1. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach the status of Bills under preparation in his Department. [38331/20]
Vol. 1001 No. 4
1. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach the status of Bills under preparation in his Department. [38331/20]
2. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach the status of Bills under preparation in his Department. [38077/20]
3. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the status of Bills under preparation in his Department. [38633/20]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.
When previously questioned on this matter on 8 September, I informed the House that there were currently no Bills in preparation in my Department and the position is unchanged. The Government legislation programme was published by the Government Chief Whip on 15 September. The programme sets out the Government's priorities for the autumn, reflecting the ambition for legislative change, as set out in the programme for Government. The legislation programme included no Bills in preparation in my Department as there are no legislative matters which require to be prioritised at this time. My Department will continue to play a central role in supporting effective co-ordination and prioritisation of policy and legislative developments across Government, through the Government meetings and Cabinet committee structure and Government legislation committee, chaired by the Government Chief Whip.
The programme for Government makes reference to the possibility of legislation to improve workers' rights in a liquidation situation. The Taoiseach has committed to a process of dialogue on this issue with employers' organisations and trade union organisations. I understand a meeting has already taken place in this regard. Are there terms of reference for this process? Have they been published? If so, where? Which organisations are being invited to participate in the process? How long is it intended for the process to continue? Is it the intention that proposals be put forward at the end of the process?
Many observers doubt this process would even be taking place if it were not for the struggle of the Debenhams workers. Some 15 minutes ago, the Taoiseach asked for space on this issue and he is committed to appointing a mediator. I will comment briefly on that. Despite the fact that he gave a commitment to the workers that he would report back to them early this week on progress in this regard and did not do so, I will respect his request. However, I will make it clear that if there is not progress on this issue by the time we convene next week, there will be a row on the floor of the Dáil about this. These women have a deadline as well. They want Christmas with their families and the dispute solved by then.
They know that the company is trying to get packaging in and high-value stock out this week and is planning to do so at night or early in the morning. This is a disgrace and the company should back off. Please, appeal to them for space on this issue as well.
Given all the controversy, the Taoiseach might tell us when the Government intends to publish a new judicial appointments commission Bill. In 2016, he called on the then Government not to control the Dáil but it seems that, if matters relating to the Business Committee do not change quickly, that will fall by the wayside. At the time, the current Taoiseach stated: "We believe that the new Dáil should not represent more business as usual – that it should involve a decisive move towards a reformed politics."
On the judicial appointments controversy, the Taoiseach has on numerous occasions stated that Deputies should submit questions. I submitted seven questions to his Department. They were pretty basic and I hope to speak to the Ceann Comhairle about them later. They asked for dates and specifics, they were about the process and they were in order, as the Ceann Comhairle has accepted. I asked when the Taoiseach, in his current role, was informed about the proposal to appoint Mr. Justice Woulfe. I asked when he, his Department or his advisers were informed of the decision of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, JAAB. I asked him a range of questions relating to the documentation process. I am not looking for documentation or anything that was said at Cabinet level. I know all about Cabinet confidentiality. With these questions in mind, why is the Department of the Taoiseach refusing to be transparent and answer questions, given the Taoiseach's commentary in the past that Governments needed to be more open? I guarantee him that I will not stop until we get answers to these questions.
Seeing as how, as the Taoiseach suggested in a previous answer, the Government is not busy with any particular legislation at the moment, and given that he is responsible for co-ordinating the response to Covid, may I suggest something for his Department to do? There are many aspects to this, but one that is staring us in the face, is growing more evident every day and will be the key to any kind of return to normality is the need for more doctors, nurses and healthcare assistants to increase the capacity of our health service. On 20 October, the Taoiseach suggested that student nurses should have the pay they received in March and April returned to them, but the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, has not done so. I was shocked to discover at a meeting of student nurses that a huge obstacle to the recruitment of sufficient nurses and doctors is the level of fees they are being forced to pay. Legislation on this would be a good idea. Student nurses working on wards on the front line pay €3,000 in fees. Mature student nurses pay €7,500. Graduate-entry medical students who are training to be doctors, a group of whom I met recently, payi€15,000 per year in fees. All of them said they could barely hang on. There is an active financial disincentive to get the trained doctors, nurses and midwives that we need now more than ever. The Taoiseach should be doing something about this. It is crazy to put financial obstacles in the way of training the front-line healthcare professionals we need. This is putting them through the wringer financially in trying to complete their training.
I look forward to the Taoiseach answering some of Deputy Kelly's questions.
The Government is to legislate to defer the increase in the State pension age to 67 from January, but we have not seen that legislation yet. This delay is causing great uncertainty for many citizens. It should be remembered that the Fianna Fáil-Green Party coalition first proposed the pension age increase, introducing one of the fastest and largest pension age increases in Europe.
In 2016, we tabled a motion calling for the immediate reinstatement of the State pension transition payment for those who retired at 65 years of age. The age at which someone is entitled to a pension ought to be 65 years in any civilised society that respects its workforce. However, Fianna Fáil voted against that motion. It then went on to commit to the provision that we had set out in the election. Fianna Fáil has been all over the place on this issue. The bottom line now is people need to know when the legislation will be introduced. Will it remove or defer the pension age increase to 67 years? If the Taoiseach can do nothing else today, it would be helpful if he at least clarified that and answered Deputy Kelly's questions.
I thank the Deputies for their various questions. Deputy Barry raised the issue of the process, the dialogue and discussions on company law reform and the need to amend the laws, particularly in regard to liquidations, the rights of workers and the honouring of collective agreements, and also the measures to implement the Duffy Cahill report, which is not directly applicable to the Debenhams situation but nonetheless should happen. It relates to the Clerys situation as well. The Ministers of State, Deputies Troy and English, had good meetings recently. They convened a forum to discuss that with the social partners. That process will continue. The Tánaiste is engaged in his Department with those two Ministers of State on the company law reform process. That is expected to be completed by the end of the year. The issues can be complex enough, but there is a resolve and a determination to deal with them.
I undertook to return this week regarding the appointment of a mediator to deal with the Debenhams situation with a view to seeing if we could bring a resolution to it. I asked earlier for space to be allowed. That included all parties to this. I do not think any moves should be made until this particular process is completed. This has been a very, very difficult dispute, which is not easy to resolve. We had a good meeting. I am very clear about the dangers of precedent and so on, but we do want to resolve this ultimately because it has been a long time on the picket line for the workers in particular. They have suffered a lot in inclement weather and they are under a lot of pressure. I acknowledge that.
In relation to Deputy Kelly's questions, I have said that the Government is committed to publishing the judicial appointments commission Bill as soon as possible. That it will be published quite shortly is my understanding of this. Work is under way by the Minister. I have always said that the system needs reform. As part of the programme for Government, we indicated that we wanted to reform the Bill that was before the previous House to create a better balance that would respect the separation of powers to a greater extent than the Bill that was going through the Houses in the previous Oireachtas did. That is the agenda.
I do not agree with the Deputy on the replies to the questions that he asked. I have answered those questions.
The Taoiseach has not.
I have answered them on a number of occasions, in particular, in the first instance when the Tánaiste said for transparency reasons to me and the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan - we were not Ministers at the time - that Mr. Justice Séamus Woulfe had come through the JAAB process.
I asked the Taoiseach-----
Prior to the actual formal Cabinet meeting, I would have been advised by the Minister that she was bringing forward those proposals to Cabinet in the normal way.
That question has been answered before and I have answered it again. My Department has been very transparent on this and has answered the Deputy's questions on all of these issues.
Deputy Boyd Barrett raised the issue of the recruitment of nurses and doctors. I introduced the nursing degree programme when I served as Minister for Health. At the time, it represented a very radical transformation of nursing education, and I put enormous resources into it in order to create the new facilities we have in universities and institutes of technology across the country. Those changes were informed by nurses and the nursing unions. During the period in question, the Department brought in nursing personnel who headed up the nursing unit and engineered the proposals around this dramatic reform, which meant that students moved from the apprenticeship model within hospitals and to instead being students at third level. That changed the model entirely in terms of payments and so on. That was signed up to by the INMO and all of the parties concerned. We transformed postgraduate nursing education and created far more opportunities for nurses. I understand that things move on and that advances are made. However, it should be acknowledged that enormous investment went into that reform and most people did not think it could happen, but it did and on my watch.
The current situation has been under negotiation by the INMO and the HSE at the appropriate fora for quite some time. I wish the matter had been brought to a conclusion, but the various asks have been be made. It is now part of the industrial relations process and has to be resolved through that process.
The postgraduate medical programme was an innovation which was sought at the time so that people would be given an opportunity to pursue medicine. I acknowledge the Deputy's point that it is expensive, but, as a programme, it has been effective for many people who had previously been debarred from going down the medical route. They can now access the postdoctoral process.
The legislation on the increase in the pension age to which Deputy McDonald referred will be published very shortly. It has gone through Cabinet and will remove any increase in the pension age to 67 years. We will take a more consistent approach than the Sinn Féin Party has taken in Northern Ireland-----
We have to move on.
-----where all of its members voted unanimously for the pension age to be increased to 66 years, I believe. Who is all over the place?
4. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his telephone call with the President-elect of the United States of America. [36601/20]
5. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent phone call with the President-elect of the United States of America. [38194/20]
6. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his discussions with the President-elect of the United States of America. [38330/20]
7. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his telephone call with the President-elect of the United States of America. [38634/20]
I propose to take Question Nos. 4 to 7, inclusive, together.
I spoke with President-elect Joe Biden by telephone in the afternoon of 10 November to offer my congratulations on his and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris's recent success in the United States election. We spoke about his strong ties to Ireland, Mayo and Louth in particular, and his most recent visit here in 2016. He is proud of his roots, like so many of the Irish diaspora in America, and we are deeply proud of the contribution Irish people and people of Irish descent have made to life in the United States. I also acknowledged the huge significance of the election of Vice President-elect Harris - a leap forward for all of us who champion diversity and equality around the world.
President-elect Biden reaffirmed his full support for the Good Friday Agreement, and we discussed the importance of an outcome on Brexit that respected the agreement and ensured no return of a hard border on the island of Ireland. He supports the Good Friday Agreement because he believes in it and, as he told me, he wants to see it upheld in letter and in spirit in all circumstances.
I took the opportunity to extend an open invitation to President-elect Biden to visit Ireland once he has taken office, if circumstances permit, and he in turn assured me that he looks forward to maintaining the long-standing tradition of events in Washington DC for St. Patrick's Day.
I thank the Taoiseach for his reply, particularly in the context of the opportunities he outlined with the new President who has such close Irish roots. I am sure we are all delighted he was elected. This may very well be the last opportunity we have where a person of such close Irish descent is elected President of America and is able to work with the Government on the many difficult issues we face.
In the past 24 hours, we have seen the support of the President-elect for Ireland in respect of the Good Friday Agreement and our relationship with Northern Ireland and Britain. Is it the intention of the Taoiseach to continue what previous Governments put forward, and which I and my party supported, namely, having an envoy to travel to and manage relationships with the United States in respect of those who are undocumented? If that is the case, it is something we would support. It is a worthy cause and something that is very pertinent to all of us across politics. The Taoiseach and Government need to utilise all of the various different relationships, connections and capacity on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, throughout all Irish communities and sectors, to be able to push this agenda given that there will be a very much Irish-oriented President in the White House. Will the Taoiseach consider doing that? If so, what are his timelines for appointing somebody?
I want to again congratulate President-elect Joe Biden on winning the US presidential election. I extend to him and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris my best wishes in meeting the challenges that will face the new administration.
The President-elect is a long-standing friend of Ireland and has remained unequivocal in his support for the upholding of the Good Friday Agreement. He has consistently taken the position that the US will not allow an international agreement that brought peace to Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit. This is a very important message that comes at a critical time for all of us. The President-elect restated his view that the reintroduction of a hard border on the island of Ireland cannot be countenanced as recently as last evening. He and both parties in Congress have made it clear that there will be no trade agreement with Britain unless the Good Friday Agreement is safeguarded in all of its parts. Like the Taoiseach, I look forward to working with the new President and his Administration to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement is protected and its transformative potential fully realised.
I also hope that the new Administration will advance the cause of the undocumented Irish in America. While Brexit has dominated much of the public discourse in terms of Irish-US relations, it is important that we acknowledge the hope expressed by our fellow countrywomen and men living in the United States that their situation might finally be regularised in the years ahead.
The life of an undocumented person living without papers in another country is difficult at the best of times. It is hard to imagine how difficult it might be at a time of global pandemic. There are currently 11 million undocumented persons living without papers in the United States. I support their right to stay, irrespective of race, colour or background. Can the Taoiseach report to the House on plans to secure the position of up to 15,000 undocumented Irish people in the US under the new President?
It is important for us not to be hypocritical about these matters. Therefore, a Government striving to secure the position of the Irish undocumented in the US needs to secure the position of undocumented persons in this country. There may be as many as 26,000 undocumented persons in Ireland, more than four out of five of whom have lived here for more than five years. They pay tax but have no access to social welfare, healthcare, third level education, etc.
Does the Taoiseach agree that if we argue for security for the Irish undocumented in the US - I think we should push very hard for that - we must also provide it for the undocumented in our jurisdiction?
I congratulate the American people on sacking Donald Trump. It is very gratifying to see his increasingly desperate and farcical attempts to deny reality. It reminds me a little bit of Chemical Ali trying to claim that Saddam Hussein was still in charge when the walls were shaking around him. It is amusing but people hope it will bring real change, not least given the absolutely disastrous manner in which Donald Trump dealt with Covid-19. The Taoiseach mentioned that and I want to ask him about it.
An issue that is emerging relates to the intellectual property rights of big pharma, which is heavily based in the United States and this country. Big pharma is using intellectual property rights, and essentially its desire to make a profit from vaccines, to prevent their adequate roll-out throughout the world, which is critical. Trump wanted to buy up all the vaccine for America and this is happening in Europe and so on. It would be a disastrous strategy because it would lead to many parts of the world not having the vaccine, resulting in the likelihood of mutations and the vaccine becoming effectively useless and ineffective for all of us. It is absolutely critical that intellectual property rights in respect of propriety technology and the means to produce vaccines once they are declared safe be waived. We need emergency measures - legislation, if necessary - to waive the normal intellectual property rules for the vaccine in order that we can end this pandemic and that profit will not get in the way of that.
To respond to Deputy Kelly, I want to put on record my view that successive ambassadors to the US have punched well above their weight. Our diplomatic performance in the US has continuously been at a very high level, and the current ambassador, Daniel Mulhall, has demonstrated great capacity on a number of fronts. Our diplomats have great experience and have developed significant contacts on both sides of the aisle, and we will continue to nurture those contacts.
Progress on the undocumented has been slow because of the changing composition of Congress and of the political circumstances in the United States. There has been the growth of the Latino power base, in particular, which has been proactive in monitoring any changes to the granting of visas to one ethnic group over another and, therefore, the challenge of getting consensus in the House of Representatives and the Senate, in particular, has been difficult. As far back as when I was Minister for Foreign Affairs, the position in respect of the progression of the E-3 visa was close, but not close enough. During Enda Kenny's time as Taoiseach, it came very close but lost by one vote, and that may have subsequently happened again. It has been very tight. I hope, in the first instance, that under the Biden presidency, a more humane approach will be taken to the undocumented generally, of all races and countries of origin, that sanctuary cities will be respected again, and that the sort of threat or the sense of impending intervention will not hang over the undocumented as much as it has in the past four years. As for the question of an envoy, I will keep the proposition under review as to whether it would add value to our diplomatic team. I will consider it and consult people about it.
Turning to Deputy McDonald's question, President-elect Biden has been a consistent supporter of the Good Friday Agreement and his comments in the past 24 hours bear witness to that. That is important. As I said earlier in response to Deputy Kelly, I believe there will be a more benign and humane Administration in respect of the migration issue, the undocumented and the progression of the E-3 visa issue. Our diplomatic team will work on this issue and engage with the new team appointed by President-elect Biden as soon as it takes office. We will engage with the team, as will I, and will continue to work with him on this issue. It is a very important issue for those who have been undocumented for quite a long time. The proposal being developed previously to link us to the Australian E-3 visa, was a good and innovative one and may yield results.
To respond to Deputy Barry, all countries have to have structured migration strategies and policies, and Ireland is no different. For those who have been undocumented long term, we have to find a solution and the programme for Government has commitments in respect of aspects of that. It is also important to be clear that, along with almost every country, there are a number of processes for migrating to Ireland and they have to continue and be managed in a humane and proper way. The current programme for Government, more than any other, is very committed to a radical reform of a range of provision in this area, from direct provision and minors who have come into the country unaccompanied to those who have been undocumented for quite a length of time.
As for Deputy Boyd Barrett's point about big pharma, governments throughout the world do not have the capacity to manufacture vaccines. People talk about big pharma, but the issue is that big pharma and pharmaceuticals in general are necessary. They need to be monitored, and there need to be proper health surveillance, authorisation and assessment of medicines by the Innovation and Networks Executive Agency, for example, at European level and the Food and Drug Administration in the US. Standing back, however, the capacity of companies to get to the stage where we now are, in terms of delivering vaccines-----
It is thanks to large orders that have come in from the United States.
-----is a major step forward. While the large orders that have come in from the US have played a role, capacity is important too. I recall, when I was Minister for Health during the severe acute respiratory syndrome, SARS, epidemic that the European capacity to deal with the vaccine issue was negligible. We have made a great deal of progress on making vaccines available to large numbers of people. Governments need to step up in terms of COVAX and greater resources-----
I am sorry for interrupting but we have to move on.
I just wanted to hear the end of the answer to my question.
I am sorry but the time is up.
Many emergency measures have been taken.
8. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the shared island unit of his Department. [38621/20]
The programme for Government sets out the Government's commitments on a shared island and to working with all communities and traditions on the island to build consensus around a shared future underpinned by the Good Friday Agreement. On 22 October, I set out the Government's vision and priorities on a shared island in an online event at Dublin Castle. More than 800 people participated online, comprising a broad range of civil society, community, sectoral and political representatives throughout the island of Ireland and in Britain.
A shared island unit has been established in my Department and the unit is focusing its work in three areas, namely, commissioning research, fostering dialogue and building a shared island agenda, including delivery of the commitments in the programme for Government. The unit is developing a comprehensive research programme and will work with the Economic and Social Research Institute and other partners. North-South and east-west collaboration will be an important part of this work.
My Department has also asked the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, to prepare a comprehensive report on shared island issues in 2021. This will provide valuable input from economic, social and environmental partners. Strengthening social, economic and political links on the island and the promotion of all-island approaches to the strategic challenges facing Ireland, North and South, are key objectives for this work. On 22 October, I launched the shared island dialogue series to foster constructive and inclusive civic dialogue on all aspects of a shared future on the island. The series will start on Thursday, 26 November, with a dialogue on "New generations and new voices on the Good Friday Agreement".
The dialogue series will focus on important issues for people on the island in the years ahead, such as the environment, health, education and the economy, and key civic concerns that are addressed in the Good Friday Agreement, including identity and equality. The initiative will actively seek as broad a range of perspectives and experiences from civil society on the island as possible, with a focus on the inclusion of voices that have been under-represented in the peace process, including women, young people and new communities on the island.
I have had constructive engagement with the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, on the Government's shared island objectives and commitments. I have made it clear that we are happy also to engage on an east-west basis as we take this work forward. In budget 2021, the Government announced the shared island fund, with a planned €500 million to be made available out to 2025. The fund provides significant new, multi-annual capital funding for investment on a strategic basis in collaborative North-South projects that will support the commitments and objective of the Good Friday Agreement.
Last Friday, I and my colleague, Deputy Doherty, launched Sinn Féin's discussion document on the economic benefits of a united Ireland. I have sent the Taoiseach a copy of our document and I hope that he and his officials within the shared island unit will consider the research and discussions contained within it. As the Taoiseach is aware from his recent engagements with various groups, academics, policymakers and opinion formers, the discussion on Irish unity is taking place right now. We published our discussion document in that spirit. It is a contribution to the exciting and hopeful debate on what a united Ireland might look like. As we approach the centenary of partition, which was imposed on this island with enormous and tragic human and social costs, we believe it is now appropriate, timely and necessary to discuss the economic and democratic deficits that partition produces. In our document, we examine and set out public finance and expenditure data which demonstrate that we can afford to unite this island and, more to the point, that we can no longer afford partition. We consider the precedent of German reunification and we explore the constructive role the EU can provide as we move towards unity.
I am regularly bemused by the Taoiseach's opposition to the particular discussion around reunification and a unity referendum. In January last year, he and the leader of the SDLP launched a partnership arrangement which was to deliver an array of policies on three key themes, one of which was Irish unity and the arrangements for a future poll on unity. The obvious next step for the Taoiseach on taking office should have been the establishment of a joint Oireachtas committee on Irish unity, the setting up an all-island Citizens' Assembly, critically, to discuss and plan for reunification, and for Government to develop and publish a White Paper on Irish unity. I ask the Taoiseach again to reconsider the exclusion of all of this work from his shared island unit and its organisational objectives.
Perhaps I can kill two birds with one stone by getting an answer to my previous question. In the context of the shared island initiative, a shared vaccine programme would be an immediate way of giving us common cause, North and South, to deal with the pandemic and get us out of the cycle of lockdowns. The Taoiseach should take that idea very seriously. As I said earlier - I would like to hear the Taoiseach's response on this point - the question of intellectual property rights surrounding vaccines is already emerging as a potential block to their roll-out. Ireland, North and South, is in quite a strong position to influence this because of our relationship with the new US President and the significant position of the pharmaceutical industry in this county. We need to be saying, as the United Nations is saying at this time, that intellectual property rights, that is, protections around making profit from new scientific technologies, should simply not apply in the face of a pandemic and the urgent need to roll out a vaccine. We should discuss this issue with our Northern counterparts and with the US President. Does the Taoiseach agree that profit and intellectual property rights should not get in the way of the roll-out of a vaccine?
I was very pleased to meet recently with the Ireland Future group. Its proposal is for an all-Ireland constitutional assembly on Ireland's future and looking at uniting the island on a different basis. It has to be a different, better Ireland and it must be about a new future, not just an amalgamation of the two existing states that were so damaged by partition. We would be making a damn good start in that regard if we worked together on delivering a solution to the pandemic by making sure big business does not get in the way of the roll-out of a vaccine.
I have not yet received the document compiled by Sinn Féin, which Deputy McDonald spoke about, regarding the benefits economically of a united Ireland. I certainly will have a look at it, as will the officials in the shared island unit. I would say to the Deputy that it is time to stop playing politics with the North. The shared island initiative is a genuine attempt to create a discussion on how everyone living on this island can share the island into the future. It is a genuine attempt and we want to being new voices into the discussion. It is not about appealing to electoral bases or to one's support base. It is about broadening the discussion out and trying to advance areas and issues that are common challenges to us, such as climate change, energy security, environmental protection and a range of other issues in terms of health, social services and transport. Where common sense is applied, there is a whole range of projects where we can work together to get them done.
The playing of politics has undermined the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement for far too long on all sides. The collapse of the Executive for three years was horrendous to me. I just could not understand it and I still do not understand it, given the impact it had on trying to advance mutual understanding. It is good that the Executive has been restored, notwithstanding the challenges it faces, because it gives us some chance of moving forward. The North-South Ministerial Council meetings are now recommenced. The sectoral meetings between Ministers North and South have recommenced. That is the working out of the Good Friday Agreement, which was a watershed moment for all of us on this island. It involved all parties applying themselves pragmatically to constitutional change, which we did, followed by an all-island referendum which voted through the Good Friday Agreement and put in stone the institutions of the agreement, which are important in terms of the advancement of North-South relations and bringing together the two traditions on the island of Ireland.
My officials and I have met and briefed Deputy McDonald and her party on the work of the shared island unit. I did not attempt to score political points during that meeting and I would ask the Deputy to desist for a time. She does not have to, every single time that a statement issues, attempt to undermine and score points. I do not really have to talk about my commitment to this issue. It is long-standing. Childish sorts of remarks are an attempt to undermine one party versus another. They do nothing to advance the substantive issues that need to be advanced.
In regard to Deputy Boyd Barrett's points, I agree that intellectual property should not be a barrier to the roll-out of the vaccines and nor should profit. A number of companies have been successful so far and the indications are that we could end up, in the shorter term, with seven companies that may, in the next while, get their vaccines through the various regulatory authorities.
Oxford–AstraZeneca is an interesting candidate, which has been well supported by the government of the United Kingdom. We, through the European Union, have entered into a pre-purchase agreement there as well. Their vaccine would be far more distributable across the world because it does not have the same temperature conditionality attached to it. It makes that a powerful potential vaccine for Africa and other continents.
The WHO has been developing, and seeking funding from world governments to fund, the provision of vaccines on a global basis and that fund could be more generously supported by governments. If one considers the trillions of euro that governments have put in to try t0 keep economies afloat all over the world, a fraction of that investment is all that is required to make sure that we can fund vaccines for populations all over the world that cannot afford to procure vaccines.
Companies could also share the technology.
Obviously, its fundamental role would be to protect populations but it would also be the fastest way to reigniting the global economy.
Companies can also play their role. My understanding is that some companies will play their role in sharing the data, etc., in relation to this.
The overarching priority has to be to get the vaccines out there. We have signed up for three - Pfizer and BioNTech, Oxford–AstraZeneca and Moderna - and will be aligned to the European Commission's pre-purchase agreements that it is engaging with various companies on to make sure that we have the maximum vaccines.
We have a national task force and, of course, we will work with the authorities in Northern Ireland. They, obviously, will liaise with the UK public health system as well on vaccines through the NHS. The idea, obviously, is that the entire island is vaccinated as quickly as possible and that people would take up the vaccines on an all-island basis because it is a very important development in our fight against Covid-19.