Ceisteanna - Questions

Departmental Programmes

Alan Kelly

Ceist:

1. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of his Department in preparing a formal commemorative event for all those who lost their lives during the struggle for independence as recommended by the expert advisory group. [34838/21]

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

2. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of his Department in preparing a formal commemorative event for all those who lost their lives during the struggle for independence as recommended by the expert advisory group. [37251/21]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together. The Truce, which marked the end of the War of Independence, came into effect on 11 July 1921. Recognising the significance of this date, an all-party Oireachtas committee in 1986 recommended that the Sunday closest to 11 July would be the most appropriate date upon which to have an annual national commemoration ceremony to commemorate "all Irishmen and Irishwomen who died in past wars or on service with the United Nations". At this year's ceremony, which took place on Sunday, 11 July, the centenary of the Truce, we especially remembered all those who lost their lives during the struggle for independence. The ceremony included the laying of a wreath by President Michael D. Higgins and was broadcast live on RTÉ. Limited numbers were in attendance in line with Covid-19 restrictions to ensure the health and safety of all.

From 8 July last, the National Archives of Ireland, NAI, has been exhibiting material related to the Truce. I, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, had an opportunity to view this material last week. An Post also issued two specially-commissioned commemorative stamps to mark the occasion. In addition, the National Library of Ireland, NLI, is cataloguing and digitising personal papers from key figures in the project, "Towards a Republic" and holding a photographic exhibition entitled, "From Turmoil to Truce: Photographs of the War of Independence". Under the communities strand of the decade of centenaries programme, several local authorities are also holding online and small commemorative events to mark the Truce.

The public health emergency caused by Covid-19 has significantly impacted the holding of in-person commemorative events marking important centenaries in 2020 and 2021, at State and local level, with some cancelled or rescheduled. We have had to be more imaginative in our planning, with many events moving online, and in creating opportunities that encourage as many people as possible to explore our shared history, in all of its complexity, in a respectful and supportive environment.

The National Day of Commemoration took place at the weekend in Collins Barracks. It also marked the centenary of the Truce in the Irish War of Independence. More than 2,000 people were killed in the conflict before the Truce on 11 July 1921. Hannah Carey was one of the last people killed. She worked as a waitress in the Imperial Hotel, Killarney and was hit in the throat by a stray bullet fired by a Royal Irish Constabulary, RIC, officer arriving on the scene after two British soldiers had also been shot. Ms Carey was one of 98 women killed in the War of Independence. Will the Taoiseach indicate what other formal commemorative events are planned during the year ahead? What is intended to mark the anniversary of the Civil War and the foundation of the State next year?

The National Day of Commemoration, held on Sunday, remembers all Irish people who have died in past wars or on service with the United Nations, UN. The Taoiseach will be aware of the long-running campaign for recognition of the heroes of Jadotville. This September will mark 30 years since the siege in the Congo. It is never too late to do the right thing. Will the Taoiseach and the Government support the campaign for the award of distinguished service medals, DSMs, or military medals for gallantry, MMGs, to the men of A Company, 35th Infantry Battalion? Thirty-three Irish troops were recommended for the DSM or the MMG, our highest award for valour, by their commanding officer, Commandant Pat Quinlan, after that siege. Those soldiers held out for five days against all the odds at their posts in Jadotville during the siege, which occurred nearly 60 years ago now. An independent review was established by the Minister for Defence and it was granted an extension. Will the Taoiseach commit to the report being finally published and can we, hopefully, expect a positive outcome? The Taoiseach might give an indication in that regard.

Sunday's National Day of Commemoration remembered all those killed during the Tan War and marked the anniversary, as the Taoiseach said, of the Truce. The all-party decade of centenaries advisory group has met just twice online. This group needs to be facilitated in playing a much more proactive role in developing a complete, and I would suggest more grassroots and community-driven, schedule of events. I state that because this period in our history will benefit from not just a broad consultation with all political traditions, which is of course very important, but from the widest possible community and civic participation.

We must do better in commemorating women. At a young age, Margaret Keogh was a member of Cumann na mBan and she was shot dead in her home in Stella Gardens, Ringsend, 100 years ago during a series of raids by the Black and Tans. Margaret was the captain of her camogie club, a passionate trade unionist and a Gaeilgeoir. She died of her wounds the morning after the Truce and was buried in Glasnevin with full military honours. Her coffin was carried by uniformed members of Cumann na mBan. Margaret was the only woman to die on active service during the Tan War. A commemorative plaque has been erected on her street but the fact remains that the revolutionary role of women in the fight for Irish freedom remains largely ignored and unsung. Cumann na mBan is not fully celebrated or remembered, be it in terms of structures or events. In this centenary year, we must change that. As the previous speaker said, it is truly never too late to do the right thing.

The points made by the Deputies concerning the need to more effectively and strongly commemorate women were well said and it is well merited. Turning to the events at Jadotville, I do not want to pre-empt the review, but I am familiar with the case. I met all those involved, I have seen the film about the events as well and have read about the background to all of this. I sincerely hope that those men will get the recognition they deserve. Moving on to the question about other events, it has been a great pity that Covid-19 has really impacted our capacity, nationally and locally, to have a whole series of events to mark the Truce and the War of Independence period. For example, we could not mark the centenary of the burning of Cork last year, just prior to Christmas 2020.

In July, History Ireland will deliver the 2021 decade of centenaries hedge school programme, which will look at the Truce and subsequent negotiations up to the Treaty. UCC and RTÉ are developing an online initiative entitled "The Irish Civil War" for October 2022. A three-part television documentary series based on UCC’s Atlas of the Irish Revolution will be broadcast in October 2022 to mark the centenary of the Civil War. As part of the decade of centenaries, "The Irish Civil War" series will examine the critical years of the Irish State's foundation, from the Truce period to the highly-charged Treaty debates and the split, to the outbreak of the Civil War, the conduct of that war and its short-term and long-term legacies.

The communities strand, as referred to by Deputy McDonald, will see Dublin City Council commemorating the Truce. The "Commemorating the Truce, 1921" online lecture series took place from Monday, 5 July to Friday, 9 July. Galway County Council will hold an online lecture with Dr. Conor McNamara, with the details to be confirmed. Westmeath County Council's commemorative events include a podcast about the Truce with Professor Marie Coleman from Queen’s University Belfast, who is a native of Castlepollard in County Westmeath. Fingal County Council is holding a festival of history lecture series in September 2021.

The "History at the Castle" day, which will be held in Swords Castle, will include five or more speakers and performances based on this year's chosen topics, namely, the truce, the end of the War of Independence, events local to Fingal, the destruction of coastguard stations and the opening of the Howth tram. The Government has at all times been informed and guided by the expert advisory group on centenary commemorations, chaired by Dr. Maurice Manning and Dr. Martin Mansergh.

The history of this period belongs to us all and we are very mindful of the complexities and sensitivities that lie ahead. It is very important that our history is faithfully presented, even when the historical record is distressing. We must acknowledge the great tragedy of all those who died or whose lives were transformed by the events that occurred during this time. I welcome, commend and encourage the continuing research of historians and custodians of records whose work enhances our understanding of these events, which have so significantly shaped our modern world. It is key that in all the centenary commemorations, we give due regard to excellence in academic research and recall, giving insight to people in the broadest possible way into what happened. In remembering this period in our history we will acknowledge both the military aspects and the constitutional parliamentary traditions and democratic processes underpinning all traditions on this island. We will explore a range of issues in that regard, including the social and cultural changes that were taking place and the role of women during the revolutionary period.

On the social and cultural changes, Dr. Ida Milne has done work on the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, as it was called. I was often struck by how little attention that pandemic got in history books and on the curriculum. It is only in more recent times that scholarly research has opened up the extraordinary impact that pandemic had on social and cultural life in Ireland over 100 years ago.

There are other aspects to this as well, such as the treatment of women during the period, poverty and child poverty in particular. The role of Cumann na mBan needs to be properly commemorated. My late grandmother was a very active member of Cumann na mBan and a firebrand activist in her own right. Very often, these women did not speak about themselves too much afterwards but they played a crucial and very effective role in the movement for independence.

More broadly, it is important that the social context is articulated very strongly in the centenary recall and commemorations as well. I note what both Deputies have said in respect of that. Perhaps we could revert to the advisory group about the role of women more broadly. It is also important to point out that many women suffered hugely during that period, particularly because of the impact of the First World War on many families. Many husbands and partners were killed in that war, leaving many families in considerable poverty. There is a very good book written by John Borgonovo on this period in Cork. It brings home the social impact of all these issues and the strife, stresses and strains of different political communities, as well as the role of women in both, and how that manifested itself on the streets of Cork in 1917-18, 1919 and 1920. It is a fascinating period but very often the social contexts did not get the same priority as constitutional and political issues do. That needs to be corrected to some degree, as do issues such as the Spanish flu pandemic and the extraordinary impact that had on so many lives.

Departmental Offices

Alan Kelly

Ceist:

3. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the parliamentary liaison unit. [36198/21]

Mary Lou McDonald

Ceist:

4. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the parliamentary liaison unit of his Department. [36336/21]

Mick Barry

Ceist:

5. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the parliamentary liaison unit of his Department. [37671/21]

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

6. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Taoiseach the status of work of the parliamentary liaison unit of his Department. [37702/21]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

7. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the parliamentary liaison unit of his Department. [37713/21]

Paul Murphy

Ceist:

8. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the parliamentary liaison unit of his Department. [37716/21]

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

9. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the parliamentary liaison unit of his Department. [37719/21]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 to 9, inclusive, together.

The parliamentary liaison unit in my Department assists the Government in its relationship with the Oireachtas. It works with the Office of the Government Chief Whip on issues that arise at the Business Committee and the Committee on Dáil Reform and Standing Orders, including Dáil reform proposals and amendments to Standing Orders. The unit supports the Office of the Government Chief Whip in the implementation of the Government's legislative programme. In addition, the unit assists the office of the leader of the Green Party in work relating to Cabinet, Cabinet committees and oversight of the implementation of the programme for Government. In carrying out these duties, it provides detailed information on upcoming matters in the Dáil and Seanad, highlights any new Oireachtas reform issues and provides assistance in engaging with the new processes arising from Dáil reform. The unit is staffed by 3.5 whole-time equivalent staff, consisting of one principal officer, 1.5 higher executive officers and one clerical officer.

The parliamentary liaison unit is a very important one. In the previous Dáil, there was significant reform arising from the dynamic that was in place with the confidence and supply agreement. The Taoiseach was a big champion of Dáil reform but we have now gone backwards. I accept that these are difficult circumstances because of Covid but Bill after Bill is now being rushed through the Dáil and Bills are being guillotined. Considered amendments to very important legislation will never see the light of day. They are never considered and we do not get responses from Ministers because they are never debated as we do not have enough time. It changes the whole dynamic of how we work here. Deputies get up and say what they have to say on an amendment that is not related to the issue they want to discuss, purely because they have to get it on record.

We cannot continue like this. Everything is last minute dot com. There is no time for review or scrutiny. Pre-legislative scrutiny has been thrown out the window. I can understand that things have to be done differently from time to time but now that this is becoming a consistent pattern, it is a real issue. I would like the Taoiseach to reflect over the summer to see how we can change this in order that we can better do our work collectively, both Government and Opposition, and stop the use of the guillotine and rushed legislation. If the Taoiseach was sitting on this side of the House, I guarantee he would be saying what I am saying.

As regards the parliamentary unit and working with us, very important legislation on hospitality is going through the Dáil this week. There have now been three different statements from the Government on the role of GPs in issuing certificates for those who have been infected with Covid. The Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, said that GPs can issue letters and then the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, came out and said she misspoke. This is the new word when Ministers get things wrong. The Government says he or she misspoke. I love it. I wish that had been around in my day.

The Deputy probably did it too.

I probably did but we did not say the person misspoke; we said it was a mistake. At least we were honest about it.

We now have confirmation that GPs can issue letters. Those are three different statements on the same topic. That is not the way to work with the Opposition. Members of the Government do not know what they are doing themselves. I am asking this sincerely. The Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, has issued a statement on this matter. We cannot have a situation where GPs will up to 90 all day, every day, issuing letters. Hundreds of thousands of people are affected by this. I ask the Taoiseach to inform the House what the position is. It is very difficult for the Opposition to work with the Government on issues and provide constructive opposition when the Ministers in this Government do not know what they are talking about in the first place or are inconsistent.

Notwithstanding the parliamentary liaison unit and the work that is done by the three staff the Taoiseach identified, the level of confusion and disorganisation within his Administration is remarkable. We have seen this again in respect of the Covid certificate. It would be helpful if the Taoiseach could clarify the matter of issuing letters and the role or otherwise of GPs in that regard.

I also raise the voisinage fisheries agreement between Britain and Ireland. As the Taoiseach knows, it has been in place since the 1960s and allows for reciprocal access to inshore waters for fishermen North and South. Brexit scuppered this arrangement and has created a hard fishing border for fishermen based in the North, who are no longer allowed to fish in the South's waters. The Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Act 2019 enacted by the previous Government was meant to address this issue, but that has turned out not to be the case.

While the Government and the European Commission have restored access for the North's fishing fleet to inshore waters, there remains a hard sea border in offshore waters.

Does the Taoiseach accept that this goes against the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, and more to the point, that it goes against the spirit of the Brexit trade deal that specifically recognised existing fisheries arrangements in place prior to Brexit? Can the outline the position of Government on this matter and provide a timeline within which the reciprocal arrangements for the North's fishing vessels in offshore waters will be reinstated?

The unit deals with the Dáil in progressing the programme for Government. A key challenge is the question of youth unemployment. In that context, I want to ask the Taoiseach about the work placement employment programme, JobBridge 2.0. There will be 10,000 positions for six months with 30 hours of work per week for €306. No doubt the Taoiseach will tell me that amounts to the minimum wage of €10.20 per hour but all the work placement participants will be on jobseeker's allowance of €203. This means that they will receive an extra €103 for 30 hours of work, or €3.43 per hour. Does the Taoiseach accept that this is a cheap labour scheme? Can he confirm that it is not the State paying €203 and the employer topping it up but that every single penny will be paid by the State and that the employer will pay zero? Can the Taoiseach give me one good reason an employer would hire someone at trade union rates of pay or at the living wage of €12.30 per hour when it can hire ten people so cheaply on the Government's new cheap labour scheme?

I commend the unit on all the work and co-ordination it does. One of its responsibilities is liaising with the Parliamentary Budget Office. Is the Taoiseach intending to strengthen the role of the Parliamentary Budget Office in terms of the advice that it gives, particularly as we come towards budget 2022 and the national development plan review? Would the Taoiseach envisage replicating the Parliamentary Budget Office model in other areas?

The unit is supposed to assist in giving legislative effect to programme for Government plans. One of the aspects of the programme for Government the Taoiseach has repeatedly stressed is that he would support those sectors that have been impacted particularly harshly by public health measures. One of the sectors that I have mentioned many times is that comprising musicians, live performers, entertainers and so on. It appears that if they benefit from the live performance support scheme, LPSS, and do one or two gigs, they cannot go back on the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, and they are effectively forced to be jobseekers. The latter is despite the fact that their sector has not reopened. There is no plan, even with the reopening of hospitality, for it to fully reopen. It is grossly unfair that musicians, entertainers and live performers are being pushed over a PUP cliff when they do some work on a pilot scheme, particularly when that is an isolated bit of work for them.

It is appropriate that we have a question on the parliamentary liaison unit of the Government because the behaviour of the Government towards the Parliament in the past week has been striking. The Government has taken a bullying approach, using its majority to bulldoze things through without proper discussion. There have been two examples in the past week. Last Thursday, there was a motion to ram through the increase in the property tax without pre-legislative scrutiny and without the agreement of the relevant committee even. This week, far more seriously, unprecedented and discriminatory legislation that poses a threat to public health is being brought in and the Government plans, against the wishes of every Opposition group on the Business Committee, to get it through in one day. How is that a democratic approach to these important issues? I am against the substance of what is in it but does the Taoiseach not at least accept that we should have had a debate about this over a proper period? The way the Government is doing it risks the making of serious mistakes.

I thank Deputy Kelly for acknowledging my role as a champion of Dáil and political reform in the previous Dáil. I acknowledge that.

That is not what I said.

The Deputy said I championed it. I noted what he said carefully. Deputy Calleary spoke about one of the key aspects of one of the reform measures we pushed, which is the Parliamentary Budget Office. That was a Fianna Fáil proposal in the previous election that we followed through on. Some of the key reforms in the programme for Government include expanding the role of the Parliamentary Budget Office to independently audit the cost of individual tax and spending measures contained in political parties' budget submissions and general election manifestos and to assess their overall dynamic impact and broader economic impact. It also includes continuing to ensure that Oireachtas committee chairs are allocated according to the d'Hondt system. The latter was an important reform when it was introduced. It also includes introducing a new system to register Oireachtas attendance and protect the integrity of the expenses system. We will work on all of those areas.

The Deputy raised a broader issue of the guillotining of Bills, etc. On climate change, for example, a lot of views were taken on board through the Oireachtas committee's pre-legislative scrutiny phase and subsequently. It is a Bill that has gone through change as it has gone through the House, and yet it is groundbreaking legislation. This has been an active session from a legislative point of view and a balance has to be struck between having due time for debate on legislation and also getting legislation through. We have a major housing crisis and there has been much activity on the part of the Minister in respect of a range of legislative housing initiatives that we need to get through. We need to place the Land Development Agency on a statutory footing in order to get on with the business of building houses and getting houses built. We need to get the affordability Bill through - I am glad it has been passed by this House - in order to enable people to buy houses they can afford. We can have paralysis by analysis or agility and some degree of speed and efficiency and thereby get things done.

More broadly on some of the issues that have been raised, I would say to the Opposition and to those on the far left in particular, that at the beginning of this session there was a demand almost every week for a debate on something. I am not stating that those issues were not important but the balance between a legislative Chamber and a debating Chamber sometimes gets lost. Deputies seem to be more interested in statements and debates than giving more time to legislation. Then they complain afterwards that there is not enough time for legislation. The week is short. I have consistently stated, in opposition and in government, that the Government time devoted and allocated for legislation is, with the best will in the world, tight enough. Many Members use the House as a platform. They have an entitlement to do so because they have been elected. Let us not pretend that the management or utilisation of our time or how individual Deputies or different parties will use their time in the Dáil is all one-sided. There are many sides to that argument. Different parties will have different perspectives and emphases in that regard. That needs to be said.

On hospitality, the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer, OGCIO, is the key office for certificate generation in the context of the digital Covid-19 certificates for vaccination and recovery. They are being produced by the OGCIO using data provided by the HSE. That is it. Vaccination certificates are being pushed out and that approach is enabling us to get certificates to as many people as possible as quickly as possible. For example, for certificates based on vaccination, you can get the certificate if you have been vaccinated against Covid-19 if the HSE has a valid email address for you from the vaccination process. You will get your digital Covid certificate by email. Otherwise, you will get your certificate by post. The digital Covid certificate will be in portable document format, PDF, and when that is emailed to you-----

What about GPs?

I will come to that. You may download it to your phone where the quick response, QR, code on the PDF may be inspected or scanned. These digital Covid certificates will be emailed or posted in the coming days. It is already happening. A certificate of recovery will be available from 11 days after a positive test and will be valid for no more than 180 days.

The digital Covid certificate can be requested via a helpline, the details of which will be published shortly.

What about JobBridge?

The certificate will come through the Chief Information Officer.

Three Ministers said three different things and the Taoiseach does not know.

I ask the Deputy not to misbehave.

Cabinet Committees

Mary Lou McDonald

Ceist:

10. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach the membership and terms of reference of the Covid-19 oversight group chaired by the Secretary General of his Department. [36222/21]

Mick Barry

Ceist:

11. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Covid-19 will next meet. [36303/21]

Alan Kelly

Ceist:

12. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Covid-19 will next meet. [37567/21]

Mick Barry

Ceist:

13. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Covid-19 will next meet. [37672/21]

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

14. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Covid-19 is next due to meet. [37703/21]

Jennifer Murnane O'Connor

Ceist:

15. Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Covid-19 will meet next. [37706/21]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

16. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the membership and terms of reference of the Covid-19 oversight group chaired by the Secretary General of his Department. [37714/21]

Paul Murphy

Ceist:

17. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach the membership and terms of reference of the Covid-19 oversight group chaired by the Secretary General of his Department. [37717/21]

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

18. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach the membership and terms of reference of the Covid-19 oversight group chaired by the Secretary General of his Department. [37720/21]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 to 18, inclusive, together.

The Cabinet committee on Covid-19 was re-established by this Government last summer to assess the social and economic impacts of the potential spread of Covid-19 and oversee the cross-government response. The committee, which I chair, meets regularly as required. It last met on 28 June. The date of the next meeting has not yet been set.

A Covid-19 oversight group chaired by the Secretary to the Government meets regularly to provide advice to the Government in the strategic economic and social policy responses to the management of the disease and to consider National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, advices. Membership of the oversight group includes senior officials from my Department and the Departments of Health; Public Expenditure and Reform; Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Finance; Foreign Affairs; and Justice. It also includes the Chief Medical Officer, the chief executive officer of the HSE, the chair of the Irish epidemiological modelling advisory group, the director general of the Central Statistics Office and the chair of the vaccines task force, along with the chiefs of staff to the Taoiseach, Tånaiste and Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan. Senior officials from other Departments attend as required.

The Government continues to follow its plan to review and monitor the control of the virus and follow the prevailing public health advice in support of a safe and gradual reopening, in line with Resilience and Recovery: The Path Ahead. As the House is aware, the Government's most recent announcement indicated that the next phase of reopening will be based on a cautious approach with an emphasis on lower risk activities, following advice from NPHET that the incidence of the Delta variant in Ireland poses a significant risk, particularly to those who are not yet fully vaccinated. It is a difficult decision for many sectors, particularly for many businesses which had hoped to open last week.

The vaccination programme continues to make significant progress however, with over 4.7 million doses of the vaccine now administered and almost 57% of the adult population now fully vaccinated. Since last Monday, those aged between 18 and 34 have been receiving Janssen vaccines through participating pharmacies. Registration of those aged between 30 and 34 for an mRNA vaccine began last Wednesday through the vaccination portal. Since 5 July, the numbers permitted at outdoor events increased as planned to a maximum of 200 attendees for the majority of stadiums and to 500 for stadiums and venues with capacity greater than 5,000, with appropriate protective measures. There is no limit on the numbers of people taking part in household visits once all are fully vaccinated, or have had a confirmed case of Covid-19 infection in the previous nine months. In line with current advice, unvaccinated households may have visitors from one other unvaccinated household. Fifty guests are permitted to attend wedding receptions with protective measures and the number of mourners permitted at funerals continues to be limited to 50, regardless of size of venue. People should continue to work from home unless it is necessary to attend in person. Indoor activities such as organised events, group training, exercise and dance will not yet proceed.

Following engagement with the hospitality industry representative bodies on the range of options to operationalise the NPHET advice of 28 June, and in the context of the overriding objectives to protect public health and to mitigate the potential for further restrictions arising from the Delta variant or other variants, the Government has agreed a phased approach to reopen the hospitality sector in a cautious but progressive manner, commencing with those who are fully protected by vaccination or prior infection.

I ask the Taoiseach to clarify the role of GPs in providing certification on either recovery or vaccination because multiple positions have been put into the public domain. We need clarity from the Taoiseach on that matter.

Sinn Féin will later bring before the Dáil a motion in support of families' calls for the Government to establish a public inquiry into the neglect and deaths of their loved ones in nursing homes during the pandemic. By May of last year, nearly 1,000 nursing home residents had died from Covid but when the third wave hit in January of this year, the hard lessons still had not been learned. Twenty-one residents in Ballynoe nursing home in Cork died from Covid in the first two months of this year. A HIQA report following an unannounced visit in January to Cahercalla nursing home in County Clare described management's response to an outbreak of Covid as "chaotic and disorganised". The home failed on every point of inspection in that report. Last year, I met with families of those who died from Covid in Dealgan House Nursing Home. They have raised their concerns with politicians and all of the statutory bodies over the past year.

Nursing home staff are to be commended on the care they have provided throughout this pandemic but it is clear that the sector requires urgent reform. The current system of oversight is simply not working and this has cost lives. Sinn Féin's motion reflects the serious shortfalls in care, governance, safeguarding and investment that have been starkly exposed over the past 16 months. It also sets out the remedies and solutions needed to provide residents with the care and protection they need and to which they are entitled. I call on the Taoiseach and his Government colleagues to support the motion, establish a public inquiry and put in place the regulatory and safeguarding protections so urgently needed.

The caretaker Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mr. Mark Rutte, said yesterday, "We had poor judgment, which we regret and for which we apologise." In a society with a higher vaccination rate than ours, he rushed a reopening and the cases multiplied by 20 times within a fortnight.

The legislation is being rushed through the Dáil and Seanad, and rushed down to Áras an Úachtaráin. Concerns related to civil liberties and workers rights are not being heeded. The voices being listened to are those of the publicans and restaurateurs. Although it often has been far from the reality, the battle against the virus has, at least in words, been waged by the Government under the banner of social solidarity. That is now being thrown to the wind. People are now to be discriminated against on the grounds of their health status. People who are in early pregnancy will be locked out, as will people who have health conditions that mean they cannot take the vaccine and young people who are unable to access a vaccine through a pharmacy. How can the Taoiseach not see and admit that his two-tier indoor hospitality proposals are divisive?

It is important to acknowledge that the vaccination programme has been successful and is taking on massive momentum. However, we should also look at the impact of the pandemic on young people, about which I spoke to the Taoiseach last week. We must also look at long Covid. I ask the Taoiseach, if he gets time in the coming weeks, to watch last night's episode of "Panorama". Long Covid is having an effect on previously healthy people. The Cabinet sub-committee should put some work into the impact of the pandemic on young people and how we can get them through it.

I also have concerns about the legislation for the Covid certificate, although I welcome it. I know the Taoiseach is listening to advice from NPHET and health professionals. However, my office has heard the concerns of people in their 40s and 50s who have not received vaccines and are waiting for appointments. That is a big concern. Some people with medical issues cannot get a vaccine and I understand they will not be able to get a letter from a doctor or the HSE. There is big confusion here. I acknowledge that the Government has been working hard on this issue.

As Deputy Calleary said, young people have been especially affected by the pandemic. Young people who may not be vaccinated will be working in the hospitality sector. There is an old saying that the devil is in the detail. The detail of this reopening of hospitality must be communicated properly. A man rang me today. He is not vaccinated so will not be able to enjoy indoor dining. He asked whether, if he goes for an outdoor meal, it means he will not be allowed to use the toilet inside and if there will be a toilet outside. These are the questions that need to be asked. We must communicate. I know how hard the Taoiseach and the Cabinet have worked on this, and I welcome that, but I firmly believe communication is the key to make sure we deliver.

I am very strongly of the view that the vaccination programme is the key to getting us out of this grim pandemic and reopening society. In that context, I believe the legislation the Government is pushing through is damaging and divisive. It is a gift to those who are anti-vaccination. Even civil liberties groups, such as the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, ICCL, have warned that it raises profound questions about discrimination and the ethics of demanding medical or health information from people.

The council wrote to the Taoiseach to the effect that it smacked of mandatory vaccination insofar as the Government is denying entry to people who, for example, have health issues and cannot be vaccinated, have not been vaccinated yet or have not been entirely convinced of the efficacy of vaccines. It is very important to say that the World Health Organization has consistently opposed anything that smacks of mandatory vaccination as threatening to undermine the vaccination programme. I believe it to be very divisive. It causes problems that could undermine the public health effort and, of course, it threatens the health of young workers who will have to work in hospitality when they are unvaccinated.

The Taoiseach is making a serious and reckless mistake again. The Government is risking the health of hospitality workers who are mostly unvaccinated. It is risking hundreds of unnecessary deaths, tens of thousands of potential cases of long Covid and a fourth wave and another lockdown, which people would find utterly demoralising.

I have two specific questions to ask the Taoiseach. Has NPHET agreed to the Government's alteration of its recommendation by saying that children aged under 18 of parents who have been vaccinated are now allowed to go into indoor hospitality? Obviously, they are not part of a family bubble once they are inside a pub or restaurant, eating or drinking and not wearing a mask. How does that make any sense? Has NPHET agreed to it?

How is there still no legislation, 500 days after the first case of Covid-19 in Ireland, with regard to ventilation? There is more talk about it and more reference to guidelines. That is great but if the Government does not actually bring in legislation, it is not worth a whole lot.

I am not quite sure yet how many minutes are remaining. There are not very many.

Generally, in response to this issue, there are choices facing Government and the Oireachtas. We can decide not open indoor hospitality at all. That is a decision we can take. Is that what people want us to do? If so, they should please articulate that. I think Deputy Murphy is of the view that we should not. He has been straight about it. I do not know what Deputy Boyd Barrett's view on it is.

Delay it until people are vaccinated.

I do not know what delay means. Do we delay until vaccination? That is fine. NPHET is of the view that if we restrict it with a verifiable and enforceable approach to the vaccinated and those who have recovered from Covid-19, that is a safe way of doing it and that is what the legislation reflects. We are, therefore, doing this in context of public health advice.

Public health advice did not reference children. I take that point. The children will be part of a family bubble, however. They will be part of the family bubble in terms of dining out. They cannot be drinking in a pub for obvious reasons given their age but they will be in a family bubble. That is in line with public health advice in terms of the issue of the vaccinated and recovery from Covid-19. That all has been preceded in the first phase of this reopening of indoor dining and hospitality. There is no desire to be divisive at all but there is a desire to protect. That is the only issue here in terms of not allowing the unvaccinated indoors. It is not about mandatory vaccination. It is nothing to do with that. We have managed outdoor hospitality well since we have reopened it and it has gone well, insofar as it can. The next phase will be more challenging and difficult.

I do not underestimate the Delta variant. It is very serious. We are not in a similar place to we were prior to Christmas, however. We have achieved substantial vaccination already both in terms of first doses and people who are fully vaccinated. This is about balance and there are risks involved. It will require vigilance and adherence on the part of everyone. It will require personal responsibility to adhere to the law and to the basic principle that I can go indoors if I am vaccinated or if I have recovered from Covid-19. That is very important to facilitate this latest phase of the reopening of our economy and society. It is about balance. It is also about protecting workers. The Chief Medical Officer has been very clear that workers will obviously have protections but they will also be serving a vaccinated cohort, which significantly, gives added protection.

I thank the Taoiseach. That brings us to the end of Taoiseach's Questions.

Long Covid is an issue I take very seriously. We need to follow through and do some more research in terms of the numbers of people who could get long Covid and the long-term implications of the disease.

I am afraid the time is up. I thank the Taoiseach and Members for those questions.