Richard Boyd BarrettCeist:
1. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe will next meet. [15561/21]
Vol. 1006 No. 2
1. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe will next meet. [15561/21]
2. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe last met; and when it will next meet. [17168/21]
3. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee dealing with foreign affairs will next meet. [17186/21]
4. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe will next meet. [19934/21]
5. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe will next meet. [20146/21]
6. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Europe will next meet. [20334/21]
7. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee dealing with foreign affairs will next meet. [20476/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 7, inclusive, together. The Cabinet committee on Europe oversees the implementation of programme for Government commitments on the European Union and related issues. It last met on 22 March 2021 in advance of the meeting by videoconference of the members of the European Council on 25 March. It discussed the agenda for the European Council, including Covid- 19, the Single Market, industrial policy, digital matters and the economy, relations with Russia and relations with Turkey. The Cabinet committee also discussed the agenda for the euro summit, which followed on from the European Council and which focused on the international role of the euro. In addition, it discussed the conference on the future of Europe, which will be launched on 9 May. Previous meetings of the Cabinet committee on Europe took place on 16 July 2020, 8 October 2020 and 8 December 2020. It will continue to meet as appropriate, including to discuss issues on the agenda of the European Council.
Matters relating to international policy and foreign affairs are discussed by the full Cabinet as and when appropriate, mostly on foot of memoranda to Government brought by the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I also engage bilaterally with the Minister on such matters, as appropriate. International matters also arise in the context of the European Union Common Foreign and Security Policy and other external policies of the European Union. When appropriate, these are included on the agenda of meetings of the Cabinet committee on Europe. The next meeting of the Cabinet committee on Europe is expected to take place in advance of the upcoming European Council meeting scheduled for 24 to 25 June 2021. The agenda for this meeting is yet to be finalised.
In five days, Abdulrahman al-Sahdan, who is a Red Crescent humanitarian worker from Saudi Arabia, will be sentenced by the Saudi regime to 20 years imprisonment for a tweet. Him and about 70 other democracy activists are facing sentences of between ten and 30 years each. They are persecuted by the Saudi regime, which, let us remember, carved Jamal Khashoggi into pieces in the Saudi embassy in Turkey, almost certainly at the behest of Crown Prince bin Salman. This young man will get 20 years in prison for a tweet even though he is a totally peaceful activist. Even Nancy Pelosi has called on the Saudi regime to release Abdulrahman. I ask that five days before this sentence, if the Taoiseach believes in anything like the right to peaceful and democratic protest and the right to dissent, he would call out the Saudi regime and ask for Abdulrahman's release.
This is shocking stuff compared with what some people have to put up with, and I would not make the sort of loose comparison that Deputy Mattie McGrath made earlier on. However, I find it worrying that under the guise of public health restrictions we are seeing political policing by Drew Harris of a protest planned tomorrow by taxi drivers that would have been fully compliant with public health guidelines. The Taoiseach should call that out too.
The Business Post reported at the weekend that the State is in final talks with the EU over the €915 million in recovery funding. There is a €750 billion fund in place under the EU's pandemic recovery plan, as we know. We will get €853 million in grants in 2021 and 2022 but our allocation for 2023 has been substantially reduced from €420 million to €68 million, a loss of €352 million. Is that confirmed? That is what was reported in The Business Post. The Taoiseach can tell me in his response. Have we lobbied for additional funding or what are the exact figures? Are the media reports correct? To the Taoiseach's knowledge, how much funding will Ireland receive under the recovery and resilience fund?
It is reported that this funding will go towards something I would welcome, namely deficiencies in our ehealth system, a centralised data centre and the retrofitting of State buildings. An ehealth project would allow for the secure electronic sharing of patient information lab results and prescriptions between medical providers. That will play a vital role in the situation where we have seen a huge negative deficit in our public health infrastructure. Can the Taoiseach confirm that this funding will be used for ehealth, retrofitting and a centralised data centre? When will this funding be confirmed?
It is a source of pride to the people of the Irish nation that whenever we have seen an injustice, be it famine or conflict, we have always stood up and played our part. In that vein, India is in peril. Medical staff are on their knees, hospitals are overwhelmed and crematoriums cannot keep pace with the number of people who are dying due to the coronavirus. I am aware of the welcome news that over 700 oxygen concentrators have been sent to India by Ireland but we have to do more and more has to be done globally. It was India, along with South Africa and several other countries, that brought forward the trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights, TRIPS, waiver, which is coming before the World Trade Organization to ensure vaccine justice and equity for low and middle-income countries. The richest nations account for 16% of the global population but hold 53% of all purchased coronavirus doses according to the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy.
We need to act on the words: "No one is safe until everyone is safe". Even if COVAX, the global Covid-19 vaccine mechanism, were to be fully funded this year, it would still only vaccinate 20% to 25% of the population of the world's 92 countries. At the current rate, these countries may not reach 60% coverage until 2023 or later. We need to defend people, not profit, and show solidarity with India and all low and middle-income countries. We need to lead by backing the TRIPS waiver before the World Trade Organization meeting on Friday. What is our position on TRIPS?
As expected, the European Parliament has ratified the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement. Of particular note was the formal acknowledgement by MEPs of the unique circumstances of the North of Ireland and the role given to the Assembly in respect of the Irish protocol. When ratifying the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement, the Parliament also expressed the need for ongoing and enhanced dialogue with the North. It is evident, therefore, that the North needs an institutional voice within the European Union. The EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement protects the Good Friday Agreement and trading arrangements and yet the North no longer has any institutional mechanism by which it can engage with the European Union on these matters of fundamental importance. What discussions has the Cabinet committee on Europe had on this matter? What engagement has the Taoiseach had with his European counterparts in seeking a solution for the North in this regard?
Has the committee had further discussions on the EU's relationship with Turkey? Turkey's withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention is extremely worrying and it is incomprehensible that the Turkish President would unilaterally reverse the decision to be part of this convention through a presidential decree. It is through this prism that we should view President Erdoğan's efforts to humiliate Commission President Ursula von der Leyen publicly, because it seems Turkey remains a cold house for women.
Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights states that everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. That right is now being undermined by the actions of the Garda in this State. Last Thursday night, gardaí brutally broke up a peaceful picket of Debenhams workers at Henry Street, arresting a number of supporters and throwing workers, who were mothers and grandmothers, on the ground. The shop steward, Jane, was left naked from the waist up. Similar scenes were repeated in Tralee the following evening. Gardaí were taking these actions to facilitate non-essential, illegal, strike-breaking work, which successfully removed non-essential retail stock from Debenhams. Now we hear stories about the taxi drivers, with taxi driver organisers being told that they will be arrested if they turn up to peacefully protest, socially distanced in separate cars. How can Drew Harris continue as Garda Commissioner if he is ordering gardaí to break up and prevent legitimate protest while facilitating illegal, non-essential, strike-breaking work?
More than 3,000 people died from Covid in just one day in India yesterday. More than 360,000 were infected in the same day. The images on our television screens are ones of horror, showing a shortage of oxygen, car parks converted to crematoriums and a shortage of wood for funeral pyres. Meanwhile the Financial Times reports: "As industry lobbying has escalated in Washington, companies have warned in private meetings with US trade and White House officials that giving up the intellectual property rights could allow China and Russia to exploit platforms such as mRNA, which could be used for other vaccines [heaven forbid] or even therapeutics for conditions such as cancer and heart problems in the future." Similar lobbying is taking place in Brussels. The EU is sending some oxygen but it is standing shoulder to shoulder with the US in fighting attempts at the World Trade Organization to waive intellectual property rights for vaccines. Ireland is in the front line of the EU countries which are fighting this, and the Taoiseach knows it. I appeal to him to reverse the Government's position on this issue before the crucial WTO TRIPS, or trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights, council meeting on Friday.
While I also welcome the Taoiseach's response to the devastating scenes caused by Covid-19 in India, the real solution is very obviously to allow the global production of vaccines. We had all hoped that the pandemic would lead to a new solidarity. However, the EU, US and others refuse to allow a waiver on vaccine patents. The TRIPS waiver, as it is referred to, would allow countries in the global south to produce the vaccine themselves. It is sickening that this is not happening. Ireland needs to take strong moral leadership and we need the Taoiseach to do that. On Friday, a World Trade Organization meeting will decide on the issue. Will the Taoiseach assure the Irish people that Ireland will fight for intellectual property rights to be waived to help save lives?
Deputy Boyd Barrett raised the decision by the Saudi Arabian authorities in respect of Abdulrahman al-Sahdan. I will pursue that. There are a range of issues around human rights and freedom of assembly. I will discuss the matter with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and our ambassador will engage to support the avoidance of what would be a very severe penalty and the release of the individual concerned.
A new development, although not unprecedented during the last year or so, is the degree to which Deputies accuse An Garda Síochána or the Garda Commissioner of political policing. This has nothing to do with the question about the European committee. The accusation should be withdrawn. It is a very unfair accusation to make and it seeks to undermine the objectivity and operational independence of An Garda Síochána and the Garda Commissioner who have been given a very unenviable task in terms of the current public health situation.
Deputy Kelly raised the recovery and resilience fund and the €915 million available to Ireland to draw down in the first phase. The second tranche is in accordance with various economic criteria. The Deputy will recall that these include models of economic performance in GDP and employment. Ireland's economy has been growing in GDP terms in the last two years which may impact on our second phase drawdown. We are close to submitting a plan and have been engaged with the Commission on this.
The two key themes of the recovery and resilience plan are creating jobs in the green economy and digital transformation. The Government, and I personally, have been keen to ensure there will be significant inclusion around health digital transformation. For decades, we have been talking about bringing health into the modern era. The Covid pandemic has illustrated the degree to which health has caught up in some respects. We developed very good technology very quickly, including the Covid app and even the vaccine technology system. There will be provision in the plan for a contribution to e-health, in particular, to take a once-off opportunity using this fund to try to accelerate technology application in our health system. That is a clear objective.
Deputies Gannon and Cairns raised the issue of India. We have provided significant resources. We are a small country but we will continue to do so. It is devastating what is happening in India. It illustrates the danger of the virus and how rapidly it can get out of control.
On the issue around intellectual property, we need to examine this in some detail. I can recall in 2003 when SARS was potentially becoming a global pandemic, the world had zilch by way of manufacturing capacity or co-operation among pharmaceutical companies or between pharmaceutical companies and governments.
Thank you, Taoiseach. We have to move on.
On this occasion, the model that has developed-----
At the meeting on Friday, what position will Ireland take on pushing for intellectual property rights to be waived?
If I may just make my point, the model that has evolved has resulted in unprecedented production of vaccines in record time.
What stance will the Government take on Friday?
We are over time.
My question was not answered.
Deputies have gone to the trouble of tabling questions and I have to go through a load of other questions on the list. I ask the Taoiseach and all Members for their co-operation.
8. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on progress towards implementing the citizens' assemblies committed to in the programme for Government. [17170/21]
9. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the expected running order of citizens’ assemblies committed to in the programme for Government. [17202/21]
10. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Taoiseach the expected timeline and order of citizens’ assemblies committed to in the programme for Government. [18551/21]
11. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach the expected timeline and order of citizens’ assemblies committed to in the programme for Government. [20145/21]
12. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Taoiseach the progress to date on the citizens’ assemblies committed to in the programme for Government. [20537/21]
13. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach the expected timeline and order of citizens’ assemblies committed to in the Programme for Government. [21772/21]
14. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach the expected running order of citizens’ assemblies committed to in the programme for Government. [21878/21]
15. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Taoiseach if he will publish the independent review of the Citizens' Assembly on gender equality. [21943/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 to 15, inclusive, together.
The current Citizens' Assembly on gender equality was established in January 2020 and, following delays caused by Covid-19, resumed its work with online meetings in October last year. The assembly adapted its methods to comply with public health guidelines. The results of the assembly's voting on key recommendations were announced on Saturday, 24 April. Its final report, which will set those recommendations in context, is expected in June. The assembly has agreed 45 priority recommendations covering a wide range of areas set out in its mandate. These include recommendations on the Constitution, politics and leadership, care-giving and childcare, domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, pay and the workplace, and social protection. The assembly's report, when finalised, will be for consideration by the Oireachtas in the first instance, and I look forward to working on the recommendations.
Under the programme for Government, the Government aims to establish a citizens' assembly in 2021 to consider the type of directly elected mayor and local government structures best suited for Dublin. This assembly will be established with a new chairperson and new members. Consideration is being given to the appropriate methodology for future citizens' assemblies, but any decisions in this regard will be guided by the experience of the current assembly. An independent researcher has been appointed to monitor and record, among other things, the perceived deliberative quality of the assembly, which will also assist in decisions on future assemblies' use of virtual meetings. I understand that the Citizens' Assembly, which commissioned the independent review, plans to publish it.
The programme for Government provides for the establishment of citizens' assemblies to consider biodiversity, matters relating to drugs use and the future of education. Officials from my Department are engaging with officials from the relevant Departments on the approach to be taken with these assemblies. It is envisaged that they will be established after the Dublin mayor Citizens' Assembly has completed its work but the specific timelines relating to each assembly have yet to be worked out. Citizens' assemblies do very valuable work in guiding policy and giving a sense of the direction that the public would like Government to take. They take time to set up, however, and run especially in these times of the pandemic. Although the timing of the citizens' assemblies outlined in the programme for Government may not yet be confirmed, there are ongoing and new initiatives being carried out in each important area, such as biodiversity, drugs, and the future of education.
There are quite a number of speakers offering. I call Deputy Kelly.
There are a number of proposals in the programme for Government for citizens' assemblies on biodiversity, the future of education, the mayor of Dublin, drugs use, etc. Can the Taoiseach outline what his priority is in this regard? Second, the Citizens' Assembly on gender equality reported at the weekend and offered 45 very good recommendations. My party has been fighting for many of the latter, for almost half a century in some cases. I will ask a number of quick questions on this.
The assembly recommends the deletion of Article 41.2, the article relating to women in the home. Does the Taoiseach intend to act upon this recommendation?
The assembly recommends, specifically in the context of gender equality and non-discrimination, that Article 40 be amended because it protects family and private life. Will the Taoiseach look at that article also?
Given what the Taoiseach is announcing tomorrow in the context of maternity services, we all know that the HSE's clinical director in this area has recommended that, in the context of maternity services, access should be given to all partners of women who are due to give birth at certain stages of the process, whether it be 12 weeks, during labour recovery or at other critical points. Will the Taoiseach ensure that there is consistency in the approach taken by maternity services across the country in this regard?
My colleague, Senator Ivana Bacik, has been campaigning in respect of the gender pay gap issue for years. As the Taoiseach is aware, there is a big difference between the pay of women and that of men. Senator Bacik has brought forward a Bill on the issue. Will the Taoiseach support that Bill or does he intend to opt for the Government Bill which, I understand, is in the process of being drafted? What is the timeframe in this regard?
I call Deputy Mary Lou McDonald.
I think the Leas-Cheann Comhairle has called me out of turn.
Perhaps I have but the way I have it here is that Deputy Kelly-----
I think I am next on the paper.
The Deputy is not listed on my paper but both Deputies have been very accommodating. Deputy McDonald is listed on my paper.
It is noted on the actual book here.
In that case, I ask Deputy Boyd Barrett to proceed.
Citizens' assemblies have obviously done very good work in a number of areas. Many of the issues identified in the programme for Government as being ones on which we should have citizens' assemblies deliberate are extremely positive. If one were to ask people right now what they believe we should have a citizens’ assembly deliberate upon as a matter of urgency, I believe a very large number would say that we need one on the mental health crisis which is affecting young people and many other age cohorts and which has been magnified by the Covid-19 crisis. In general terms, the problem in this regard stems from the failure to resource basic mental health services in order to allow them to address it. The Taoiseach should consider that.
There is also an issue with regard to education. I do not think we can wait for a citizens' assembly to be established. I raise again with the Taoiseach the matter I have raised in recent weeks, namely, that relating to the psychologists and the desperate need that we have in this regard. We are 400 psychologists short of the number we were promised in A Vision for Change. I have pointed out that the fees and the unpaid placement work that students are having to do are acting as a huge barrier to getting psychologists qualified who could help address the mental health crisis that exists across a range of areas in respect of which there are massive waiting lists. The HSE advertised this week for assistant psychologists to work for it for 20 hours a week for nothing. That is outrageous. I appeal to the Taoiseach to investigate that because these young psychologist trainees should be paid.
On the citizens' assemblies, will the Taoiseach look at the issue of families getting legal representation at inquests in circumstances where they have lost their loved ones? As he is aware, the families of the Stardust victims put forward proposals to ensure that they would all have legal representation at the inquest. Those proposals were cost-effective and based on international best practice. They were not agreed to by the Government, which suggested that families should go down the legal aid route. Assurances were given that the families would get representation through that means. We now have a situation where it appears that the majority of families will not receive legal representation and they are yet again protesting outside the Dáil, which is something they had hoped they would never have to do again. The inquest will not be able to start or carry out its work properly if all the families are not legally represented. This is causing great anxiety and distress for the families. Will the Government engage with the families and their legal representatives on this issue and seek to resolve matters in order that the inquest can go ahead and that all the families can be legally represented at it, as the State will be? The State is currently carrying out its legal work in preparation for the inquest and the families should also be able to do so as well.
Once again, the Citizens' Assembly has delivered a set of progressive recommendations that put the conservative parties is in Government to shame, demonstrating the gap that exists between ordinary people and the political establishment. One of recommendations resoundingly approved by the Citizens’ Assembly is that the legal right to collective bargaining be guaranteed for all workers in order to improve wages, working conditions and rights in all sectors. Yet, many big companies in this country still refuse to recognise or engage with trade unions. Workers at Amazon, Google, Facebook, Deliveroo, and many other companies are getting organised and are facing major resistance from their bosses. This Saturday is made May Day - International Workers' Day - and People Before Profit will be launching our trade union recognition Bill, which will force companies to recognise and engage with unions in acting upon that proposal from the Citizens’ Assembly. Will the Taoiseach support that proposal and commit to change the law to compel employers to recognise unions?
The programme for Government contains a commitment to establish a citizens’ assembly on the future of education and states that the voices of young people and those being educated are central. This week, once again, our system, in the manner in which we teach our children, has been exposed either in the buildings that they are in or in the lessons that they are being taught as being unsuited for purpose. In this instance, what happened was not related to the pandemic but rather to religious institutions and how they are permitted to instruct relationship and sexuality education, RSE, programmes, not according to facts or constitutional rights but according to church teaching and ethos. The particular programme to which I am referring is called Flourish. It was developed by the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference, which has stated that church teaching in respect of marriage between a man and a woman cannot be omitted. Among some of the other harmful issues are preachings against lone parents and the LGBTQI+ community. This is an issue that does not just impinge on children. Speaking at the Irish National Teachers Organisation's annual conference in March, its vice president, Joe McKeown, stated that up to 4,000 LGBTQI+ teachers are hiding their sexual orientation because they feared that their jobs or promotion prospects could be harmed if their school patrons discovered their true identities.
Some 90% of our primary schools operate under the Catholic ethos. Parental choice does not exist and our young people deserve better RSE than we had. The programme for Government contains a commitment to achieving a target of at least 400 multidenominational primary schools by 2030 to improve parental choice but this raises bigger questions regarding the role of church and our education system. Will the citizens' assembly on the future of education consider ways and the extent to which it can suggest solutions or alternatives to religious institutions in our education system.
I wish to put to the Taoiseach a question about a legacy issue relating to the Citizens' Assembly which has not been dealt with but which is of great importance. I refer to the two ancillary recommendations that are essential to preventing crisis pregnancies. Those recommendations were put forward by the Citizens' Assembly on the eighth amendment to the Constitution. It is almost three years since those recommendations were made. They were backed up by the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, including by members of the Taoiseach's party. The basis of the recommendations is that there should be free contraception available to women and that there should be non-ethos-based sex education.
What has happened or will happen to those two recommendations that have been left lying undealt with? In light of that, what will happen with the important and fundamental incremental changes the Citizens' Assembly at the weekend recommended on the issue of care? The recommendations included: to improve the terms and conditions of those in paid employment as carers, to give them access to pensions, to ensure the choice in care and independence of older persons and persons with disabilities would be guaranteed and to change the carer's allowance, the respite and the pensions for carers and their families. This is a hugely important cohort of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of family carers throughout this country who year on year save this State billions by looking after people in need with disabilities, elderly people with care needs and family members who they love. They give a huge amount of commitment but get no pension and no proper pay for doing an amazing job. Hats off to them and to the Citizens' Assembly for recommending the changes.
The Citizens' Assembly on gender equality has recommended a slew of changes. I will concentrate on the call by the assembly to amend the notoriously sexist Article 41.2, which states that mothers have duties within the home. This was part of the Constitution in order to give constitutional status to the social teachings of the Catholic Church. It is backward, sexist and sectarian and it is right that it should be removed.
The role of carers and care work, including decent pay, job security and pension rights, should be recognised. We need to go further than removing sexist language and endorse the call by the assembly for increased spending on a publicly-funded childcare model, bring an end to the gender pay gap, make the minimum wage the living wage and improve maternity leave rights. I hope that the call by the Citizens' Assembly is heeded by the Government. I do not have any great faith that it will be. If it is not, I hope it leads to massive pressure from below for change on these issues in Irish society.
There is a commitment in the programme for Government to expanding the role of the vacant homes officer. There are only three full-time vacant home officers in this State. At at time when we are in the worst housing crisis in the history of the State and people are crying out for housing, does the Taoiseach know how frustrating it is for people and families to look at vacant houses in their community where there is criminality, gangs, antisocial behaviour and dumping, and they are lying idle for months and years? In my constituency of Cork North-Central and for the whole of Cork city, there is one part-time vacant homes officer. It is estimated that there are 1,777 vacant homes in my constituency and we have one part-time vacant homes officer. This is the Taoiseach's plan to solve the housing crisis. Will the Taoiseach commit to providing funding for all local authorities to end the scourge of vacant homes in their communities and provide people with the housing they desperately need? In Cork city, only two houses were returned under the repair and lease scheme and only 47 under the buy and renew scheme. We need action now.
I am not sure what I am reading from but the Deputy's question is on the review of the Citizens' Assembly on gender equality. That was the question he has down.
No, I was called under the planning and development-----
I am reading my questions here. I have been wrong before but the Deputy is down for a question on the independent review of the Citizens' Assembly on gender equality.
That must be a misprint. If the Leas-Cheann Comhairle wants me to speak on it, I gladly will.
The Deputy needs to talk to HQ.
Time is precious, but I am making a general point. That is what is before me.
Twenty-five months ago, baby Christopher's life was ended by individuals within the National Maternity Hospital in an alleged illegal abortion. Christopher was a fully healthy boy and his parents are heartbroken. A large number of elements of the law were broken, not least that a senior practitioner signed off on the abortion but never met or examined the mother. The family has met two Ministers for Health and the Chief Medical Officer. I know the Taoiseach is aware of the case because he has spoken to the family directly. However, 25 months later, the family still has not had justice for what happened to Christopher.
Peter McKenna has written a detailed report on the family's case. That report lies on the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly's, desk and has lain there for weeks without the information being given to the family. The family cannot get access to that report at the moment. The Minister once told the family that they could trust him but yet, his office has told the family that if they want to get access to the report, they can ask for it under the freedom of information, FOI, legislation. That is a phenomenally disgraceful response to parents who have had the life of their son ended in a hospital illegally in this country. Will the Taoiseach say today he will put an end to the difficulties this family is experiencing and they will have justice?
On a point of order, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle chastised the last Deputy for going off the point. This Deputy has completely gone off the point. Will the Leas-Cheann Comhairle please correct his contribution?
That is not a point of order and I was about-----
Can I say, Leas-Cheann Comhairle-----
No, no, no-----
-----the deafening silence from other political parties in this case is a disgrace?
No, Deputy. I am using my discretion to allow Deputies, when they put their hand up, in on the issues that are down and grouped. Deputies have gone to the trouble of tabling questions, as Deputy Gould did and now Deputy Tóibín has done, that bear no resemblance. I will leave it for today. The point has been made and I will certainly be enforcing the rules more rigidly.
It was an illegal-----
No, no more-----
Other issues have arisen.
The Taoiseach, to respond.
I wanted to apologise; it was the next issue.
The Deputy should resume his seat. The Taoiseach, to respond.
There are many questions there and in the time I have left, it may not be possible to respond to every question.
Deputy Kelly began on Article 41.2. It is not the first time that proposals on deleting that have been tabled and I would be interested in pursuing that. Its practical application no longer exists and it does not operate in practice. Working in collaboration with the Oireachtas, I think the Government would be in a position to pursue that issue and to assess the recommendations generally from the Citizens' Assembly on gender equality. We would look at all 45 recommendations to examine them and take decisions in respect of them.
I will talk to the leadership of the HSE in respect of the recommendations from the clinical director that maternity wards and services be open to partners and that there be uniformity in terms of the application of that across the country. That is proven to be a difficult issue for many people.
On the gender pay gap, I would be supportive of all measures we could take to reduce that pay gap and have equality in respect of pay for similar work. We will bring forward a legislative proposal. I will check where that is in terms of the timelines.
I agree with Deputy Boyd Barrett that mental health is a subject that could well be dealt with, in parallel to ongoing action by Government and the health services. It is a topic that would be worthy of consideration by a citizens' assembly.
On the recruitment of more psychologists, we have provided additional resources. In respect of the position the Deputy outlined, I am not aware of the details of that. There is a general view the Deputy has been articulating that everybody in training or student life should be fully paid. There are widespread implications of that approach. It is a more complex issue than presented. I do not know whether that is the case here or not. I do not know the specifics of the case the Deputy has raised but I will pursue it.
On Deputy Cian O'Callaghan's point, I will inquire of the Department of Justice in respect of the families and relatives of the victims of the Stardust tragedy and legal representation. We will see if we can get that issue sorted to get the issue moving and the inquest under way.
Other points were made by Deputy Murphy regarding the trade union recognition Bill. Under the Labour Employer Economic Forum, or LEEF, framework, there is engagement with IBEC and ICTU on the way to examine in considerable detail the issue of trade union recognition. The terms of reference have been drawn up for that work and it will progress.
I thank the Taoiseach.
The future of education will be broad based and will involve a range of issues.
I thank the Taoiseach.
I do not want to be seen to be ignoring the issue Deputy Tóibín raised and I am aware of it. There are very concerning circumstances surrounding the case in question and I will certainly see if I can examine the latest position with regard to the report.
16. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his engagements with the President of the United States of America. [14478/21]
17. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent engagements with the President and Vice-President of the United States of America. [16850/21]
18. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent discussion regarding vaccines with the President of the United States of America. [17076/21]
19. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his latest discussion with the President of the United States of America. [17203/21]
20. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his engagements with the President of the United States of America. [20147/21]
21. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his engagements with the President of the United States of America. [20335/21]
22. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his engagements with the President of the United States of America. [21773/21]
23. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his latest discussion with the President of the United States of America. [21821/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 16 to 23, inclusive, together.
I marked St. Patrick's day with our friends in the United States with a programme of virtual events. The focal point of the programme was the traditional political discussions and meetings with President Biden, Vice President Harris, Speaker Pelosi, and the Friends of Ireland caucus.
In these meetings, I discussed Ireland-US relations, and the importance of the transatlantic relationship and economic ties. We discussed facing global challenges together. I welcomed the renewed support of the United States for the Paris Climate accord, the WHO, and the UN Human Rights Council. We also discussed a range of issues relating to the UN Security Council, and our common readiness to support others on their path to justice and peace.
With President Biden I discussed Covid-19, including the public health situation in both countries, and the measures our Governments have put in place to get our economies ready for recovery. We spoke about vaccine roll-out, and the logistical challenges faced by the EU and US of accessing sufficient supply for our peoples. We spoke about the importance of maintaining open supply chains to support vaccine production and delivery. We also reaffirmed our shared commitment to the COVAX initiative.
I thanked the President and members of Congress for their support during Brexit for an EU-UK agreement that protects the Good Friday Agreement, and which was achieved through the Northern Ireland Protocol. I welcomed the bipartisan resolution in the US Senate, reaffirming support for the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements promoting peace and stability on the island of Ireland. We discussed the challenges that have arisen in Northern Ireland since the beginning of the year. I also briefed President Biden and Vice President Harris, as well as the Friends of Ireland, on my Shared Island initiative.
In my meetings with President Biden I highlighted the continuing difficulties facing the undocumented in the United States and supported President Biden's call for immigration reform. I expressed the Government's appreciation for the strong backing to date in the Administration and across the aisles in Congress for the E3 visa Bill, which we hope will be introduced in the Senate shortly.
After my meeting with Vice President Harris I joined her in congratulating the newly announced 2021 Frederick Douglass global fellows, who will travel to Ireland this summer, the public health situation permitting.
My virtual programme over the course of three days also included a range of other community, trade and economic-focused events, as well as events to mark the 40th anniversary of the foundation of the Friends of Ireland, including marking the particular contribution of John Hume in this regard. I also had telephone contact with the President in the aftermath of this election.
There is a long list of speakers and we will run out of time.
Did the Taoiseach invite President Biden to Ireland? I am hearing different stories and information from both sides of the pond on this. As the Taoiseach knows, President Biden intends to visit the UK and he could include Ireland as part of that. The Taoiseach might confirm whether he has officially invited him and, if so, will he give us some details?
One of the main components was the issue of vaccines. I have raised this issue previously. Through the People's Vaccine Alliance various people have come together to fight for this. We all know what is going on in India at present. It was proposed by India and South Africa at the WTO to ensure we can get vaccines throughout the world quickly. This is the biggest test of mankind for many centuries with regard to how we will get it out quickly. The open sharing of information and technology will end the pandemic quicker. Did the Taoiseach raise the issue of patents and intellectual property with President Biden? If so, what was the discussion like? I presume the Taoiseach is supportive of the WTO TRIPS waiver and I presume the Government will support it.
I heard what the Taoiseach said about the issues of the Northern Ireland protocol and people who are undocumented. Will we appoint an envoy to represent Ireland as we had previously? If not, why not? Was there any discussion on future travel and movement between the US and Ireland?
President Biden and Vice President Harris continue to express their unequivocal support for the Irish peace process and the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. This, of course, is very welcome. I hope we will see similar energetic political action from the Government in Dublin to press these two issues of full support and full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a bipartisan resolution last month equally expressing full support for the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and no hard border in Ireland. The resolution also very helpfully states that any new trade agreement between the US and Britain must not only consider the obligations under the Good Friday Agreement but that those obligations should be met. This is the critical clause because we have had a succession of experiences of non-delivery on agreements that have been struck.
In this vein, will the Taoiseach tell us whether he has briefed President Biden and Vice President Harris on recent events in the North? Has he discussed the implementation of the New Decade, New Approach and Stormont House agreements with them and the outstanding issues that have yet to be delivered? Will the Taoiseach also tell us whether he discussed with the President the economic strategy for the US emerging from the pandemic and the proposal for a global minimum corporation tax rate?
I thank the Deputy.
I take up very little time in this section.
I know the Deputy does and I hate-----
Very little indeed.
We are going to waste time.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.
I reluctantly stop any Deputy but we will run out of time and other Deputies will not get in
That is why. There is a whole list of Deputies who have tabled questions.
Today, I received information that from last June to this February 2,600 people caught Covid in hospital settings in the State. Given that is roughly half the length of time of the illness the real figure is way higher than this. It is an incredible situation because hospitals should be the location of cure and protection but in reality for many people they were the place where they caught this deadly virus. I know many families who had loved ones who went into hospital for non-Covid reasons, caught the virus and died. While there is no doubt that hospitals did their best in many cases to keep out the illness there are serious examples of mismanagement also.
The biggest issue I have, and perhaps the Taoiseach will answer this, is that staff were asked to work in a seriously understaffed manner. We had Be on call for Ireland, to which 70,000 people signed up, and this time last year only 54 of them had been employed. At the start of this year, there were still 700 people who had the right qualifications and were ready to go into the health service to help but they were not employed. We know that in January and February, hospitals were grossly understaffed and under pressure.
Did the Taoiseach discuss with President Biden the issue of the TRIPS waiver for vaccine technology and vaccine formulae? Even the United States Government, as I have pointed out to the Taoiseach previously, has used wartime legislation to direct private companies to do certain things to respond to the coronavirus. This is in the heart of capitalism, if we like. It does not go far enough as far as I am concerned but even the US understands the need to use emergency measures to tell for-profit commercial companies what they had to do in response to the coronavirus. Shockingly, the Government and the European Union are dancing to the tune of the vaccine-producing companies that do not want to share the vaccine formulae and technology with countries such as India and others where we see disaster unfold.
It is morally obscene when we know that in order to see the back of this pandemic, we need the world vaccinated. The awful terrifying cost of that is being seen in countries such as India, notwithstanding, by the way, the shocking right-wing irresponsible attitude of the Indian Government, which was like Trump and Bolsonaro. Nonetheless, it is unconscionable that Europe is holding out against a waiver of intellectual property on vaccines.
I would like to ask the Taoiseach whether, in his conversations with President Biden, he has discussed the economic response to Covid. In the US, they have launched a $2 trillion post-Covid stimulus plan but here, the Government is reported to be set on repeating the mistakes of 2008 with a troika-style programme of €8 billion or more in austerity.
It is $1.8 trillion.
How can the Taoiseach justify this contrast?
The Government's proposals for Covid austerity will do nothing to rebuild the economy and society. The proposal to cut the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, from June would see millions of euro taken out of the economy, hurting those who have already paid the most in terms of Covid when what we need is public investment.
I would also ask have they discussed the Biden proposals for a minimum global corporation tax rate, which, according to UCD academics, would result in a 50% reduction in the corporate tax take here? Does the Taoiseach agree with them that this is the end of the road for Ireland's corporate tax haven strategy? Does the Taoiseach not, therefore, agree that instead of being a corporate tax haven or pursuing austerity once more, we need an eco-socialist plan of investment in green jobs, public housing and an Irish NHS? Instead of cutting the PUP, we should be implementing a wealth tax on the billionaires and major corporations who have seen their wealth skyrocket during this pandemic.
Deputy Barry is not here. I call Deputy Bríd Smith.
Last week, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney stated that we have to ensure that we are not protecting intellectual property rights in a way that is resulting in mass loss of life, and that we need to share know-how and capacity. I agree with the Minister but the words have no meaning unless we act on it. That means, between now and the next meeting of the World Trade Organization, WTO, this House would welcome the Taoiseach making contact with Joe Biden and the European Union and urging them to drop the intellectual property rights on the vaccine in order to support the motion that emanates, interestingly enough, from India, the country that is currently suffering the most. India and South Africa have the motion in front of the WTO to relax the intellectual property rights to allow the production of vaccines at scale.
The Taoiseach must be as distressed as everybody else was looking at the scenes coming from India. It is horrible. However, it is not only about India. There has to be a motive of selfishness on the part of the Taoiseach and Joe Biden, which is to protect all of us. Because it is a pandemic, by its nature, none of us is safe until every man, woman and child in India is safe also. It makes no sense to continue to impose intellectual property rights on vaccines in the middle of a global pandemic. It can only make sense to a greedy, selfish cohort of capitalists who see this as an opportunity to make fast profits. I ask the Taoiseach to put Ireland on the right side of history and make that phone call to Joe Biden and the European Union.
We are running out of time. I said this in the beginning. I am sorry now. I call Deputy Cian O'Callaghan.
Briefly, can the Taoiseach clarify what is the position of the Government in terms of intellectual property rights? Has the Taoiseach discussed this with President Biden? Is Ireland advocating at an international level for the waiving of these rights? What exactly is the position? If not, will the Taoiseach start to do this?
Because Deputy Cian O'Callaghan did not use his time, I will let his colleague in briefly.
I have a similar question. Today, President Biden stated that the US would be in a position to share vaccine know-how. What is the Irish position in relation to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, TRIPS, and could we communicate it in advance of the WTO meeting on Friday and show moral leadership on this issue?
First, Ireland has shown moral leadership on this issue and so has Europe. There have been many simplistic conclusions drawn here, which are not merited and do not stack up. Europe has led the charge in terms of vaccine production and export for the entire world.
A month or two ago, Deputies in this House were criticising Europe in terms of its slow distribution and manufacture of the vaccines. The reality is Europe, through its pre-purchasing agreements, has done an awful lot to ensure proper research and production of vaccines, which are being exported all over the world and the barriers have not been put up to stop it. That is important.
What of TRIPS?
I am answering the Deputy. It is not as simple as the slogan.
Ireland and TRIPS.
Unfortunately, too many Deputies reduce everything to a slogan or sound bite. It is not that simple and the Deputy should not pretend it is that simple either. One of the largest manufacturing sites is in India. AstraZeneca has been manufacturing in India and India has put a ban, of necessity, on any export from India. Earlier in this period, Europe thought it would be getting vaccines from India. Now we have to do everything we possibly can to help India. We are sending out materials etc. We will do whatever we can. We will support whatever is the correct policy approach. We have been strong supporters of the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access, COVAX, programme. Europe is one of the largest contributors, if not the largest contributor.
In respect of the meeting with President Biden, at the time, in March, we did not discuss the intellectual property issue. The focus rather was on supply chains because the biggest barrier was on that whole manufacturing, production and supply chain area, in terms of getting a sufficient quantity of components to enable vaccines to be produced quickly. No matter where one goes in the world, all of those components will be required in that supply chain.
I thank the Taoiseach. Unfortunately, we are out of time.
There were 11 or 12 questions, or maybe more, asked. It is impossible for me to give any form of reply to this kind of scenario. That is merely the system as it has been developed.
It is something we can look at.