work will be carried out on sourcing the appropriate expertise.

In response to Deputy McDonald's request to begin collecting DNA samples of survivors and relatives, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, has asked Dr. Geoffrey Shannon to examine whether it is possible to meet the request within the current legislative framework. This examination will be done in the context of what is scientifically possible.

Cabinet Committee Meetings

Michael Moynihan


8. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if a meeting of Cabinet committee D, infrastructure, which deals with climate change was held on 31 January 2019. [6295/19]

Mary Lou McDonald


9. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee D, infrastructure, last met; and when it is scheduled to meet again. [7984/19]

Joan Burton


10. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee D, infrastructure, last met; and when it will meet again. [8084/19]

Brendan Howlin


11. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if Cabinet committee D, infrastructure, met on 31 January 2019. [8225/19]

Richard Boyd Barrett


12. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee D, infrastructure, will next meet. [8379/19]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 to 12, inclusive, together.

Cabinet committee D works to ensure a co-ordinated approach to the delivery and ongoing development of policy on infrastructure investment and delivery, housing and climate action. The committee last met on 31 January and the date for the next meeting is to be scheduled.

Significant work is under way across each of the areas covered by the committee through Government Departments and agencies and a range of interdepartmental groups such as the climate action high level steering group and the Project Ireland 2040 delivery board. In addition, these matters are regularly considered at meetings of Government and in bilateral meetings with the Ministers responsible for the issues.

Significant progress is being made on the implementation and delivery of Project Ireland 2040. Through the National Planning Framework, it sets out our strategic 20-year vision for Ireland’s future, balancing rural and urban development and linking it with capital investment of €116 billion over ten years to meet the infrastructural needs of our growing population. The four funds launched under Project Ireland 2040 have a total of €4 billion to invest across the areas of rural and urban regeneration and development, climate action and disruptive technologies innovation. The first round of funding allocations under these funds, amounting to €276 million, was announced last year. These funds will leverage further private sector investment in innovative and targeted projects that deliver on the aims of Project Ireland 2040.

The Land Development Agency, another cornerstone initiative of Project Ireland 2040, was established on an interim basis in September and is working to ensure the optimum management of State land through strategic development and regeneration with an immediate focus on providing new homes, including social and affordable housing. Housing continues to be a priority for the Government and we have seen strong growth in housing completions and in leading indicators such as planning permissions, commencement notices and housing registration. Last year, over 18,000 new homes were built, an increase of 25% on the previous year. More than 2,500 homes were brought out of long-term vacancy and almost 800 dwellings in unfinished estates were completed, meaning the number of new homes available for use increased by more than 21,000 last year. This does not include student accommodation. There was also strong delivery of publicly-funded social housing in 2018, with over 27,000 new households having their housing needs met.

We are aware of the significant challenge in meeting housing demand and tackling the ongoing issues in the housing market. For this reason, budget 2019 provided an increase of 25% in the housing budget. Delivering on our EU climate commitments for 2030 and transitioning to a competitive, low carbon, sustainable economy by 2050 are also policies. We are investing €22 billion in climate action through the national development plan to ensure that our future growth is regionally balanced and environmentally sustainable. Budget 2019 provided for a range of measures to lower carbon emissions and improve sustainability, including more than €200 million for agri-environmental actions through the rural development programme and over €164 million for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, is currently preparing an all-of-Government action plan on climate disruption and is working with colleagues across Government to develop new initiatives across electricity, transport, agriculture and other relevant sectors. The action plan will build on progress to date and set out the steps which must be taken to make Ireland a leader in responding to climate change.

Yesterday, the Taoiseach said that Deputies should go and look at the updates on the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform's website if we want to know what is happening with national development plan, NDP, projects. He said we would find up to the minute figures on the status and cost of all major projects. Unsurprisingly, this turns out not to be true. The only underspends noted on the site arise because some projects spent money before the start of the NDP but the Taoiseach wanted to claim that the full project cost was part of the NDP. Some others have money from other sources such as the European Investment Bank and the Taoiseach wanted to include other people's contributions as part of the Government's advertising. The spreadsheet is a very good reminder of how many of the advertised projects are not planned and will not begin during the life of this Dáil, the next Dáil and probably the one after that.

The more serious point is that, as suspected, nothing has been done to address the significant overspend on the national children's hospital. The spreadsheet projects the overall cost of the project to be €916 million. No alteration has been made to the costings of other major health capital projects. If the health construction inflation, new safety rules and technology requirements which hit the national children's hospital happen for the other projects, since most of these costs will apply, it could undermine the ability to deliver at least 1,000 acute hospital beds. The Taoiseach said the public has a right to know about these projects so surely it has a right to have updates of information which was advertised last year. When will the Taoiseach update the claims he made about what will be delivered under the health provisions of the NDP? When will he outline the impact of the NDP projects on our carbon footprint? When will calculations be made of how it contributes to or detracts from climate change objectives?

Project Ireland 2040 recognises the importance of cross-Border co-operation and investment in developing the Border corridor, specifically the Donegal and Derry region. Derry and Strabane District Council has in place an ambitious, inclusive strategic growth plan and, as part of the plan, the council is trying to secure a city deal for the region from the British Government. Its plan also envisages financial contributions from the Taoiseach's Government and the European Union for a number of key strategic projects that would benefit the entire north-west region. We are talking about vital projects that will help to unlock the economic potential of Derry and Donegal, such as the expansion of Magee university and the development of the Greencastle cruise berth. This is about putting meat on the bones of the very welcome inclusion of the north west in Project Ireland 2040. Will the Taoiseach indicate if discussions in this regard are taking place in Departments and, if so, what stage are those discussions at?

With the omnishambles of the children's hospital that the Taoiseach and Minister for Health are presiding over, will the Taoiseach tell us how we get a list of the reprofiled projects and spending as a consequence of the savings that he acknowledged have to be made? He brushed them aside by saying it is a mere €100 million. What is €100 million between friends? It is a lot of money and we have not yet seen a list and full-time schedule of these reprofiled amounts. I and everybody else knows that €20 million delayed now will be carried from this year to next year and climb as time passes. The Government has no control over public expenditure. The Taoiseach inherited a very good situation from the previous, outgoing Government and the current Government is like people in charge of a runaway train. Will the Taoiseach tell us what will happen with the National Maternity Hospital? That is only €300 million if we can believe that. What is happening with that? I have no idea. What is happening with the Coombe women's hospital? People would just like a hospital fit for modern purposes and we have no idea what is happening. Will the Taoiseach give us information on really important projects in the life of this country?

I will take up the same theme. In light of the children's hospital debacle, have all major capital programmes been reprofiled so that we can have a real, verifiable costing for the major projects, some of which have been outlined by my colleague, Deputy Burton? They have all been set out to be done. Will these be delivered and can we afford to continue with all of them? I will make one point as somebody who was responsible for public spending for five years about the notion that one can save €100 million this year without saving any money. If one has to save €100 million in cash, that is €100 million that one cannot spend. Some €100 million extra is going to the children's hospital. Last week, the Taoiseach told me that he does not need the Revised Estimates at all and can vire money. Since then, wiser counsel has prevailed and Revised Estimates will be presented today.

Some €65 million in additional money is being added to the Department of Health's capital programme to meet the €100 million requirement and it has to find €35 million itself. We can use words such as reprofiling but this involves real cash savings. It is reasonable for us to ask what projects will deliver the €35 million in cash in the Department of Health in 2019. What projects will deliver the €65 million being transferred into the Department of Health from other Departments?

The most elementary infrastructure necessary for the maintenance of society and the existence of humanity is our natural environment. The Taoiseach’s highly disingenuous response to Deputy Bríd Smith earlier about her climate emergency Bill, which is trying to stop the extraction of further fossil fuels was not very heartening in respect of his attitude to this. I do not know whether he heard George Lee on RTÉ today chatting to Pádraic Fogarty of the Irish Wildlife Trust. The headline on the item was that Irish nature is collapsing. He went on to describe how 100 of our plants and animals are already extinct and another third of our species are under very serious threat. He spoke about the deterioration of water quality, the extremely precarious situation of forestry, wildlife and so on and the fact that the Irish Greyhound Board gets as much money annually as the National Parks and Wildlife Service. They even talked about a beautiful forest in Enniskerry - the Taoiseach should go and walk there - Knocksink Wood, where the environmental education centre is sitting there, empty and derelict, because of Government cuts. This is typical of the Government's attitude to environmental issues.

Rather than slagging off the left, which is actually trying to do something about it, as the Taoiseach did earlier today, why does he not actually do something to address these issues, like deal with afforestation, fund the National Parks and Wildlife Service, and indeed, support our Bill to cease fossil fuel extraction?

I am glad that Deputy Micheál Martin took the time to study the website and spreadsheets. I have not done it myself for some time. It is clear that they are out of date and need to be updated and I will see to it that is done.

Yesterday the Taoiseach was adamant and certain that they were up to date.

Obviously I was wrong. I should have checked them. We will get them updated; they should be updated.

In respect of the impact Project Ireland 2040 and the national development plan, NDP, will have on climate change we estimate that implementing the NDP will get us approximately one third of the way to meeting our climate change targets. The rest will have to be met through measures such as carbon tax and changes to regulations and rules. The third will be achieved mainly through what is provided in the plan for retrofitting and insulating homes and public buildings, investment in renewable energy and in the electric vehicle charging infrastructures and afforestation. There is quite a considerable investment in afforestation, to answer Deputy Boyd Barrett's question.

Yes of course there are people who will argue that some aspects of the national development plan will contribute to climate change such as, for example, the expansion under way at our regional airports and at Dublin Airport, and the roads programme such as the construction of the motorway between Cork and Limerick. I would argue that we need to balance economic development and social need with climate action. It cannot be all climate action. We have to provide for jobs in the economy and for investment too. We have to take a holistic view of these things.

Derry and Letterkenny developing together as a city region is very much a feature of Project Ireland 2040. The Government has provided funding already to the North West Strategic Growth Partnership, which involves Donegal County Council and Derry City and Strabane District Council. I have had an opportunity to engage with them and I imagine we will be able to provide additional funding in the future too. We would be very keen to continue to support the development of Derry working with Letterkenny as the region for the north west.

On the reprofiling of capital projects, or savings, whatever people want to call them, I am happy to clarify again, roughly €100 million has been reprofiled out of a capital budget this year of more than €7,000 million. We invest approximately €140 million a week in infrastructure and approximately €100 million of that €7,000 million has been reprofiled. Thankfully it did not require that any projects had to be delayed or paused. The money comes from a €25 million payment in respect of the A5 which we do not have to make this year because the project has not started although if it does start, we will make that payment. It also comes from a deferred payment relating to the forensic science laboratory of approximately €10 million while another €10 million is being provided from the Department of Education and Skills for the school at the new children's hospital. That has been brought forward and that explains the difference between the €35 million and the €25 million on health. I think €24 million of the €25 million specifically for health comes out of a fund that is there for refurbishments, minor capital works, replacing equipment and so on. That fund was €94 million but it is being reduced by €24 million to €70 million but that is still an increase on last year. There may well be plenty of projects and developments around the country that are delayed for one reason or another but none is delayed as a consequence of the national children's hospital, notwithstanding that people will claim otherwise.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.
Sitting suspended at 2.45 p.m. and resumed at 3.45 p.m.