Question No. 1 is from Deputy Mick Barry but is being taken by Deputy Paul Murphy.
Ceisteanna - Questions
1. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee dealing with justice issues will next meet. [36304/21]
2. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee dealing with justice issues will next meet. [37252/21]
3. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee dealing with justice issues will next meet. [37467/21]
4. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee dealing with justice issues will next meet. [37570/21]
5. Deputy James Lawless asked the Taoiseach about the Cabinet committee that oversees justice and policing issues; and when it is due to meet next. [37871/21]
6. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with justice and policing issues will next meet. [38076/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, together.
The Cabinet committee on social affairs and equality and the associated senior officials' group oversees implementation of programme for Government commitments in the areas of social policy, equality and public services, including matters relating to justice, policing reform and community safety; arts and culture; children; disability; social inclusion; gender equality; direct provision; the Irish language; and sport. The Cabinet committee on social affairs and equality last met on 30 November and will meet again shortly.
In addition to the meetings of the full Cabinet and of Cabinet committees, I meet with Ministers on an individual basis to focus on particular issues. In this regard, I meet regularly with the Minister for Justice to discuss priorities in the areas of policing and justice issues and, in particular, policing reform and the policing response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition, meetings are held between my officials and officials from the Department of Justice and other relevant Departments since the establishment of the Cabinet committee in July 2020. Furthermore, the policing reform implementation programme office, based in the Department of the Taoiseach, drives the implementation of A Policing Service for our Future, the Government's plan to implement the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.
Last week, I spoke to a woman who was the victim of a blatant and gross abuse of power. She was in court seeking a protection order and was under immense stress. After the court case the Kerry judge, who is now retired and who I will not name, contacted her. He texted her and called her persistently. He told her she was beautiful and that she should not tell anyone else about the contact he was having with her. He pressured her to meet up with him. When she met up with him out of fear it became very clear that he was not interested in anything to do with the case but in pursuing a sexual relationship. She was afraid. She managed to cut off all contact with him but it was a very clear abuse of power. She pursued all the avenues for justice that were open to her. She wrote letters to senior judges, she went to the Garda, and she went to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, but she got no justice. What is being done to ensure that these sorts of abuses of power cannot happen again? Where is someone who perceives that there has been a significant issue of misconduct by a member of the Judiciary meant to go to get that issue resolved?
On 16 September, the day after we return to the Dáil, we will mark 16 years since the death of Terence Wheelock following injuries sustained while in Garda custody in Store Street Garda station. On that day I will once again join Terence's family and members of the north inner city community outside Store Street and march to the Dáil to call for an independent inquiry into the events that led to his death. I do that for a number of reasons. I do it because Terence was a childhood friend of mine and I want the truth. I do it because I stand with his family every year. I do it because the community I represent in the north inner city still has many questions about Terence's death and it blights their relationship with the Garda in many ways. I understand that there was a GSOC investigation into this matter 11 years ago but so many questions are left outstanding and so much more evidence has emerged in that time that it warrants an independent investigation finally to bring some finality, some truth and some justice to the Wheelock family.
I raise the issue of racism and abuse online and the need for new thinking regarding it. There has been much publicity recently about the abuse three English footballers got after losing on penalties in the European championship. That came just days after a Dublin team, Dynamo Ridgewood FC, was forced to walk off the pitch on Saturday when two of its players were racially abused. Ian Wright was also abused online by a teenager from County Kerry. In February of this year, the UK put pressure on social media platforms to remove racist contributions by threatening them with large fines. It is time we dealt with social media companies that are not taking their responsibilities seriously. This cannot be allowed continue. People anonymously troll people, abuse them, threaten them, racially abuse them and threaten them with various forms of assault. There is use of hate speech, racism and homophobia. As a country, we need to bring in these social media companies and explain to them that we are bringing forward legislation that will mean they have to take responsibility in this jurisdiction for finding and identifying people who behave in such a manner. If people behaved on broadcast media or in print media the way they behave online they would not get away with it. An Garda Síochána would be at their doors.
As a jurisdiction, we have to show leadership and deal with this. Will the Taoiseach commit to meeting the social media platform representatives to make progress on this issue? They are all in this country and most of them are in this city. As a party, we are looking at bringing forward legislation on it.
With reference to the ministerial and Government decision-making on policing and justice, I wish to refer to the need to establish a public inquiry into the death of Shane O'Farrell at Carrickmacross. The person responsible for the death of Shane had a litany of convictions, in courts North and South, for serious offences. It was an appalling failure of the justice system that this convicted person was free and driving a car, causing Shane's death in a hit-and-run accident. It is appalling that such a convicted person was not in prison. I listened on a number of occasions to Lucia O'Farrell outline in detail and with great clarity the dysfunctionality of so many elements of the criminal justice system that led to her son's tragic death. The O'Farrell family has campaigned with great dignity and fortitude in seeking justice. Justice needs to be done. The scoping exercise was established by a previous Minister for Justice and Equality a considerable length of time ago. We need this public inquiry process to be advanced without further delay. The O'Farrell family has been failed by this State for far too long.
The committee the Taoiseach is talking about also deals with social affairs and equality. A week or two ago, I raised the issue of St. Mary's Boys' National School in Booterstown with the Taoiseach. For months it has been seeking to get sign-off from the Government on an attempt to purchase the parish hall, which the parish is willing to sell, for an autism spectrum disorder, ASD, unit. At a large public meeting last night, the school community pointed out that there is a deficiency of 66 ASD places for the entirety of our area. Huge amounts of money are being spent on transporting people out of the community for special needs support because it is not there in the community. The school is asking that the Department would make a decision to provide this ASD unit by purchasing the parish hall. It is also asking that the Department provide assembly facilities for the school, which it lacks.
Another school that is losing most of its sports' facilities, Clonkeen College in Deansgrange, is still campaigning to ask the Government to prevent the Christian Brothers from selling off its playing fields to a property developer. Those playing fields are needed, not least for the ASD unit it has, but they are being sold off by the Christian Brothers in a school funded by public money.
I want to raise the delayed scoping exercise into the death of Shane O'Farrell. As the Taoiseach knows well, this is a process that should have taken months and not years. After a decade of campaigning, protracted delays by GSOC, a Dáil vote in favour of a public inquiry and the establishment of a scoping exercise in early 2019 that has yet to be completed, Lucia, Jim and their daughters face another anniversary without Shane and without the answers they are entitled to. In 2017, the Taoiseach told the Dáil that in all honesty and sincerity it was time the Oireachtas responded in the only way possible, which was the establishment of an inquiry. The State has let this family down in the most unimaginable way. Every delay and hands-off excuse deepens this wrongdoing. The Taoiseach is best placed to establish the public inquiry that he called for when in opposition. If there is no avenue open to the Government to expedite the scoping exercise, will the Taoiseach progress his existing commitment to a public inquiry?
Last night, there was an interesting debate about the fact that certain local authorities are being funded on an historic basis that does not represent their populations anymore. That is the case with the number of gardaí who are being assigned to counties. Counties such as my county of Meath, which has seen its population radically increase in the last ten to 20 years, have not seen the number of gardaí there increase at the same level. We have the lowest number of gardaí per capita in the State, which has a material effect on the level of crime and antisocial behaviour that is happening on our streets and in our estates. I call on the Taoiseach to signal that he means business by matching Garda resources to the populations that exist in certain counties.
On Deputy Paul Murphy's question, what he has articulated would represent a shocking abuse of power. I do not have the full context or story behind it but he said it went to GSOC and other avenues. The Garda has dedicated units within counties to deal with situations like this. It is clear to me that there are avenues for people to deal with the abuse of power. One of the issues in the country is that the existing authorities and agencies should deal with this robustly and clearly. Again, I do not have the background to this but perhaps the Deputy can share that with me.
On Deputy Gannon's question, I extend my deepest sympathies to the Wheelock family and to the Deputy and others who knew Terence. I realise that his tragic death has caused enormous sadness. These events were the subject of a GSOC inquiry and the report was published back in March 2010. Legal proceedings arose from these matters, which were settled in 2014. As the Deputy will appreciate, GSOC and the courts are fully independent in the exercise of their functions and I cannot intervene in or comment on that or on the inquiry carried out by GSOC. The matters were fully considered by GSOC and have been the subject of legal proceedings. It is not envisaged that there would be a further public inquiry into this at this particular time. That was communicated to the family recently but I take on board the sincerity of the Deputy in raising this.
Deputies Brendan Smith and O'Reilly raised the issue of the death of Shane O'Farrell and the desire of Lucia O'Farrell and her family to get justice in respect of the tragic loss of their son. Deputy Brendan Smith has been a long-term advocate for the family. As the Deputies know, a highly respected retired judge, Judge Gerard Haughton, was appointed to conduct a scoping exercise into the tragic circumstances surrounding Shane's death. The purpose of that exercise was to advise on whether a further investigation or inquiry should be carried out and the manner and form of such an investigation or inquiry and its terms of reference if he was of the view that there should be one, although I acknowledge the Dáil has committed to one. Judge Haughton furnished an interim report in November 2019. He stated at that stage that he would not restrict or limit Shane's family in their submissions to him or the nature and extent of the documentation they wished to furnish through any scoping exercise. The judge is independent in conducting this scoping exercise. I cannot comment on it or on any aspect of the judge's work but I fully understand the desire of Members, including Deputies Brendan Smith, O'Reilly, McGuinness and others who have consistently raised this, to bring the scoping inquiry to a conclusion and move forward.
I genuinely regret that the process has taken significantly longer than any of us would have liked. I am also aware that a judge is doing all he can to ensure the concerns the family have raised with him during the process are followed through on to the greatest extent possible. I understand that Judge Haughton has been in contact with the O'Farrell family throughout his scoping exercise. Judge Haughton has recently written to the Department of Justice on the week beginning 5 July indicating that there are some minor matters to be addressed on one aspect of the inquiry. Once those matters have been addressed, he intends to seek comments and corrections on that aspect of the draft report from interested parties, including the O'Farrell family. Following receipt of responses from these parties, Judge Haughton will be in a position to finalise his report.
The Department of Justice will continue to provide all necessary assistance to Judge Haughton. The Minister for Justice looks forward to receiving his final report and updating the House on the matter.
Could we give the Taoiseach an extra two minutes to respond and take the time from the third group? There are only a couple of questioners in the third group.
Will the Taoiseach respond to Deputy Boyd Barrett?
I am okay with that.
I am hoping to get answers.
I appreciate that. It was important to the Deputies who raised those two matters that I deal with them at some length.
Deputy Boyd Barrett raised a question about St. Mary's parish hall in Booterstown. Deputy Devlin has a particular interest in the matter. I cannot get involved in every case in every school in the country but I take the point and think we should be doing everything we possibly can to provide for additional ASD places. We must facilitate capacity expansion to ensure that there are enough ASD places and that schools meet the need for assemblies. I will engage with the Minister for Education again in that respect. Deputy Devlin has told me the matter is being assessed by the Department. I hope that will lead to a positive outcome.
In respect of Clonkeen, I have a general view that amenities and parks should be preserved for sporting activities. I do now know the council's position on the rezoning of such land but it is in short supply in Dublin, as I know from meeting many sporting organisations.
Will the Taoiseach look into it?
The Deputy must appreciate that I cannot sort out every interaction.
Will the Taoiseach respond to Deputy Kelly?
Deputy Kelly raised a key issue. I agree that we must engage with the social media companies in respect of the appalling racist abuse online because it is unacceptable. I engaged with the companies prior to becoming Taoiseach. I salute the Dublin team the Deputy mentioned for walking off the pitch. That is the kind of initiative we require to deal with this, once and for all. What happened after the final of Euro 2020 was shocking. I do not know what it is with the online world but certain people change their personalities online. The hate and bile is shocking and must stop. I support the Irish soccer team in what they did in their game against Hungary. They were booed for it but I am proud of the Irish soccer team for taking that initiative. The Oireachtas should work together on a collective basis to make this behaviour intolerable. Threatening people, hate mail and the homophobic material online, to which the Deputy referred, are absolutely unacceptable and simply must stop.
Deputy Tóibín asked about historic funding of local authorities. The Minister has certain mechanisms he can use, including equalisation and so on. There is a new reform programme in respect of policing and it is changing how the Garda is operating.
National Economic and Social Council
Mary Lou McDonaldCeist:
7. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the National Economic and Social Council, an independent statutory agency operating under the aegis of his Department. [36335/21]
8. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Taoiseach the status of the work of the National Economic and Social Council in 2021. [37704/21]
Richard Boyd BarrettCeist:
9. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the National Economic and Social Council, an independent statutory agency operating under the aegis of his Department. [37715/21]
10. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the National Economic and Social Council, an independent statutory agency operating under the aegis of his Department. [37718/21]
11. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the National Economic and Social Council, an independent statutory agency operating under the aegis of his Department. [37721/21]
12. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the National Economic and Social Council. [38080/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 to 12, inclusive, together.
The National Economic and Social Council , NESC, is an independent statutory agency operating under the aegis of my Department. The role of NESC is to analyse and report on strategic policy matters relevant to Ireland's economic, social, environmental and sustainable development, and to advise Government. I appoint the members of NESC. The membership of the council comprises a chairperson and a deputy chairperson, and three people nominated by each of the business and employers' organisations, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, agricultural and farming organisations, community and voluntary organisations and environmental organisations. In addition, membership of NESC includes four public servants, including one representing the Minister for Finance, and seven people possessing knowledge, experience and skills relevant to the functions of the council.
The NESC work programme for 2021 includes: Shared Island, a programme of research on possible co-operation across a number of economic, social and environmental areas in Ireland, North and South; climate, biodiversity and just transition, which includes research and advice on a just transition to a low carbon economy and society; and a well-being framework. NESC has provided a valuable vehicle for consultation on the development of a well-being framework for Ireland through a subgroup of stakeholders, experts and wider consultation. Alongside the Government's First Report on a Wellbeing Framework, published on 6 July, NESC produced a corresponding report, Ireland's Well-Being Framework: Consultation Report, NESC report No. 155. In addition, the council has so far published three other reports in 2021. Those are Grounding the Recovery in Sustainable Development: A Statement from the Council, NESC report No. 152; Shared Island: Projects, Progress & Policy Scoping Paper, report No. 153; and Digital Inclusion in Ireland: Connectivity, Devices & Skills, report No. 154. As reports are finalised in the relevant areas, they are brought to Government for approval in advance of publication.
I will ask the Taoiseach about the work of NESC. I know it does a lot of great work and has been contributing, as the Taoiseach mentioned, to the well-being framework for Ireland, of which the first report was published last week. Among other things, the well-being framework for Ireland will provide a comprehensive set of well-being measures to create a well-rounded, holistic view of how our society is faring as an important complement to existing economic measurement tools. This will be an important assessment of our State beyond just looking at the economics.
I know that NESC also published a secretariat paper on building a new relationship between voluntary organisations and the State in the health and social care sectors which looks in detail at the organisational changes and innovations that have taken place. It is about health that I wish to ask the Taoiseach a quick question. My question relates to the redeployment of child psychologists to vaccination duties in the health service, as has been relayed to me by a reply to a parliamentary question. We have extensive waiting lists for children's mental health services, as the Taoiseach is aware. Some of the longest are in my constituency of Fingal and while I know the vaccination programme is of paramount and fundamental importance, so too is the mental health and well-being of our young people. I ask the Taoiseach to speak to his colleague, the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, about getting child psychologists back working with children who need these vital mental health supports and that a comprehensive catch-up programme is drawn up in order to cater for the missed care which has arisen as a result of their redeployment to vaccination duties. In the context of the work NESC is doing on the well-bring framework for Ireland, I think ensuring the well-being and positive mental health of our young people is incredibly important.
I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. I ask that in his communications and that of his Department with NESC, specific consideration is given by the council to a study on the particular challenges facing the Border region. We are all well aware that Brexit will continue to have adverse impacts, particularly in the Border economy, both North and South, much more so than anywhere else on the island. That has already been demonstrated by studies. Unfortunately, the Covid pandemic will also impact more severely on enterprise and commerce in our smaller towns and villages, which are typical of population and business dispersal in the Border counties.
We need a joined-up approach to tackle these issues at central and local government levels. I believe that worthwhile analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the economy at local level should inform decision-making. Going forward, such detailed economic analysis should be conducted on a cross-Border and all-Ireland basis. It should run in a complementary manner to the worthwhile work of the shared island unit.
We have many challenges in the Border region but there are also opportunities. We should have and need to develop new areas for economic and social development. I believe we need national and regional strategies. I often talk in this House about the need for infrastructural development in counties such as Cavan and Monaghan. We also have an enormous resource in social and educational infrastructure. We can cater for a growth in population because we have the voluntary and sporting infrastructure. In most cases, we also have the educational infrastructure. We may need expansion in areas such as roads and broadband but I believe that while we must tackle particular challenges, there are also opportunities that we must seize. We must do it in a regional, well thought-out and focused way.
NESC has done quite a lot of work on the area of good employment and what that should be. I have raised with the Taoiseach on a number of occasions, as have others and advocates in the areas of arts, film and cultural works, the distinct lack of good work. Film relief under section 481 contains a legal requirement for quality employment but, as NESC points out, that is not defined.
I will give the Taoiseach a couple of instances of where he needs to do something about this, because this is public money. I watched a video last night about a film worker who was protesting with other film workers outside the location of the shooting of "Vikings: Valhalla" by one of the biggest recipients of public money. This is somebody who worked in film for 40 years but is not working now on "Vikings: Valhalla". He had worked on all the previous "Vikings" series but is not working on this. He said he was blacklisted along with other workers because they had pointed out at an Oireachtas joint committee meeting in 2018 that all this public money was not leading to quality employment and training and there were virtually no proper jobs or any sort of job security or pension entitlements for workers in the film industry. These workers are being blacklisted from working.
People who have worked for decades are being blacklisted. Structurally, this is allowed because the producers tell the Government that it is a film-to-film arrangement and they cannot have security of employment. The Department with responsibility for arts and the Government allow this to continue when in fact, EU state aid rules insist that public funding for the arts must be linked to creating a permanent pool of secure employment. Even if it is film to film, there should be security, pension entitlements and recognition of the service of those working in the industry.
Similarly with performers on the "Enchanted" film, I pointed out to the Taoiseach this phenomenon of buy-out contracts whereby producers tell actors and performers that they will only get a job on the film if they agree to sell off their rights to what are called residuals, that is, royalties on future performances of that movie or film. This is something actors and performers used to enjoy and now producers are telling them they do not get to work unless they agree to a buy-out contract. And of course, the actors and performers want the job so they say, "Okay, I better accept that". It is absolutely wrong. Those buy-out contracts should not be allowed. The Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media needs to ensure we do not have blacklisting and do not have workers in that vulnerable position. They have a right to recognition of their service in the arts and cultural area. They should have some sort of security of employment so they cannot be made vulnerable to blacklisting or whatever it might be.
I thank the Deputy. We are running out of time. I call Deputy Paul Murphy followed by Deputy Tóibín..
I also want to focus on the question of quality employment. I will return to some of the questions I posed to the Taoiseach yesterday, on which I received no answers, regarding the so-called work placement experience programme, which is a new free labour scheme for employers where workers will get less than the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, and are expected to live below the poverty line while working. It is JobBridge 2.0. The truth of the scheme is that workers who are on it will get an extra €3.43 per hour for working 30 hours a week without a guaranteed job at the end of it.
I also asked the Taoiseach to confirm that bosses can have up to ten workers in the scheme without paying a penny and whether he agrees it indicates that this can discourage the creation of real jobs, as did JobBridge 1.0. Does he agree that it will act to create a downward pressure on wages? If employers can take someone on for free then why would they agree to increase wages?
Finally, I wish to ask about the role of private contracted companies in handling cases. The scheme sets out that this will be policed by new caseworkers and the Pathways to Work strategy talks about expanding the role of private contractor companies, like we have seen with Seetec, and Turas Nua. What are the plans to outsource the case officers for the new JobBridge 2.0?
In many ways, the Border is a man-made barrier to enterprise and economic development. A couple of years ago, I undertook the authoring of a report on the all-Ireland economy on behalf of the enterprise committee. It was the first report of its kind undertaken by the Oireachtas in this State since partition, which is incredible. I interviewed hundreds of people from all different backgrounds. Everybody I spoke to in the North of Ireland agreed that if we plan, fund and deliver services together, they will be better services and we will have a better economy as a result. That, however, takes a Government that is real as regards working towards economic convergence North and South.
I will make the final point that the Government should really be looking at Border innovation and enterprise zone, taking in the counties that straddle the Border in order that they get an advance as regards enterprise development to fight against the disadvantage they have had for years because of the Border.
I thank the Deputy. Is it agreed to take three minutes from the remaining questions to allow the Taoiseach to respond? Agreed. That gives us six and a half minutes.
Deputy O'Reilly is correct with regard to the well-being framework and the redeployment of child psychologists to the vaccination programme. That should not be the case now. We have an independent work force in respect of vaccination. There may be certain people at senior level who were deployed and who played a management or co-ordinating role in respect of some vaccination centres, particularly in terms of testing. There was a lot of redeployment in the early phase of the pandemic when people were redeployed to do the testing but then the permanent work force was put in place. In terms of vaccination, we had the redeployment of many nursing staff and management. They have done a fantastic job and it has been incredibly efficient up and down the length of the country. I will, however, follow up with the HSE in respect of how many psychologists are involved and the level and scale of this issue.
The well-being framework is something on which I am particularly keen. Developing a well-being framework is in the Government's programme. We appreciate the work NESC has done regarding the subgroup of stakeholders and experts it created to support the development of a well-being framework for Ireland and the consultation in terms of different social partnership pillars, external experts and interested parties. Much good progress was made in this regard. It will take time to get the criteria right.
NESC surveyed approximately 500 organisations about this and there were 450 responses. Initial research was carried out on Irish and international experiences with well-being initiatives and frameworks. Consultation was carried out, in close co-operation with my Department, with regular feedback into the Department working group.
NESC believes there is a compelling case for developing a well-being framework in Ireland and for the centrality of consultation to this work. A well-being framework can contribute to a more holistic approach to well-being by creating a shared vision, which mobilises action by linking policy action and review to measure the lived experience of citizens. It can help to create greater focus on outcomes within the policy system on cross-cutting approaches in the role of collaboration earlier and more formally in all stages of the policy processes, including oversight and review.
The council, like the Government, believes the development of a well-being format is an opportunity to bring about transformation in a fair and equitable way, addressing complex policy priorities. The late Bobby Kennedy summed it up when he spoke about what GDP measures but more importantly, what it does not measure. The well-being framework is really about capturing that which makes life essential in terms of the quality of life.
Deputy Brendan Smith made a very pertinent point about the Border area. NESC is doing work on the shared island projects in respect of progress and policy scoping to build up our shared knowledge base and understanding about possible ways in which greater co-operation can emerge across economic, social and environmental areas in Ireland, North and South, and between these islands, east and west. Substantive work is now under way by NESC to provide advice to me and the Government on strategic policy issues relating to sustainable economic, social and environmental development.
In addition to that work, I will take up the Deputy's point in respect of a more specific focus on the economy of the Border region. I will approach NESC with a view to perhaps having an addendum to the shared island work or in parallel with it to see if more work can be done in terms of the Border area. As the Deputy suggested, the shared island initiative will obviously deal with a number of issues in respect of the Border. As the Deputy will know, we announced the funding for the Narrow Water Bridge, which I believe will have significant economic impact in that area. The funding will allow the project to get to tender stage and more funding will be provided once that is done. Louth County Council will be the lead agency in that regard.
Deputy Tóibín later made reference to enterprise. The shared island fund, for example, is working on projects that will marry Derry's City Deal initiative on industrial development on the Derry-Strabane side to industrial development on the Donegal side.
We are very focused on all aspects of the relationship, North-South interaction and how we can develop enterprise.
Deputy Boyd Barrett referenced good employment and he has been focused on the film industry and the section 481 relief. Based on the issues he raised, perhaps there needs to be a social dialogue framework around this particular industry. It is not one that-----
The film producers refused to engage with that.
I am just making the point. This is an industry which is very mobile. There are clearly challenges in the modern era in respect of it. Individuals would need to be consulted as well to ascertain their desired outcomes. However, there should be no blacklisting of individuals who take a stand or who have a particular perspective on issues. That should not happen. I can see the complexity around security of tenure, pensions and so on, although I do not think it is as simple as was articulated. That said, workers need rights even in sectors that are more challenging than traditional, conventional ones. The balance between that and facilitating investment in the film production industry must be weighed up as well. I am open to the best avenue to pursue this.
Deputy Paul Murphy spoke about the work experience programme. I genuinely believe activation works. This is not about suppressing wages at all. From the experience of talking to people who availed of job experience programmes, they have led to permanent employment and career development for many people. The funding for this programme is higher than anything to do with JobBridge and it is voluntary. Many young people, often rightly, say they do not have experience in a given area. These programmes give a person the experience to pursue that career in a particular firm because these are experience programmes of short-term duration and are not open-ended. Therefore, they provide a platform to enable people to get the skills and experience they can use to get more permanent jobs. Work activation works and has been proven to work in the past.
What of Deputy Tóibín's question?
I dealt with that when I addressed cross-Border issues.
13. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the economic division of his Department. [37568/21]
Mary Lou McDonaldCeist:
14. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the economic policy and Brexit preparedness unit of his Department. [37541/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 13 and 14 together.
The economic division in my Department supports me and the Government in developing and implementing policy across relevant areas to support sustainable economic development, including job creation, infrastructure, housing and climate action, and social dialogue. This work is particularly focused on ensuring a co-ordinated approach to the delivery of the programme for Government and issues that cut across multiple Departments. The division supports the work of the Cabinet committees on economic recovery and investment, housing, the environment and climate change, as well as the associated senior officials group.
As part of the division's work, the economic policy unit specifically supports the work of the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment and provides advice to me on issues such as jobs, productivity, competitiveness, the labour market, enterprise and skills. The unit also maintains an overview of progress in key policy and sectoral areas in line with Government priorities, leads Ireland's participation at the annual European semester process, liaises with the Central Statistics Office, CSO, and provides me with briefing and speech material on economic and related policy issues.
The Brexit preparedness unit jointly leads work on the continuing impact of Brexit and readiness issues arising, along with the Department of Foreign Affairs and other divisions of my Department.
On Brexit preparedness, I have a question which pertains to the shortage of suitably qualified heavy goods vehicle, HGV, drivers. Mr. Aidan Flynn of Freight Transport Association Ireland, FTAI, as well as the Irish Road Haulage Association, IRHA, have raised these concerns directly with the Government. Freight Transport Association Ireland has outlined that Irish hauliers need Government support to recruit new HGV drivers into the logistics industry before the country's supply chain starts to break down. While the freight distribution and logistics sector has kept the nation stocked during the pandemic, not all sectors which use HGV drivers have been operational and many drivers have either returned to work elsewhere in Europe or have switched to jobs in other sectors. The result is significant recruitment problems for the sector as a decreasing pool of workers means gaps could soon start to appear in our supply chain. There are reports from industry that some drivers are having to wait over 50 weeks to complete the tests to revalidate their driver certificate of professional competency, CPC, cards which enable them to drive professionally. Will the Taoiseach ensure the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, engages with the FTAI and IRHA on this matter in order that solutions can be worked out and the timeframe for testing for the driver CPC card can be reduced to the absolute minimum?
As we get towards the end of this Dáil session, I appeal to the Taoiseach on an issue I have raised a number of times over the past few weeks. Despite his promises that there would not be a PUP income cliff for those who have lost income or employment as a result of the pandemic and who are still significantly impacted by the pandemic and the lack of recovery in their sectors, such a cliff is being imposed on them. A taxi driver, musician, artist or performer who is on the €203 rate of PUP will, as of 7 September, be told to get off it and to go on jobseeker's allowance. People in this situation are not jobseekers but are instead still waiting for the proper and full recovery of their sector.
There is still no roadmap for musicians, performers and artists and much of the work of taxi drivers depends on precisely those sectors and other areas such as tourism. It is not right to force these people onto jobseeker's allowance. Some taxi drivers are on the €203 rate because they purchased a car in 2019 and, therefore, did not pay as much tax that year as in previous years. They are now on a lower rate of PUP and will now be pulled off the payment, even though they cannot make a proper income, or will be forced to go onto jobseeker's allowance when they are not jobseekers.
There are similar issues for musicians and artists who go on the Government's pilot live performance support scheme. If you take a few gigs on that scheme and your income briefly goes above the threshold, you are cut off the PUP, even though in a few weeks' time, you will have no work at all and you will be forced to go on jobseeker's allowance. I am appealing to the Taoiseach on this. There may be other people in a similar position but these two cohorts should not be pushed over a cliff in September or November when there has not been a full recovery of their sectors.
The Deputy is out of time. We just have time for a brief response from the Taoiseach.
On Deputy O'Reilly's points, the Government is very focused on skills, reskilling and investing in human capital. That applies to HGV drivers and the road haulage sector as well. I have no doubt the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, and others will engage with the sector if we have to develop modules or fast-track the process to ensure we have sufficient supply of drivers.
On Deputy Boyd Barrett's points, he has acknowledged the Government recently responded with a package for taxi drivers, although he thinks it insufficient. We have continued to support them through a variety of means. There was €3 million provided for the continued waiving of vehicle licence fees in 2022, €2 million for the once-off motor tax refund scheme and €1.5 million for an national car test, NCT, refund scheme. In addition to supports for the small public service vehicle, SPSV, industry, the Government maintained a wide-ranging programme of supports with broad eligibility criteria for individuals and businesses.
We have extended these schemes. We have also kept specific sub-sectors of the economy under constant review. The Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, has provided a range of supports to artists and the music and entertainment sector. We know those sectors have suffered the most during the pandemic.
The Government should not push them over a cliff.
We have not pushed them over a cliff. We have extended these schemes through the majority of 2021, right out to 2022.
Some of them are going over the cliff in September.
As I said, we must also invest in the economy and get things moving, which we are doing. We are reallocating resources to support investment opportunities and create new jobs, which will help the sectors the Deputy mentioned.
I thank the Taoiseach. That concludes Taoiseach's questions for today and for this term.