Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 21 Jul 2020

Vol. 995 No. 3

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The House has agreed that, for the duration of the Covid-19 emergency only, the rapporteur's report of the Order of Business shall not be read out but shall be taken as read. There are, therefore, four proposals to put to the House today. No. 1 is the proposal for dealing with today's business, Tuesday. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Is the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business agreed? It is not agreed.

The Taoiseach has returned from Brussels with a deal that could spell the end for many of our family farms. The new EU budget will see a 9% cut in the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, and this at a period when our farmers need more support, not less. It is at a time when farmers are under increasing pressures around prices. It is at a time when the detail we have on the Common Agricultural Policy is that it will apparently result in greater bureaucracy and costs. Put simply, on the face of it, this is a disastrous deal for Irish farmers and the communities that depend on them. We are still unsure as to how Ireland will actually benefit from the agreement or how much additional contribution our taxpayers will be expected to pay towards the €7 billion for the so-called defence fund, which in essence is a subsidy to the EU arms industry.

Time please, Deputy.

Under the Order of Business, my point is that we need additional time under statements post the European Council meeting. I propose that we double the time allocated in order for these points to be made and for the House to have a detailed conversation and debate on what exactly is entailed in this agreement.

Deputy Carthy has made his point.

I am normally one to agree with the Order of Business but on this occasion it is such an important issue. We are talking of the stimulus package and everything else. There is a worry in rural Ireland for farming and for the rural economy and that what is good for Europe may not necessarily be good for the farmers in Ireland. This is very serious. Whether we can find time to extend the time allocated for statements post the European Council meeting or we have a debate on the matter some other day during the week, we need to discuss this in detail. There are too many mixed messages coming as well. The Taoiseach has said that the agreement is good for Europe. Yes, that is fine, but it might not be good for us. Ireland will now be the fifth highest contributor to the EU funds, which is going to be very serious for Ireland.

I ask that time be made available today or tomorrow for statements to the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Foley. I wrote to the Ceann Comhairle on Friday on foot of an exchange I had with the Minister on Thursday when I asked her a very straight question about the leaving certificate results. The Minister refused to answer the question and then sent out a press release some two hours later. That was disrespectful to the Dáil and to the Ceann Comhairle. I ask that the Minister for Education and Skills be made available today or tomorrow to answer questions on the leaving certificate and the reasons the issuing of the results has been delayed. There will be no other opportunity in the coming days for us to do this. I believe the Minister disrespected the House last Thursday and I feel that it is incumbent on the Government to give Opposition spokespersons an opportunity to question the Minister in this House on this important issue, which will affect so many families in September.

I wrote to the Ceann Comhairle on the same matter. I want to add my voice to that call. The Minister has scarcely answered a direct question in her short time in office. It is urgently needed. The concern among students and parents is unbelievable. The Minister really does need to come into the House to clarify the situation on the leaving certificate and on the return to school. People are absolutely in the dark.

I believe that we do need a debate on the European Council. We clearly need to stop the ridiculous exaggeration and hyperbole articulated by Deputy Carthy.

As well as by the IFA.

To describe it as "disastrous". Come off it.

There is a 10% cut to the Common Agricultural Policy.

And him talking about spelling the end of the family farm.

Please, Deputy.

We have been listening to the end of this and the end of that for the past 50 years.

The Taoiseach agreed to a 10% cut to the Common Agricultural Policy.

The Business Committee orders the House. I am in favour of an extended debate. However, I hope it is grounded in reality. The Common Agricultural Policy has been protected. It is in a far better shape than people would have anticipated over a year ago, given the United Kingdom leaving as a result of Brexit.

This has taken huge resources out of the European budget. We have a good deal for farmers. It will never be ideal.

We want to tease it out.

Of course the Deputy does.

When people say it is good for Europe, we are Europe. We export our beef, milk and milk products to European markets.

The Taoiseach does not have to mention that. We know that.

If Europe does not recover, then our exports of beef, milk and other agricultural products decline. That is the context in which we are working. That said, we worked as a country to protect the Common Agricultural Policy.

But you failed.

No, we have not failed.

A 10% cut is a failure.

I resent that completely.

We cannot have a debate on the issue now.

I accept that but comments were made to which I feel I have to respond.

I have no issue with the Minister for Education and Skills speaking to the Dáil. A marking scheme has been devised and there is an idea of grades instead of exams. No individual Deputy is going to organise how the grading system is going to work. I have been in education and I understand how complex marking schemes are, even for the leaving certificate proper as we knew it. A non-leaving certificate examination is going to be complex, difficult and challenging for all concerned. It is better that once an announcement is ready to be made, in terms of the detail of a marking scheme and how it is going to work, that is when it is made. It is very difficult for the students in particular as they endeavour to look to their future.

What does that mean?

It means I am open to debate.

The Taoiseach did not answer the Deputy's question.

It is up to the Business Committee.

I just want to clarify. I will consult with the Business Committee this afternoon and we will see how the schedule for the rest of the week can be extended to take on board the requests from Members and the agreement of the Taoiseach to facilitate additional debate. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Is that a commitment to additional time?

Yes. We are here to 12.15 tonight for anybody who is going to be around. We will see how much later we can sit tomorrow night and the night after.

I kept going until 6 o'clock this morning. I invite Members to follow suit.

Fair play to you. Is Wednesday's businesses agreed to? Agreed. Is Thursday's business agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for Friday's business agreed to?

It is not agreed.

We were notified only a couple of hours ago by the clerk to the Business Committee that the statements on health scheduled for Friday in the Dáil will now be taken next week. That is unacceptable. It is because of legislation in the Seanad. We cannot have the Dáil's business rescheduled because of the work of the Seanad. The Seanad has to look after its own business. I cannot see why both cannot be accommodated on Friday.

All the unions which represent front-line health workers were before the Covid committee today. The Taoiseach will know about the huge challenges faced by our health services dealing with Covid care, non-Covid care, catch-up programmes and screening. We have many questions for the Minister for Health. He should be here on Friday. It was the first opportunity for the new Minister for Health to address the Dáil and to take questions from Deputies. It is unacceptable to get an email stating this is not going to happen because of the Seanad business. Both can and should be accommodated. Will the Taoiseach address this?

I support that call. We were notified of the arrangements for Friday and the Business Committee agreed to them. People have made arrangements to be here on Friday. If there is a clash with the Seanad, I suggest that we rejig the order on Friday to facilitate the Minister to go to the Seanad. There are two other items on that day. We should go ahead with it given the urgency of all the issues surrounding Covid.

It has to be accepted we have a problem. The Minister has many challenges but he has not yet managed to bilocate. What does the Taoiseach propose?

I do not organise the schedule or business of the House.

That is a matter for the Business Committee. I am conscious, though, that there is a huge volume of legislation going through this month and I appreciate that all parties are co-operating with the passage of what is, from my memory, probably the highest volume of legislation in any one month. Obviously, it is related to Covid and trying to protect jobs for people, but if something can be facilitated, it will be. I do not know how long it will be delayed. Is it Friday to Tuesday?

Friday to Monday.

Is that the difference?

Is that earth shattering? Is that huge?

With due respect, it is not that it is earth shattering.

What I mean-----

People prepare, as the Taoiseach knows-----

-----to be here on certain days. We are as busy as the Taoiseach is and everyone in the Chamber has his or her own work. When we are told that the Minister for Health will attend on Friday, he should be here on Friday. All we are asking is whether the business can be rescheduled so that both sittings can be accommodated. We accept that the Seanad has to do its work and pass legislation, but to just put our business off on Friday willy-nilly and with no consideration for anyone else is unacceptable. It is the first time that the Minister for Health is to be before the Dáil. In fact, we will have statements next week as well - it would not be good to have statements twice in one week. We have urgent questions that we need to put and clarifications are necessary. All we are asking is for the Government to show a bit of good faith and try to reschedule the sittings of the Seanad and the Dáil so as to accommodate the Minister.

If the Minister is not available, perhaps his very able junior, the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, could attend.

That does not appear to be acceptable to Deputy Cullinane. Could I just make the point that we are first and foremost legislators? The legislation is in the Seanad and I take it that it is important that we get the legislation right and that enough time is given to the scrutiny of the legislation itself, particularly in what is a high-pressure situation in terms of legislation going through the House at the moment. I am just not clear whether deferring it to Monday is something that could not be accommodated, but I am open to talking to the Minister and the Ceann Comhairle and the Business Committee can reflect on this. Getting the legislation through with proper scrutiny should be our priority.

In fairness to everyone involved, we were not aware of the Seanad sitting when we made the arrangements for the business on Friday. The point the Taoiseach makes is absolutely valid, in that legislation must take priority over statements. The proposed change from Friday to Monday is not something of earth-shattering significance, but I am in the House's hands. The Business Committee will be convened in some form this afternoon and we will consider all these matters. Is that okay?

I call Deputy McDonald on promised legislation.

I wish to return to an issue the Taoiseach tried to brush off when it was raised by my colleague, Deputy Carthy, and to ask him two questions. Will he confirm to the House that the CAP budget is to be cut by 9% in constant prices compared with the last seven-year multi-annual financial framework, MFF? Can he answer "Yes" or "No"? Is it a matter of fact that there will be a 9% cut compared with the last seven-year MFF?

The Commission's original recovery proposal was for a €15 billion package for rural development. That has been halved to €7.5 billion. Will the Taoiseach confirm that is the case?

In relation to the €15 billion to €7.5 billion, which was in the recovery and resilience fund element, there were two tranches on that during the talks, which were extremely difficult talks. The first would have resulted in a reduction of €124 million for Ireland over seven years. The second cut of €2.5 billion, which makes up the rest of the €7.5 billion, would have brought it up to somewhere closer to €200 million over seven years. I went back to the President of the Council and made it clear that was not acceptable to us. We got a special allocation under the MFF of €300 million over the seven years, which will more than adequately cover the proportional allocation we would have got from the fund, which obviously was for 27 countries over seven years. We have dealt with that in terms of the €300 million allocation we received.

In terms of CAP, obviously there will be a calculation of figures between current and constant pricing.

Overall, CAP has been protected. There will be more flexibilities within it.

I asked a simple question.

I do not propose to get into detailed calculations now.

Others have done so.

Of course, they always do that but I am not going to jump in now with specifics.

They are from the farming community. They represent farmers.

So do we. There were three key elements for us, the Common Agricultural Policy, which we have protected; a special Brexit reserve fund of €5 billion to be used-----

I did not ask about Brexit. I asked about CAP.

Deputy McDonald, please.

That fund is important to farming.

I realise that. The Taoiseach should respond to a straight question with a straight answer.

Deputies, please.

Farming will be one of the areas affected.

We cannot have a debate on the matter.

I apologise.

The issue of travel advice is becoming a joke. While the Taoiseach is in here answering questions on it, outside the Tánaiste has basically asked what is the point publishing a green list at all if the continuous advice is to refrain from non-essential travel. The mixed messages on this issue have been pointed out by my colleague, Deputy Duncan Smith. For a significant period of time now we have pointed out that people should be tested when they arrive and again within 14 days. I am beginning to wonder who is Taoiseach. I refer to the message from the Taoiseach today on a green list being published. According to the media, his ministerial colleagues have stated that it will be published this evening but outside the House the Tánaiste said that because of the advice being given and because of the mixed messaging, he does not see any point in the publication of a green list in relation to travel. Which is it? Is it what the Taoiseach says in here or is it what the Tánaiste says outside?

Time is up, Deputy Kelly.

There are two issues. The Government will decide on that this evening. I have said from the outset that we have postponed this. The publication of a green list was articulated some time ago. In terms of the challenges of living with Covid-19 and getting the balance right, the Government will decide on the matter.

Will the decision be made by the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste?

The Government will decide. In terms of testing, on other occasions Deputy Kelly will advocate adherence to the advice of NPHET, public health and so on. It is not in favour of a systemic testing regime at airports. It believes it could do more damage than good. We might have different views on the matter but ultimately Government has to decide. From a layperson's perspective it might appear obvious to test but there are all sorts of implications and complications arising from that, such as false positives, false negatives and so on.

That is the reason for testing twice.

It also would have a huge impact on testing and contract tracing operations.

The question is whether it is better to have contact tracing and testing deployed elsewhere, which we are doing at the moment.

Will the green list be published this evening? Will there be a green list, or not?

Time is up. I call Deputy Cian O'Callaghan.

There is much confusion around the private rented sector and what will happen next in terms of legislation. The Minister with responsibility for housing has said that a Bill will be published this Friday. What exactly is the plan for renters and what will be in the legislation that is to be published on Friday? There is a need for certainty. As I said, there has been much confusion.

The Minister has announced that there will be an extension but equally there is a need for primary legislation to deal with this issue. The existing legislative base is not solid and could be open to attack and challenges subsequently. We have to get this right. The new law will prevent the eviction of tenants unable to pay their rent due to the impact of Covid-19. It protects them on a statutory footing and it is focused on the vulnerable in our society. It also gives a stronger role to the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, in regard to supporting tenants and in other areas. It is needed because the existing statutory instrument is not a sound, solid basis for the continuation of what is currently in place.

The Government chose not to extend the ban on rent increases and evictions for at least another three months for fear of a court challenge from landlords. This is a Government of gutless wonders. Does the Taoiseach not think it would have been better to extend the ban and prepare to face down any court challenge by arguing that such bans are clearly and demonstrably in the public interest in the context of a dangerous virus abroad within our society?

The programme for Government, on page 60, commits to improving the security of renters. Will the Taoiseach agree that in bending the knee so cravenly to the landlord lobby this Government has badly let down the hundreds of thousands of people who rent in this country it promised to protect?

The promised legislation protects renters. That is the purpose of it. It will do so far more effectively over the long term than the current statutory instrument. We are not caving in to anybody. We do not want to go into the courts and lose. The advice is clear. The current statutory instrument is not legally sustainable.

Fine legal minds dispute that.

The Government has to act legally. Governments cannot act illegally. It is easy for the Deputy and other Opposition Deputies to proclaim that we should act illegally. Governments cannot act illegally because if we do so, we expose workers in terms of the compensation that would have to be paid, rights and so on. We do not want that. We want to protect renters. We want to protect people from becoming homeless. We want to protect people from being evicted. The legislation gives us-----

The Government is bowing to the needs of landlords.

-----a stronger primary legislative foundation to do that. That is the objective.

On page 55 of the programme for Government, under the mission of housing for all, it states: "We believe that home ownership should be within the reach of all our citizens." Over the past number of years, I have met hundreds of young couples who are working but have no real hope of owning their own home. They are earning slightly too much to qualify for social housing but not enough to secure a mortgage to purchase a home. They are stuck in a rental trap, struggling to save for a deposit. Local authorities throughout Ireland are building social housing schemes but there is no affordable housing scheme available to cater for this forgotten group of people.

I ask the Taoiseach to instruct local authorities to identify sites for affordable housing schemes as a matter of urgency. A site was recently purchased in Claregalway and is in the ownership of Galway County Council. This site should be considered for a pilot project for such an affordable housing scheme. I ask that Galway County Council be instructed to assign the site for a pilot scheme. When does the Government expect to have an affordable housing scheme in place?

The Minister with responsibility for housing is committed to the provision of affordable homes over the lifetime of this Government, to extending the serviced sites fund and to providing seed capital to local authorities to provide serviced sites at cost in towns and villages to allow individual families to build homes. In that context, I will ask the Minister to engage with the Deputy on the Claregalway situation.

The Government cannot necessarily instruct councils but it can engage with them to progress situations. That is what we want to do. I will ask the Minister to engage with Deputy Grealish in regard to the site he mentioned.

The stimulus package is expected to be announced this week. We know the Taoiseach is tired having come back from Brussels. We need to look at the bigger picture in terms of stimulus measures. Every bed and breakfast, farm and country guest house, small hotel, big hotel and Airbnb that gets a booking through Booking.com, or any of the other numerous booking agencies, most of which are based outside of this country, pays a charge of between 10% and 20% in respect of each booking. This money is not paid to the hotels, bed and breakfasts and so on. Rather, it is going out of the country. The Government needs to look at this area. In some cases, the charge is equivalent to the VAT rate, which is 13.5%. We need to stop this charge by asking people to holiday at home and to book directly with the bed and breakfast, guest house and so on. There are many of them in my own parish, community and county and throughout the country. We need to cut out the middlemen and the racket of booking online and the charges because we are losing too much money to our economy.

That point is very well made in terms of stimulating the domestic tourism industry and encouraging it through various mechanisms that are under consideration by the Cabinet sub-committee and the Cabinet. We need to develop incentives and mechanisms to encourage people to spend on bed and breakfasts and to take a weekend away in Ireland over the next number of months because, as we know, tourists are not travelling to Ireland in anywhere near the numbers of a year ago. Of all the sectors of the economy, the travel, tourism and hospitality sector has been most severely hit. We do have to take measures to encourage people to spend and to holiday locally. For example, there is a huge build-up of savings and if we can trigger some of that into the economy, it might help to keep people going over what will be a very difficult period to Christmas.

Business people have contacted me in recent weeks about the spiralling costs of their public liability. They feel very aggrieved because they thought their insurance policies covered disruption of business due to infectious diseases. Insurance companies are point-blank refusing to honour the commitment in their policies. Will the Government direct insurance companies to honour the policies they have with business people?

Insurance companies should honour their commitments. The Government is taking the insurance issue very seriously. The Ministers of State, Deputies Fleming and Troy, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform are all very focused on the need to deal comprehensively with the insurance issue in order that insurance companies will honour people's policies and that we get insurance costs down. The cost of insurance is a significant burden on many viable enterprises that are suffering a great deal at the moment.

I wish to raise the Government's staycation tax rebate plan. Are the reports that there is absolutely nothing in the plan for families that are taking their holidays in the peak summer season true? Children have been out of school for six months. Hopefully, they will be able to return in September. This means that families are not in a position to take their holidays in September. Is the Government deliberately introducing measures that it knows the majority of people will not be able to avail of? To judge by the way the matter has been reported, the Government is adding insult to injury because very few people will be able to avail of what is in the plan. If that is not the case, will the Government amend the design of the plan to ensure that the majority of families taking their holidays during the peak summer months will be able to avail of the staycation tax rebate? If it is the case, the Government seriously needs to rethink this.

I am not going into the details or announcing anything here. The Cabinet will meet to discuss this and to finalise a variety of measures that are really about sustaining jobs and trying to create alternative employment opportunities for people over the next 12 months. There will be an immediate impact in the context of shovel-ready projects, various initiatives and so on. The latter is not just for this month, it is right through to the end of the year and beyond.

Will families be availing of-----

Please, Deputy.

Will the tax rebate be available to families that will be holidaying in the peak summer season?

The Deputy is taking her colleagues' time.

If the Taoiseach would answer the question, instead of spoofing around-----

Will they or will they not be able to get a tax rebate if they take holidays during the peak summer months?

I call Deputy Ward.

The Taoiseach is a spoofer.

Please, Deputy.

No, he is. He is a spoofer.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to: "Progress the National Clinical Programme for Dual Diagnosis and work to develop joint protocols and referral pathways." In addition, Sharing the Vision states "an individual with an addiction has a right to access relevant mental health supports". Will the Taoiseach indicate if the policy outlined in both documents relates to non-governmental organisations that receive financial support from the Government to provide mental health supports? Will non-governmental organisations such as Pieta House be instructed to provide a mental health service to individuals irrespective of whether they have addiction or substance-misuse issues, to ensure there is no wrong door when it comes to dual diagnosis?

My view is that we should utilise non-governmental organisations in the mental health area and in the addiction services area. Over the past number of years, when I was actively pursuing mental health issues, one of the difficulties was in recruiting psychiatrists and psychologists to various mental health teams throughout the country. I pressed various Ministers to try to work with high-quality non-governmental organisations that could, perhaps, support and complement the work of the public mental health services. I am very keen to work with non-governmental organisations, both on the addiction side and in the area of mental health, to help them in an integrated way.

The programme for Government states:

The new government will ensure that as services resume, they are delivered in a planned, appropriate and considered manner. Our priority is to protect public health, patients and to ensure capacity for future surges of COVID-19.

I am a member of the Dublin 15 community drug team. We had a board meeting last Friday and one of the serious issues that arose was funding, particularly for personal protective equipment, PPE. Unfortunately, to date, the only PPE that has been given to the community drug team, as far as I know from reading the report, was a box of face masks. If such teams are to reopen in September, it is very important that funding be given to all community drug teams.

I will ask the Minister for Health to pursue that matter. Has the team been in touch with the HSE in respect of this?

Yes, it has. It has been refused funding.

We will check that out. I do not have the specifics regarding the team but we will pursue that.

The section of the programme for Government relating to disability refers to accessibility for people with disabilities and getting access to services that suit their needs. Throughout the country, school places for children with autism are particularly difficult to secure. There are zero autism spectrum disorder, ASD, classes in Dublin 2, 4, and 6, there is one such class in Dublin 6W and there are no early intervention classes in any of these areas. Despite the need to establish ASD classes in Dublin 2, 4 and 6, agreed to and identified by the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, no schools have agreed to open special classes. Will the Government compel schools in these areas to open ASD classes as a matter of urgency?

Throughout his political career, the Taoiseach has taken a special interest in children with special needs. As the previous speaker noted, there is a commitment in the programme for Government to: "reduce the waiting times for assessment of need under the Disability Act 2005 through the full year provision of additional therapy posts." It is clear that the commitments under the Disability Act 2005 are not being honoured in the context of children with disabilities. There are severe waiting lists for primary care services and for therapy provided under the assessment of need and early intervention team provisions. This is unacceptable and it poses a great deal of stress for children and their parents. It is also not right that many children with autism or special needs are without appropriate school plans in either special schools or special classes. Can the staffing levels in the appropriate therapy disciplines be increased to tackle these waiting lists? Can a five-year projection of special needs education in each school catchment area be undertaken without delay in order to ensure that the necessary school plans will be provided in a timely manner?

I wish to ask the Taoiseach about two European Council framework decisions of 2008 that were meant to be transposed into Irish law by 2012 at the latest. It is now 2020. When will the Criminal Justice (Mutual Recognition of Decisions on Supervision Measures) Bill 2019 be restored to the Order Paper? It was passed in the Seanad and then came to this House. When will it be restored to the Order Paper in order that it can be put through the House? When will the criminal justice Bill on the mutual recognition of custodial sentences be published? Both Bills are well overdue, by eight years.

To respond to Deputy Ó Cuív, next week we will bring the Criminal Justice (Mutual Recognition of Decisions on Supervision Measures) Bill 2019 back before the House. I will revert to the Deputy in respect of the publication of the mutual recognition of custodial sentences Bill.

I agree with Deputy Haughey's points about the need for greater provision for intervention teams in the areas of both education and health. I favour greater recruitment of speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists in schools. I am of the view that we should expand that programme significantly over the lifetime of the Government and there is a commitment in the programme for Government in respect of the matter.

As to the other point raised by Deputies Haughey and Andrews, all children with special needs should have the appropriate school placements provided for them in September.

The previous Dáil agreed legislation between all parties to give greater power to the Minister if the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, requests that a direction be taken. That is not exactly an ideal mechanism in the way it has been drafted. It seems to me we need stronger advocacy for the child within the system. It is something I will work on with the respective Ministers to make this a real priority in terms of the needs of children with special needs and their families.

Ten Deputies were not reached today, starting with Deputies Ó Murchú and Bruton. We will give them priority tomorrow. My apologies to those Deputies not reached. Mind you, if the ones reached had stuck to their time, we might have got to even more people.

And the Taoiseach.