Mary Lou McDonaldCeist:
1. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the First Minister of Scotland, Ms Nicola Sturgeon. [23295/19]
1. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the First Minister of Scotland, Ms Nicola Sturgeon. [23295/19]
2. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the Scottish First Minister, Ms Nicola Sturgeon. [24100/19]
3. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken recently to the First Minister of Scotland, Ms Nicola Sturgeon. [25194/19]
4. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the First Minister of Scotland, Ms Nicola Sturgeon. [25590/19]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.
I met First Minister Sturgeon over a working lunch in Farmleigh on Monday, 27 May when we considered how best to maintain and further develop the strong bilateral relations between Ireland and Scotland. We also discussed the latest political developments in the wake of the recent European Parliament and local elections, as well as the latest Brexit developments. We acknowledged the strength and importance of bilateral relations and had a productive discussion on how we might further develop these links. We also discussed issues on which there is scope for greater co-operation. Rockall was not raised at our meeting. However, I can confirm there is an intensified dialogue at official level which I believe should allow a de-escalation of tension on this matter.
First Minister Sturgeon and I look forward to working closely together in the coming months. We are both committed to the work of the British-Irish Council, a key institution of the Good Friday Agreement, and looked forward to meeting again at the next summit of the council, which is due to take place in Manchester at the end of June.
Deputy Martin Kenny is first up. He will note that I actually do call Sinn Féin Deputies.
We will not get into that at the moment. I understand that the situation is that this issue was not raised with First Minister Sturgeon at the recent meeting and at the time the Taoiseach said that it was decided not to escalate the matter. In addition to that, in response to a parliamentary question last week, the Tánaiste said that the issue of Rockall was directly raised with him as late as 2018 and that it had been flagged with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine since April 2017, which is quite a while ago for this issue to have been raised. It seems like an issue that should have been building over a period of time and one would expect that the importance of the Rockall issue for Irish fishing communities in particular would be very much to the fore of that agenda.
It was surely a mistake that it was not raised with First Minister Sturgeon. Has the Taoiseach spoken with First Minister Sturgeon about the matter subsequently in the past fortnight? If not, will he do so in the coming days? It is very important and it strikes me that as an important first step to try to rectify this matter the interests of Irish fishermen and their families have to be put front and centre. Irish fishing vessels have used the waters around Rockall for decades, probably even for centuries at this stage, and it is a vital fishing ground, particularly for fishermen off the north-west coast. It is clearly a situation where we possibly have issues of internal politics in Scotland taking precedence over issues that are vitally important to Irish fishing families.
It was surprising that the issue of Rockall was not raised during the recent meeting between the Taoiseach and the First Minister of Scotland. Was the Taoiseach briefed on this issue in advance? Was he aware of the Scottish position on Rockall and their efforts to raise it with the Government in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum? We know that there were extensive discussions on fishing rights between Scotland and Ireland. Why were Irish fishing representatives not aware of these ongoing exchanges? I attend the very useful Brexit stakeholder fora which are held frequently. The representative of the Irish fishing industry attends those fora and it has never been an issue that was raised. It came out of the blue.
The First Minister of Scotland has said that: "Ireland is Scotland's closest international trading partner," and stressed that "we must strengthen, not strain these bonds." If the hard line set out by a variety of Scottish Government spokespeople is persisted with, what does the Taoiseach intend to do to protect Irish fishermen who have fished in the waters surrounding Rockall for decades?
It is important that the Taoiseach would indicate whether he was alerted about Rockall in advance of the meeting with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Was it in any notes that he had received from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade or the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine? Did the Taoiseach have any indication that there had been ongoing discussions between the Scottish side and the Irish side on fishing rights at Rockall? There seems to have been considerable engagement prior to this, which both Governments would have been aware of, and yet it did not seem to form the subject matter of discussions between the Taoiseach and the First Minister of Scotland.
These latest exchanges about Rockall are another demonstration of how Brexit will have many direct impacts, none of which will be positive. The fact that this dispute is happening at all reflects badly on both countries, given that we are committed to the rule of law and it is shocking that it is going on in this way. Clearly, both Governments should agree some form of reciprocal access rights so that Irish fishermen will not be unilaterally threatened or excluded from fishing their traditional waters. The Common Fisheries Policy covers it at the moment and is our main negotiating plank. Will the Taoiseach indicate what advice has been given to Irish fishermen, some of whom are concerned that they may be boarded if they fish within the alleged 12 mile Scottish zone?
I am not aware of whether the Taoiseach is aware of the advice by Charles Lysaght, who was once a legal adviser in Iveagh House and later a Sunday Independent columnist and who wrote last week about Ireland's case on Rockall. He made the point that in 2014, Ireland entered an agreement on maritime boundaries which gave the UK economic rights in the Rockall zone. The Taoiseach might clarify that and he might take the opportunity if he cannot do it this evening to give us a considered position from Government, written if he likes, on that 2014 agreement, what it entails and an interpretation of it. It would be interesting to see if Charles Lysaght's analysis is the correct one on the Rockall issue. Someone in the Government has probably checked it out already and a clear statement in response to it would be important. I am anxious about the advice that has been given to Irish fishermen by the Government and about where we are in the resolution of this issue.
Ireland's position is that there is no basis for excluding Irish fishing vessels from the Rockall waters. They are EU waters and therefore, Irish fishermen are legitimately pursuing EU fishing opportunities and have done so unhindered for decades. Any concern should be handled through dialogue rather than universal enforcement action.
The House will be aware that the Tánaiste recently received a formal letter of notice from the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop MSP, stating that Scotland would deploy vessels in the Rockall area to take enforcement action against Irish and other EU vessels found within 12 miles of Rockall from last weekend onwards. The jurisdiction over the 12 mile area around Rockall has long been disputed. The UK claims sovereignty over Rockall and thus a 12 mile territorial limit in the sea around it. The Irish Government's position has been, and continues to be, that we do not recognise this claim, that the waters around Rockall are part of the UK’s exclusive economic zone and accordingly form part of the European waters under the Common Fisheries Policy, to which the principle of equal access for the vessels of all EU member states applies.
Irish vessels have operated unhindered in the Rockall zone for many decades, fishing haddock, squid and other species. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, met with the Irish fishing sector on Friday, 2 June, to inform it of the letter from the Scottish authorities, but also confirmed that Ireland's position on Rockall had not changed. I know that the industry was appreciative of that engagement but was also extremely concerned with the possibility that unjustified enforcement action might be taken against its members.
In engagement with the Scottish authorities, Ireland's position has been that there is no basis for excluding Irish fishing vessels from Rockall waters, that they are legitimately pursuing EU fishing opportunities and quotas in these waters and that they have done so unhindered for many decades. That is our advice to the sector.
On this issue, the views of Ireland and those of Scotland have differed for some time. Nevertheless, we have had a strong and positive partnership to our mutual benefit over many years. In light of the most recent developments, dialogue is continuing between the Irish and Scottish Governments and there has been close contact at official level in recent days in order to de-escalate tensions. It has been agreed that a process of intensified engagement will take place, led by senior officials from both administrations.
I was not briefed about this issue in advance of my last meeting with First Minister Sturgeon and did not receive any notes on it. I understand that the Scottish Government had indicated that it would give us advance notice before taking any action. I will be meeting First Minister Sturgeon in Manchester later this month and that will be an opportunity for us to talk about the matter. In the meantime, we have been in touch through our senior officials and have agreed a common line on it, which I have shared with the House.
As the House will know, Rockall is a small and uninhabitable rock located approximately 150 nautical miles west of the Scottish island of St. Kilda and 230 nautical miles north-west of Donegal. During the 1960s and 1970s, the issue of Rockall was a source of legal and political controversy in both Ireland and the UK. The UK claimed sovereignty over Rockall and has sought formally to annex it under its Island of Rockall Act 1972.
In April 2017, Marine Scotland, an agency of the Scottish Government, advised our Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, that it intended to exclude Irish fishing vessels from waters within the 12 mile zone around Rockall. The proposed Scottish action was based on the UK Government's stance on sovereignty over Rockall and their interpretation of their prerogatives under the UK fisheries legislation and the UK's Island of Rockall Act 1972 combined with the absence of an explicit provision in annex 1 of the Common Fisheries Policy regulation permitting Irish vessels to access territorial waters around Rockall.
Ireland disputes the Scottish interpretation of the legal position. We do not recognise the UK's claim of sovereignty over Rockall and, therefore, we do not accept the existence of a 12-mile territory limit around it. From Ireland's perspective, the area forms part of a wider, 200-mile UK exclusive economic zone, EEZ, in which the principle of equal access for all EU vessels should apply. While Ireland has not recognised British sovereignty over Rockall, it has never sought to claim sovereignty for itself. The consistent position of successive Governments has been that Rockall and similar rocks have no significance for establishing legal claims to mineral rights in the adjacent seabed or fishing rights in the surrounding seas. In 1998, Ireland and the UK concluded an agreement, establishing the boundaries on the continental shelf, which gave no weight to Rockall, in line with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. In 2013, it was agreed the same boundary would also serve to divide the two countries' EEZs. Ireland fully accepts that Rockall lies within the UK EEZ.
Since the matter was raised with the Government in April 2017, discussions have been ongoing. At political level, it was discussed between the Tánaiste and the Scottish cabinet secretary, Ms Fiona Hyslop, in September, which was followed by an exchange of letters. Further discussions have taken place at senior official level this year. On 31 May, Ms Hyslop wrote to the Tánaiste to indicate the subject operational priorities, and that the Scottish Government intended to deploy vessels in the area one week after that date and intended to take enforcement actions against any vessel, regardless of nationality, it considered to be fishing illegally. On 5 June, the Tánaiste replied, stating the position of the Government and requesting that the Scottish Government reconsider its approach. The Tánaiste spoke with Ms Hyslop on 6 June and she has maintained the Scottish position. Dialogue has continued, however, between the Irish and Scottish Governments. There have been contacts at official level in recent days and it has been agreed a process of intensified engagement, led by officials from both administrations, will take place, which, we hope, will allow a de-escalation of tensions in this regard.
5. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the issues he discussed with the President of the United States of America, Mr. Donald Trump, when they met at Shannon Airport. [23897/19]
6. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with President Trump. [23992/19]
7. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the President of the United States of America, Mr. Donald Trump. [24099/19]
8. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if will report on his recent meeting with the President of the United States of America, Mr. Donald Trump. [24206/19]
9. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if a company (details supplied) was discussed when he met President Trump at Shannon Airport; and if security issues were raised. [24297/19]
10. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if he discussed climate change with President Trump when they met at Shannon Airport. [24323/19]
11. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with President Trump. [24326/19]
12. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the President of the United States of America, Mr. Donald Trump; and if he discussed the recent inclusion of Ireland on the US economic watch list. [25166/19]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 12, inclusive, together.
On Wednesday, 5 June, I was pleased to welcome to Ireland the US President, Mr. Donald Trump, and the US First Lady. The US President and I had a substantive bilateral meeting. It was an important opportunity to enhance further the bilateral relationship between Ireland and the United States - a relationship that is important for political reasons, as well as for the welfare of many thousands of Irish citizens living in the US, for Americans of Irish descent, for Irish businesses in the US and for the hundreds of US firms investing in Ireland and sustaining jobs here. Our discussion focused on US-Ireland bilateral relations, including our economic ties; Brexit, in particular the importance of avoiding a hard border and the potential consequences for Northern Ireland; and visa and immigration issues, including the undocumented Irish in the United States.
President Trump was very positive in his assessment of US-Ireland relations. We discussed the strong performance of our respective economies and the growing two-way trading and investment relationship between the US and Ireland. I highlighted that approximately 100,000 people are employed in the US by Irish-owned companies and that client companies of Enterprise Ireland have opened 120 new offices in the US since President Trump took office. The US President remarked that Ireland is an excellent location for the overseas operations of US multinationals. We briefly discussed the US-Ireland trade balance and the fact that the US trade deficit in goods with Ireland is broadly offset by its surplus in services. He and his officials fully understand that the data on Ireland reflect the strong contribution of US multinationals to Ireland’s economy.
The US President was interested in Ireland’s perspective on Brexit and I explained our continued focus on ensuring there will be no return to a hard border on the island. He expressed his hope that Brexit will be ultimately resolved in a way that works for all sides but recognised the importance of avoiding any return to a hard border. The US President reiterated his backing for an E3 visa Bill to allow Irish citizens access to the US. I outlined the Government’s concern about the plight of the undocumented Irish in the US and we agreed Irish officials would continue to work with their US counterparts to explore resolutions to the issue.
While we did not have detailed discussions on climate change, I told the President of my intention to attend the UN climate action summit in New York. We did not discuss 5G security issues, other than some brief remarks to the media preceding the bilateral meeting. While the President and I were meeting, the US First Lady was hosted by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, at a cultural performance by local artists. The visit by the US President and First Lady, and my meeting with the US President and his team, including Mr. Steven Mnuchin, Mr. Mick Mulvaney and Mr. John Bolton, represented another valuable opportunity to deepen one of Ireland’s most important bilateral relationships.
There has been some controversy about a claim that Ireland is among a list of countries that have spent money on properties owned by President Trump, although this has been denied to the media. Will the Taoiseach confirm that the Government has spent no money on facilities owned by President Trump, in either Doonbeg or Washington DC?
On policy, unfortunately, President Trump has adopted quite an aggressive approach to the European Union and the historic transatlantic relationship between Europe and the United States. His ambassadors have actively engaged in anti-EU activism in a number of countries, while he has not only supported Brexit but said other countries should follow the United Kingdom's lead. It is a position close to President Putin's on these matters.
While we accept there are limitations to what the leader of the Government can be expected to do at such a short meeting and the Taoiseach's discomfort was clear when the US President stated the Border should be re-enforced, was there any pushback from the Taoiseach at the anti-EU and pro-Brexit line from the US and, in particular, its President? Did the Taoiseach take the opportunity to explain why Ireland is such a strong supporter of the EU and why Brexit is a lose-lose situation for everyone? Did he raise with the US President our concern about the United States' decision not only to reject the climate change consensus but to increase carbon dependency? Did they have a substantive discussion on climate change?
On the long list of threats that President Trump's agenda represents to the world, near or at the top is his climate sabotage, that is, his determination to derail global efforts to deal with the climate emergency. I am disappointed, to put it mildly, that the Taoiseach made only a cursory reference to that. In recent days, the Government has made great play of its concern and determination to act on the climate emergency but for the world's greatest climate saboteur, we not only invite him and roll out the red carpet but do not challenge his climate-wrecking agenda. Is that because the Government is ultimately not so concerned about the matter?
Most notably, the Government continues to set its face against People Before Profit's climate emergency measures Bill, which seeks to give expression in law to the central demand of the global climate movement, namely, to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Like President Trump, the Government does not wish to upset the global fossil fuel industry and, therefore, it uses the trickery of money messages to underpin its determination to frustrate efforts to keep fossil fuels in the ground. It does this despite knowing, as does everybody else, including scientists, that the precondition for addressing the climate emergency is to keep 80% of known fossil fuels in the ground, rather than providing opportunities to explore for and extract even more fossil fuels, as the Government seems determined to do.
I do not know whether diplomats in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade were deployed to draft the Taoiseach's reply. Anybody listening to President Trump, as I was, would have been completely taken aback at the total lack of knowledge displayed at his meeting with the Taoiseach at Shannon Airport. His comments about a hard Brexit and its impact on the Border were shockingly ignorant. The Taoiseach met President Trump previously this year. Has the latter not been comprehensively briefed on the impact on the island of Ireland of a hard Brexit and on the decades of investment in our peace process? Did the Taoiseach outline that to him after he made those amazing comments?
When President Trump said Brexit would be very, very good for Ireland, did the Taoiseach correct him? I understand he was accompanied by his chief of staff and the Secretary of the Treasury. Were they briefed on the economic impact of Brexit on Ireland? Obviously, they are not allowed to demur from the ex cathedra statements of the President in his company. However, away from the President, did they privately display to the Taoiseach any understanding of the impact of a hard Brexit and what it would mean for our economy and the peace process?
The issues relating to President Trump range from Brexit, his attitude towards it and his ignorance of its possible impact on Ireland to climate change and other matters. The issue I want to raise with the Taoiseach is President Trump's continued support for Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people. It might be of interest to note that the Israeli Prime Minister only last Sunday unveiled a new settlement in the Golan Heights named after the US President and called Trump Heights. This is a reflection of what Israel feels it can do with the support of the US against the people of Palestine in flagrant defiance of international law. In response to the construction of settlements in the West Bank, the international community, including, unfortunately, Ireland, has failed to hold Israel to account. This new set of settlements in the Golan Heights, where the Irish Defence Forces have served with distinction for many years, could lead to more tension and could risk escalating the situation in that area, which is very dangerous for Ireland. The time to act is now. Clearly, we need to express our concern to the US Government and President Trump about the Israeli actions in the West Bank. The Taoiseach needs to come out very clearly and tell President Trump and his people that their actions in respect of the Palestinian people are totally wrong and fly in the face of the prospect of building peace in the area. As part of an international stand for peace and progress in the Middle East, it is time for Ireland to formally recognise the state of Palestine, ensure that we pass the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 and condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the illegal actions of Israel in respect of this matter.
When we are dealing with President Trump, we clearly have to be very explicit as to where we stand because he does not listen to the subtleties or recognise the dropping a hint. He is a person with whom one must be very direct. In that regard, I would be interested to know if the Taoiseach raised the issue of Israel and the Palestinian people and whether he was direct in that regard.
A notice was recently posted to the effect that Ireland has been placed on a watch-list in the context of its trade with the US. The report points out that Ireland had a good proportion of the overall trade surplus of $47 billion with the US last year and a current account balance of payments surplus of 9.2%. In the world of Trump economics, these are seen as evidence of unfair practices on our part. On the face of it, placing us on a watch-list for countries manipulating their currencies is really odd. Did the Taoiseach raise this matter with the President? In the world of Trumpism and in light of the forthcoming election, this has the potential to give rise to a conflict between Ireland and the United States, one which the latter will have initiated. Just as we are all fearful of war with Iran, we would be quite fearful of an aggressive stance on the part of the US which is totally out of character with that adopted by all other recent Presidents in respect of Ireland.
Trump famously said at his meeting with the Taoiseach, if he was quoted correctly, "'It'll all work out with your wall, your border." Where is our wall? I think we all know where the Border is and what we want. Did the Taoiseach just regard that as a passing comment or did he take it on and state that while we have stone walls, which President Trump may have seen in County Clare, we certainly do not have a walled border, nor do any of us intend that something like that would ever be built. Did the Taoiseach have enough time to perhaps contend the matter of this space or this wall with him?
I thank the Deputies for their questions. Some of the questions are really questions for President Trump rather than me. I will do my best to answer the questions that I can answer and perhaps a mechanism can be found to pass on the other questions to President Trump through the Office of the Ceann Comhairle.
The Taoiseach can tweet them.
Perhaps we can do it when the new ambassador arrives.
He is arriving next month. I am glad that position has now been ratified by the US Senate and that the new ambassador will arrive in advance of 4 July.
To answer the questions from Deputy Micheál Martin, I am not aware of any Government spending at properties owned by Donald Trump or the Trump organisation, either in Ireland or the US. I have met President Trump three times now, so I think I have the measure of him, perhaps a little bit more than those who have not.
We can see that the Taoiseach is having a great effect on him.
I have explained on a number of occasions why EU membership is good for Ireland and why Brexit is bad for the UK, bad for Ireland and bad for the EU. I have also explained the peace process and a hard border, what that would mean and why we are doing all we can to avoid it.
The issue of climate change was raised but his focus was more on air quality. He was keen to point out that, at least in his assessment, air quality in the US has improved since he became President.
On Deputy Boyd Barrett's legislation, I have explained on a number of occasions why we do not think it is a good idea. It is not about trickery. It will not assist in reducing greenhouse gas emissions per se and could undermine our energy security by requiring us to import more in the future. As many people do, including most climate scientists, we see natural gas as being a transitional fuel. As we move off coal and oil, we will use gas, which produces probably half the emissions. For decades to come we will still use gas as part of our power mix and businesses, farms and homes will use natural gas too. Therefore, if we are going to use it, we think it makes more sense to use ours than to import it from Russia or the Middle East or to import shale gas from America. That obviously does not make sense economically or in terms of energy security and actually comes with an environmental risk because shale gas is much dirtier than the natural gas that would come from under our seas. There is also the risk of leakages along the way.
As I stated yesterday, what the Government supports and will drive forward is what we refer to as sensible climate action - measures that make our air cleaner, actions that make our homes warmer, actions that improve our quality of life by, for example, reducing commuting times and, above all, actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which is what is all about. What we will not support are climate actions that increase poverty or make people poorer, that take away people's jobs without offering alternatives, make us less secure or do not reduce greenhouse gas emissions at all.
I did not have any private discussions with any members of President Trump's delegation, other than to exchange pleasantries. The time and opportunity was not there to have any one-to-one conversations with any of his delegation. On this occasion, I did not have the opportunity to raise the issues of Israel and Palestine but we have done that at previous meetings.
On the trade surplus, we discussed that both with President Trump and with Treasury Secretary Mnuchin. When it comes to assessing the issue of trade distortions and trade surpluses, President Trump focuses on merchandise rather than services. He counts the merchandise surplus but does not have regard to the services. That is very much how he sees things: in terms of physical goods, not services. We had a disagreement on that, as Deputies can imagine. I pointed out that, in a modern economy, it is more about services than merchandise and that the US has a significant services surplus over us which more than balances out the merchandise surplus that we have over it. I also pointed out that many of these measurements are distorted by the fact that there are such large US companies with operations here.
13. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the Citizens' Assembly on the Dublin mayor; and the way in which the work has progressed on same. [23902/19]
14. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the proposals for a Citizens' Assembly on a Dublin mayor. [24991/19]
15. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the proposed Citizens' Assembly in respect of a directly elected mayor of Dublin. [25072/19]
16. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his plans for a Citizens' Assembly on the future of a Dublin mayor. [25167/19]
17. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the two citizens' assemblies recently agreed on gender equality and the election of a Dublin mayor; when they will be set up; and the terms of reference of same. [25192/19]
18. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the new Citizens' Assembly on Dublin local authorities and directly elected mayors; the terms of reference; and when it will be concluded. [25597/19]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 13 to 18, inclusive, together.
The Government recently agreed that a Citizens’ Assembly be convened to bring forward proposals to advance gender equality that challenge the remaining barriers, social norms and attitudes that facilitate gender discrimination towards girls and boys, women and men; in particular, to seek to ensure women's full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in the workplace, politics and public life; that recognise the importance of early years parental care and seek to facilitate greater work-life balance; to examine the social responsibility of care and women and men's co-responsibility for care, especially within the family; and following on from that to prioritise the proposals, which may include policy, legislative or constitutional change, having regard to the legal requirements and the costs versus the potential impact. Following an establishment phase, it is expected that the assembly will be up and running by end October 2019 and will run for a maximum of six months.
Following consideration of the outcome of the plebiscites on directly elected mayors for Limerick, Cork and Waterford on 24 May, a further Dublin Citizens' Assembly will be convened to consider the best model of local government for Dublin and, in particular, the issue, but not exclusively, of a directly elected mayor and his or her powers. This assembly will run subsequent to the assembly on gender equality. When it comes to local government, Dublin is much more complicated than Cork, Limerick and Galway because of the existence in Dublin of four authorities with four mayors. We will need to consider different ideas on an appropriate model for how local government could work given that there are four local authorities to which many people feel a connection, but others do not.
A Citizens’ Assembly may be valuable as a way to ask the people of Dublin what they believe could work best. I will bring the detailed proposals of the Dublin assembly to Government shortly. As with the Convention on the Constitution and the previous Citizens’ Assembly, I expect the establishment of these assemblies will be the subject of a resolution of each House of the Oireachtas and that the assemblies will also report to both Houses of the Oireachtas and not just to the Government.
I would like some clarity on the Citizens' Assembly in respect of the Dublin mayoralty. Is the Taoiseach suggesting that the Citizens' Assembly on gender equality will have to completed its work before the Citizens' Assembly on the Dublin mayoralty can proceed, which would be postponing any action on a Dublin mayor for a long time? When John Gormley was Minister he brought forward detailed plans for a Dublin mayoralty. Last week, following on from the local elections, the Taoiseach has doubled down in terms of his partisan and rather defensive approach to politics and blamed the Opposition, yours truly in particular, for the defeat of the plebiscites in Waterford and Cork, notwithstanding that I had spoken to him in the House approximately eight weeks beforehand decrying the lack of any published material or White Paper. It seems to me that in terms of changes and the introduction of a mayoral system, we do not need plebiscites or a Citizens' Assembly. The Government could bring forward proposals to the Oireachtas for a change of legislation. In the first instance, whatever the chosen model, whether a Citizens' Assembly or a plebiscite, a basic prerequisite is the publication of a White Paper setting out in detail the proposals well in advance so that an informed public debate can take place, followed by legislative proposals. To me, this is a basic requirement for plebiscites and referendums. Furthermore, I do not believe these should be held on the same day as elections. In the debate on Europe and the local elections, the opportunity or space to have an informed discussion on issues such as a mayoralty does not exist. A plebiscite is not about scraping a majority. Rather, it is about achieving a comprehensive consensus in favour of a set of proposals as happened in London. In regard to the London mayoralty, full information was published well in advance and broad based support was nurtured and developed and over three-quarters of the public voted in favour of it. What happened here in terms of how the people were presented with the set of proposals was, in my view, shambolic and incompetent. I say that objectively, and I said it in advance of the plebiscite. Having voted for it and having consistently supported the directly elected mayor concept, as I still do, it seems to me that in respect of Dublin, given it will take six months from October 2019 for the Citizens' Assembly to complete its work on the first issue, which I support, we are a long way off any consideration of a directly elected mayor in Dublin. In terms of what is proposed, it is a case of kicking the can down the road.
In the interim, I ask that the Government produce a White Paper on the Dublin mayoralty which could feed into any process such as a Citizens' Assembly that may eventually happen.
This Government has become famous for its policy of kicking the can down the road. The Citizens' Assembly proposal for Dublin seems to fit into that policy. On a technical point, will the gathering of citizens be from all over Ireland or from the Dublin region? We need to know the answer to that question? Dublin is experiencing a number of crises which require urgent action by Government and by councils, including the homelessness crisis, the failure of the Government to develop land on which to build social and affordable housing and the deterioration in the air quality in Dublin, which is leading to an increase in the number of asthma cases. I draw to the Taoiseach's attention the publication of the air statistics, which report four recent breaches in the Castleknock-Blanchardstown area of the minimum air quality; two breaches in the Phoenix Park - the most tree full area of Dublin, for which this Government has tourism plans - and 11 breaches in Ringsend, which is as high as for Enniscorthy where we know there is a smoky coal problem. I ask the Taoiseach to clarify what Government proposes to ask of the Citizens' Assembly.
Like the Taoiseach, I am a former member of Fingal County Council. One of the reasons people voted against an overall mayor of Dublin was their fear that Dublin City Council would dominate to the exclusion of the interests of the former county council areas, which is understandable. It is a Mansion House-centric proposal that this Government appears to be following. What will be different in the Government's proposals, which I think the Taoiseach should share?
I want to focus on the directly elected mayors and the Citizens' Assembly. The Taoiseach has announced a Citizens' Assembly in respect of the directly elected mayor for Dublin. It strikes me as odd that a similar process was not put in place in advance of the plebiscites in Cork, Waterford and Limerick. The people of Galway are also to have the question put to them without any meaningful consultation on it. We could potentially arrive at the slightly bizarre situation where Limerick becomes the only city with a directly elected mayor while other cities are left behind in that regard, all for the want of some element of cop-on on the part of Government. What will happen to Limerick in that situation?
That is a long way off too.
We need some direction on it. What is the timeframe in regard to the Citizens' Assembly in Dublin? Are there similar processes proposed for other cities that have not been put in place for Galway? What is the situation with regard to other large urban centres throughout the country? Is it envisaged that if the process of directly elected mayors for Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Galway and Dublin works, the process will be rolled out to other areas? Where are we at in respect of this proposal?
I thank the Deputies for their questions, which I will do my best to answer. In terms of an indicative timeline, we all appreciate that these things can change but the indicative timeline at the moment would be for the preliminary work on the Citizens' Assembly on gender equality to start immediately. We will want to put a resolution to both Houses before that, which we propose to do in the next couple of weeks. The assembly would sit from October 2019 to March 2020. We are giving it roughly six months to do its work. The Dublin local government reform assembly would sit for the following six months, between April and September 2020, which would allow for a plebiscite to happen in 2021, probably on the same day that Limerick elects its mayor and, possibly, subject to the merger happening and working out in Galway, a plebiscite being put to people there as well.
There is plenty of time to get it right. Limerick can be the pilot to see how this works and to demonstrate that it can work and be a success. Perhaps other cities will want to follow on from that. I would be keen to have that legislation done well in advance of the election of the Limerick mayor in 2021 and to put in a package of additional resources and supports for that Limerick mayor, providing a budget from the local government fund not just to pay for the office but also to provide additional funding to be able to take actions as mayor to be able to improve the city and county. It is a real opportunity for the people of Limerick and I am glad that they voted in favour of doing it.
Dublin is different, which I think we all appreciate. Dublin has four local authorities with four mayors. The model put forward by former Minister, John Gormley, which I do not think ever became law, having maybe gone through one House but not the other, was to have a fifth mayor, a sort of super-mayor above the four mayors. Maybe that is the best model, although I am not sure that it is. That is why I think it is a good idea to have a Citizens' Assembly to consult with 100 citizens from Dublin, not from around the country, about what they think the best model might be. There are models that can be considered, such as the five-mayor model, keeping the four mayors and having a fifth mayor and super-authority over that. There is potentially the London or Paris model, having a single new assembly for Dublin with borough councils or local councils under that, maybe aligned with the postal districts such as in Paris with its arrondissements or the London boroughs. We also want them to examine the powers because certain powers held by central Government could potentially be transferred to local government in Dublin. I think that could also happen in Limerick. For example, the tendering of bus services in Limerick could become a function of the local authority rather than the NTA but of course the money would have to follow. They are the kinds of things that I am thinking of but I am not prescribing the solutions here. There will be deep engagement in Limerick in particular about the legislation as we work through it, and also in Dublin with this assembly. We need to make an options paper for the Citizens' Assembly so that people have a chance to consider the different options and models but it is not my intention to prescribe it in the way that Deputy Micheál Martin suggests. I think we should put the different models and options that exist around the world to the Citizens' Assembly and see what the people of Dublin have to say about it through the Citizens' Assembly.
I noted again that Deputy Martin accused me of being partisan. It has become one of his speaking points and go-to lines lately. The simple solution to that is for Deputy Martin to lead by example and stop being partisan. I am very happy to be non-partisan. Let us both agree today not to be personal or partisan. I would be happy to agree to that if the Deputy is able to agree to it but we will see.
With regard to air quality, I think that Deputies will be aware that in budget 2019, we increased the tax on diesel imports. That was an example of a budget measure in the most recent budget to put an additional tax on the import of diesel vehicles, because we all know the damage that diesel vehicles do to our air quality. In the future, we can disincentivise the use of diesel vehicles. We indicated how that can be done in the climate plan, by equalising excise and changing the motor tax regime to incentivise hybrids and electric vehicles over diesel. There is also the bus fleet. As I mentioned earlier, three of the hybrid buses have now arrived and will be in service on the Lucan route. I think six will arrive in the next week or so. They will all work on the Lucan route and I think that they will work well. Sitting on it, it seemed like any other bus. We will check them out in case there are problems but there are now 600 on order as part of that process.
There are 3,000 in London.
Another matter is the electrification of the railways. I know that the contribution that will make to improving air quality is small but there are other advantages to it too. Those are just a few examples of what is in train.