Ceisteanna - Questions

Community Development Projects

Mary Lou McDonald

Ceist:

1. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach the membership and terms of reference of the north-east inner city oversight group chaired by the Secretary General of his Department. [37542/21]

Gary Gannon

Ceist:

2. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the role of his Department in the north-east inner-city initiative. [43760/21]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.

The Mulvey report, Dublin North East Inner City - Creating a Brighter Future, which was commissioned by the Government and published in February 2017, contained recommendations for the social and economic regeneration of Dublin's north inner city. This report has been further supplemented by the publishing of the north-east inner city strategic plan 2020-22. Both documents are available on the north-east inner city website, www.neic.ie.

In June 2017, an independent chairperson was appointed by the Government to the north-east inner city programme implementation board. Members of the board include representatives from relevant Government Departments and agencies, businesses and the local community. The board is assisted in its work by six subgroups, which focus on enhancing policing; maximising educational, training and employment opportunities; family well-being; enhancing community well-being and the physical landscape; substance use, misuse and inclusion health; and alignment of services. The board and its subgroups continue to meet monthly to oversee and progress the implementation of the Mulvey report and the north-east inner city strategic plan 2020-22. Officials from my Department work closely with the board, the subgroups and the dedicated programme office based in Seán MacDermott Street.

The chair of the board reports to an oversight group of senior officials chaired by the Secretary General of my Department. The membership of the oversight group is comprised of the chair of the north-east inner city programme implementation board and senior officials across Government Departments and agencies who are actively engaged with the work of the north-east inner city initiative, namely the Department of the Taoiseach; the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth; the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; the Department of Rural and Community Development; the Department of Social Protection; the Department of Education; the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and a whole range of other Departments including the Department of Transport; the Department of Health; the Department of Justice; the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage; the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media; Dublin City Council; the Office of Public Works; and An Garda Síochána. This group, which has met 13 times to date and met most recently via video conference on 3 June 2021, supports and oversees the work of the north-east inner city programme implementation board and ensures strong and active participation by all relevant Government Departments and agencies in the north-east inner city initiative and deals with any barriers or issues highlighted by the chair of the programme implementation board.

The Cabinet committee on social affairs and equality provides political oversight of the north-east inner city initiative. The Government is committed to supporting and investing in the north-east inner city community and ensuring the board has the necessary resources to achieve its targets and fulfil its ambition. To this end, the Government has made available €6.5 million in funding for the initiative in 2021.

The programme implementation board will continue to implement the remaining actions set out in the Mulvey report and the north-east inner city strategic plan 2020-22 and to adopt a greater focus on long-term sustainable outcomes while operating in an integrated framework and adding value to the existing service infrastructure. Progress reports on the north-east inner city initiative are available on www.neic.ie for 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

I thank the Taoiseach for that response. He might recall that when we discussed the north-east inner city initiative on previous occasions, I asked and I suggest again that there be a review of progress made and achievements in this part of our capital city. That is essential for the success of this initiative.

I acknowledge the work that has been done but I also flag to the Taoiseach that the social and economic problems within the area remain extremely deep. In my own view in many respects we are only skating on the surface of what actually needs to be done. I therefore recommend to the Taoiseach the need for a review to be done not least because we are now in the autumn of 2021 and 2022 will soon be upon us.

Before we broke for the summer recess the Taoiseach may recall that I raised with him the looming closure of a number of community early learning providers in the north inner city. This is as a direct consequence of the restructuring of the national childcare scheme.

Since then, a coalition of providers in Dublin 8 have raised the same concerns as I raised with him. My colleague, Deputy Funchion, is engaging with a number of providers in disadvantaged areas across the State who face similar funding challenges. The truth is that kids from the poorest households are going to lose their after-school or childcare places. Some providers tell me that they will lose up to 70% of their income because the new scheme penalises the children of parents who are not at work and are not studying and as a consequence will disadvantage children who are living in circumstances of profound disadvantage. I have corresponded with the Taoiseach on these matters.

He has made reference in that correspondence to the sustainability fund. In practice, that is not a fund. In fact, it is described to me by those seeking access to it as an adversarial compliance, governance and financial audit. The statement from the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth that children with particular needs, as it calls them, might qualify for the full 45 hours if sponsored by Tusla simply does not recognise the very real fear that families not already engaged with these agencies have of inviting Tusla into their and their children's lives.

In my correspondence with the Taoiseach and with the Minister over recent months, and I have been raising this for months, I reminded them of the urgent need for a DEIS model for early learning settings in areas of disadvantage, as supported by the current Government and the previous Administration. This problem is not going away. I ask the Taoiseach to liaise with the Minister to agree a revised strategy to ensure these children retain the existing childcare and early education entitlements they so desperately need.

As we are tasked today with coming in here and talking about the review of the inner city initiative, it would be remiss of me not to mention that tomorrow, once again, several hundred people from the north inner city will descend on the Dáil in protest. That protest will be in recognition of the 16th anniversary of the death of Terence Wheelock. I cannot separate the inner city initiative from the legacy of poor relationships between the community of the north inner city, which has for decades been disadvantaged by structural inequality and structural violence. The initiative had absolutely no targets or benchmarks. It involved lots of good work because of the nature of the good people involved, but it will not address the legacy of a community which has a mistrustful relationship with the State and its infrastructures because of deeds the community believes were inflicted on it. To my mind, there is no greater example of that than the north inner city community's continued 16-year quest for answers to what it believes to be the outstanding questions surrounding the death of Terence Wheelock. Until that is addressed, every year, like tomorrow, that community will continue to march on the Dáil and on Store Street Garda station and will continue to have a mistrustful relationship with the State, and all these nice initiatives will fall on deaf ears.

Once again, therefore, in advance of Terence's anniversary tomorrow, I ask for an independent review into the circumstances that led to his death in order that his family can stop having to show up at Store Street Garda station and at the Dáil demanding what they believe is justice for their son and their brother. Please, Taoiseach, I know there was a GSOC review. That was ten years ago and questions still remain. Let us simply address this issue now and bring some finality to it.

I thank the Deputies for raising these issues. To respond to Deputy McDonald's basic point about a review of probity, yes, we should do that. I will talk to my Secretary General about that and about the broader interest in terms of just reviewing the progress that has been made, the remaining issues and perhaps lessons learnt from the model. As I said earlier, maybe during Leaders' Questions, I am anxious we would broaden out and learn from previous experience of models that were developed before in certain communities in terms of multidisciplinary, multi-agency-based responses to disadvantage. I think we can now learn lessons from this initiative, which has been up and running since 2017. I am anxious to do that and I do not doubt what the Deputy says about the social and economic problems remaining. Deputy Gannon has referred to those also. That is something we can do.

As for the childcare issue Deputy McDonald raised, I did write to her about that and, again, I am anxious to resolve it. No provider should lose 70% in any new scheme. I do not think anyone intends that to happen, nor should it happen. The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth has aimed to ensure alignment of existing initiatives as well as the development of other responses which add value to the actions to achieve maximum impact in respect of integrated service delivery relating to children, young people and their families. As for the issues Deputy McDonald has raised, my understanding is officials from the Department have met with a small number of providers operating in the north-east inner city several times regarding the national childcare scheme. I am just saying this is what I have been informed, so the Deputy may take it as she wishes, but we could follow up on it. It became apparent through this engagement that some issues arising were due to a lack of familiarity with the scheme, with some parents registering for the wrong subsidy.

On that basis the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth has provided and will continue to provide additional training and support to providers through the Dublin city childcare committee in order that it can in turn advise and direct parents to better understand the operations of the scheme and the subsidies available through it. A letter issued to the committee providers on 23 July restating the offer of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth of case management support and the potential for financial supports where assessment criteria are met. A highly skilled and experienced early years specialist team from the Better Start quality development services is to work directly in a mentoring capacity with services in the north-east inner city to support quality improvement. The Dublin city childcare committee is a key resource that is supporting services in the area on matters relating to the structure of their service delivery, governance and management and optimal use of the current subsidy schemes.

The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and the Department are actively monitoring this issue and are committed to ensuring this scheme functions in the best interests of families and children, that the Department supports services in adjusting to this new or more progressive approach to early learning and childcare, and that State investment in the sector delivers affordable, accessible, sustainable and high-quality service provision. The Department has engaged an external consultant to review the first year of the scheme. This will include looking at its use by socioeconomically disadvantaged families and by providers serving socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. Work is also progressing on a new funding model for the early learning and childcare centre, which is being led by an expert group.

To cut to the chase, we need to engage with the providers Deputy McDonald has identified, see how this scheme is performing in meeting their requirements and see what we can do to make up the balance. It is not our objective that any child from a disadvantaged situation should lose out on childcare. I know Deputy McDonald has raised this a good few times. We need to get people around the table and just ask what are the issues here and can we get them sorted.

Deputy Gannon has been consistent in raising the issue of the very sad death of Terence Wheelock. Again, I extend my deepest sympathies to the Wheelock family for their terrible loss and the pain his tragic death still causes them. The challenges are, as the Deputy knows, that the case was subject to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and that the report of that inquiry was published by GSOC in March 2010. I also note that legal proceedings arising from these matters were settled in 2014. Both GSOC and the courts are fully independent in the exercise of their functions. It is not open to the Minister for Justice or to me to intervene or to comment on an inquiry that has been carried out by GSOC or on the outcomes of any court proceedings. The case was fully considered by GSOC. I believe the death has been the subject of legal proceedings.

I have a general view that, more generally across our system, our independent agencies should be the mechanisms by which these issues are resolved. There are no easy answers, but I am not clear as to what new mechanisms can be devised that would supersede ones we have put a lot of investment and resources into to do just that, to carry out independent investigations into the actions of An Garda Síochána, for example, in given situations. I empathise with what Deputy Gannon says but I think we need as a political system as well to have greater faith in the organisations we set up. Otherwise, we will have different types of inquiries under different Acts on an ongoing basis, and that is not-----

I understand how delicate this issue is and I do not want to put undue pressure on the Taoiseach when I am asking a question that I have not given him advance notice of-----

I understand.

-----but GSOC was in its infancy when this case emerged, and maybe it requires a new look with fresh eyes. If that is from GSOC, so be it.

First, on early education and childcare, the Taoiseach and I have corresponded at this stage extensively, and I accept the Taoiseach's bona fides that nobody wants to see any disadvantaged child put in this position. I will take him up on the offer, if that is okay, of engagement in his office but also through the Minister. I thank him for that.

Second, I reiterate Deputy Gannon's call for a fresh investigation in respect of the Terence Wheelock case. It is true to say there were previous processes and procedures, but it is also true to say big questions remain, not just for the family but for the wider community.

It would be helpful if we could have political agreement that, whatever the specific mechanism, there would be at a minimum some form of review of this case. Any death in custody is extremely serious. As the Taoiseach knows, in the early 2000s there were profound concerns about places of detention, including Garda stations, and previous governments had to deal with that reality. We need to progress this issue. There will be the gathering for Terence's anniversary. This issue does not go away; it festers in the soul of a community, as we have seen in other parts of Ireland. General political agreement today that there are issues here and that they need to be reviewed, in and of itself as a first step, would be good progress.

Before we move on, can we have a brief response to those important matters?

There were two items there. I will take up the issue of the childcare question. I will ask the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, to engage with the Deputy on that and I will follow up with the Minister.

I cannot agree to any form of new inquiry today. I will make the general point that, ultimately, we have to get to a position where our existing mechanisms are ones in which we trust and whereby we say it is their duty to investigate. We can see with commissions of investigation how, even after three or four years of investigations, people are not necessarily satisfied with their outcomes, and that creates all sorts of challenges for our entire system of inquiry and investigation in regard to GSOC, commissions of investigation, tribunals of inquiry and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. We are now setting up a new mechanism regarding impropriety on the part of finance officials. When we create these institutions that are at arm's length and independent, we have to allow them to do their work. That is the point I am making. It is something we will have to develop but I will engage with the Deputies.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Peadar Tóibín

Ceist:

3. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Taoiseach the status of the investigation being carried out by the Secretary General of his Department into the leaking of details of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation final report earlier in 2021. [37869/21]

Following the disclosure in a newspaper report earlier this year of certain information relating to the final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes in advance of consideration of the report by the Government, I requested that an investigation be carried out. A senior official in my Department is carrying out the investigation in the context of a broader examination of the overall arrangements for the management of documents for Government meetings and their confidentiality. That process is ongoing.

This question reflects the contents of the previous one, to a certain extent. I know, from speaking to many survivors of mother and baby homes, that the actions of the Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, around the time of the report's publication were deeply hurtful. Many of those people are elderly and some are, obviously, very vulnerable at the moment. I spoke to people, for example, who had attended the Zoom meeting with the Taoiseach, and it sounded very inappropriate too. Their microphones were switched off and they did not have an opportunity to ask questions. Questions had to be submitted in advance and were presumably vetted by the Department. At the time, the Taoiseach gave credibility to the details that had been leaked by giving comment on them to a journalist, who wrote the story, and that caused great hurt as well. Will the Taoiseach apologise for doing that? When will he publish the findings of the Government's investigation into that leak? It has been nine months since the investigation was first heralded. If we are pointing the finger at all these other investigative vehicles in this country and yet Departments are taking nine months to carry out an investigation as simple as this, that leaves serious questions.

The wider issue of leaks is also really important. There is the idea the Zappone affair was predicated on a leak from the Taoiseach's Cabinet, a leak that, by law, is a criminal offence to undertake. There have been reports in the newspapers that a Minister of State set a trap for a senior Minister, that that information on the senior Minister was given to the Tánaiste and that the Tánaiste was carrying out an investigation into this. Where lies that investigation? Has it evaporated too, like the rain of the summer? Are we ever going to find out whether these people will be held to account? If there are no consequences for any of these leaks, there will never be any change or accountability.

Will the Taoiseach detail exactly where stands the investigation into the leak of the commission's report? When will it be finished? When will survivors of mother and baby homes know exactly the truth of that leak? When will the answers be published? Will the Taoiseach shed some light on the incredible Machiavellian situation of, seemingly, one Fine Gael Minister leaking against another and a Minister of State setting a trap for him or her as well?

As the Taoiseach said, the examination is into this particular leaking of details of the mother and baby home commission's report but, more generally, around what is called unauthorised dissemination of documentation and other information relating to the work of the Cabinet. My God, the Taoiseach has his hands full because I do not know whether a previous administration has been so leaky. The Government is formidable in its capacity to leak, if nothing else. It is quite astonishing and it is, as my colleague said, a very serious matter. In this case, the leaking of this report caused incredible heartache and anger among a group of people whom the State had failed comprehensively, people who had suffered comprehensively. We know it is not an isolated incident, however, and we will talk about the Zappone debacle later. All of it stacks up to the most incredibly cavalier attitude in the Taoiseach's Government, and particularly among his Fine Gael colleagues, in respect of Cabinet confidentiality and the guarding and storage of Government communications and information.

There are two further issues of concern to survivors of these institutions and their families, the first of which relates to the burials legislation. The Joint Committee on Children, Disability, Equality, Integration and Youth submitted its pre-legislative scrutiny report on the Bill to the Minister before the recess. The legislation had been unduly delayed by the Department in the first instance. Will the Taoiseach ensure that the Minister responds swiftly to the committee's report and that the Government Bill is introduced as soon as possible?

The other issue of concern is that there seems to be no urgency from the Government in progressing the survivors' redress scheme. The consultative strand of the process was completed months ago, yet we still have no indication from the Minister as to when the interdepartmental group will conclude its work and report to him. Has the Taoiseach sought an update from the Minister on when he will bring his recommendations for the redress scheme to the Government for a decision?

I appeal to the Taoiseach to follow up on these issues in respect of survivors, but alongside those issues is the deep grievance in respect of the leaking of this report. It is utterly outrageous, as is the other, associated behaviour. It is happening on the Taoiseach's watch and he needs to take a hold of this. It needs to be knocked on the head. We need answers and there have to be sanctions. Whoever leaked from the Cabinet should be named and shamed and sanctioned for it if the Taoiseach's Government, or any administration, is to have any credibility.

The general point the Deputies have made is valid, in regard to the protection of documentation and information. The storage and dissemination of such information has to be protected. I have asked for new mechanisms to be brought into play to ensure the protection of material that comes before the Government.

The entire response of the Government to the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes is to deal, once and for all and comprehensively, with the issues that have been raised. I am not pre-empting the outcome of the ongoing investigation but it will deal with the overall arrangements for the management of documents for Government meetings and their confidentiality.

There will be an action plan on all of the recommendations that were contained in the mother and baby homes report, which will be published shortly, in terms of the survivor-centred approach, access to personal information, education and research, archiving and databases, memorialisation, restorative recognition, which I will come back to in a moment, and dignified burial.

The key issue for many has been the information on tracing. We have published that legislation. It is with the committee for pre-legislative scrutiny. It is radical. It is in line with what most Members of the House and, in particular, the survivors’ groups wanted. The scheme was published on the 11 May. This is the most effective way we can meet the needs of all those who were in mother and baby homes. It has been forwarded to the Oireachtas committee for pre-legislative scrutiny. It gives access to birth and early life information for people who were adopted or, indeed, who otherwise have questions on their origins.

I would like to work with Members. I would like to see this progressed prior to the end of the legislative term. There is a danger that it may not make it to the end of term. In other words, it could go over. I know that the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth is watching what is happening with the pre-legislative scrutiny at the committee to try to anticipate some recommendations and changes. That legislation covers not just all those who were adopted, but everybody who needs access to information on their origins. It would support access to early life care, medical information and so on. It will also provide for a comprehensive tracing service for people who want to make contact, share their information, request information from a birth relative, and make or establish a contact preference register to allow people to be able to record their preference in relation to having contact with birth relatives.

The Minister has done detailed work on the legislation on burials. He visited the Tuam site recently. He met with all of the interested parties there. That legislation is to support the excavation, exhumation and, where possible, the identification of remains and their dignified reburial. The legislation will support intervention at the Tuam site and any other site where intervention is reasonably required by virtue of the manifestly inappropriate nature of burials that may have taken place. Separately, the Minister and the team will engage with former residents and their advocacy groups on the question of appropriate dignified local memorialisation of a known or agreed burial site, where this is not already the case. That legislation will be brought forward shortly. The Minister updated Cabinet this morning on that.

With regard to compensation payments for the victims, a fundamental element of the Government action plan is to establish an ex gratia payment scheme. This scheme will include a financial payment and a form of enhanced medical card. An interdepartmental group was set up to develop detailed proposals for the scheme, taking account of the recommendations of the commission. However, it is not limited to those recommendations; it can go beyond them. The Minister has been overseeing this. The group's work is guided by a human rights focus, and informed by consultation with survivors, which took place during March and April. I am glad that consultation received a strong response. The work of the group is being finalised. The Minister looks forward to getting the group's final report and bringing the proposals to Government for approval early in this Dáil term. I hope that we have that before the House in a short while. The Government will then establish the scheme and make it available for application as soon as possible, beginning I would say at this stage, in early 2022.

That covers the range of issues that the Deputies have raised.

The Taoiseach gave no answer on the updates into the investigation into the leaking. That is a deafening silence. He gave no answer, even, on an update as to where that investigation is, or when that investigation will be publicised. No information has been imparted to us on the basis of that question. As of yet, there are no consequences for the individuals who leaked that and for the pain and the suffering they caused to the survivors of the mother and baby homes. No action is a hallmark of the Taoiseach’s office. Even when the Tánaiste was involved in the leaking of a confidential contract to a friend, there were no consequences. How, then, can we expect a Minister in the current Cabinet to actually stop leaking, when there are no consequences for people at this level? Will the Taoiseach guarantee us that there will be a specific date with regard to the publication of the investigation into the leaking of the report into the mother and baby homes?

I simply want to ask who leaked details of the final report of the mother and baby homes commission of investigation? Who did it? Can the Taoiseach name the person? I am sure that it has been established. A limited number of ye had access to it. Who did that, please?

I have not interfered with the investigation. It was undertaken by an official in my Department. I am not in a position to say who did what, or to give the Deputy any confirmation of that, nor indeed on the conclusion of it.

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

4. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Taoiseach if he will report to Dáil Éireann on his recent meeting with the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party. [42366/21]

Neale Richmond

Ceist:

5. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent discussions with the First and deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland. [43739/21]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 and 5 together.

I spoke with Paul Givan, First Minister, at the British-Irish Association conference in Oxford on 3 September. My most recent detailed engagement with him and with the deputy First Minister was on 30 July when I chaired the latest plenary meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council via videoconference. This wide-ranging discussion between our two governments covered the ongoing co-operation between North and South in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including the roll-out of vaccines and the gradual reopening of society, developments in the delivery the New Decade, New Approach commitments, the development of the PEACE PLUS programme, corporate governance matters, and board appointments. Following the meeting, the Tánaiste and I participated in a joint conference with the First Minister and deputy First Minister.

I hosted a meeting with Sir Jeffrey Donaldson in Government Buildings on 27 August. We had a good discussion on likely developments over the months ahead. I emphasised to him the importance of the stability and proper functioning of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement. On the Northern Ireland protocol, he outlined the serious difficulties and concerns that the unionist community have with the protocol. I stressed that this Government was focused on supporting practical solutions and on reducing friction where possible and that we have been active in engaging with our EU partners on issues relating to the protocol. I also outlined our ongoing outreach with stakeholders in Northern Ireland, and that we are listening carefully to the concerns of the unionist community. We also discussed legacy issues, North-South co-operation, Covid-19 and Afghanistan. We agreed to remain in contact on these and on any other matters of mutual concern.

As the Taoiseach knows, the new DUP leader has threatened to collapse the Northern Ireland Executive unless the Northern Ireland protocol is effectively set aside. He has also said that his party will not co-operate with the institutions established under the Good Friday Agreement, in particular the North-South Ministerial Council. This cannot be allowed to happen. The Taoiseach must do everything possible to persuade him not to do that. We saw what happened when Sinn Féin deliberately collapsed the institutions previously. Government in Northern Ireland effectively ceased, domestic problems piled up, a political vacuum opened up and opportunities for violence emerged. We know that there are electoral considerations behind the move by the DUP leader, but we must do everything possible to resolve the outstanding issues in respect of the Northern Ireland protocol. The UK wants to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement and the protocol. That is not going to happen, but the outstanding issues need to be resolved. The EU needs to be flexible. I welcome the recent visit by Commission Vice President, Maroš Šefčovič, to Northern Ireland, where he engaged with all the relevant stakeholders. The issues of medicines and pets, for example, have been sorted out, but further compromises and solutions are needed. In the Taoiseach’s discussions with Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, did he see a pathway to sort out these problems?

There is also the matter of legacy, which the Taoiseach mentioned in his contribution. The UK Government plans to introduce an amnesty for Troubles-related killings. It is proposed that legislation will be introduced by the end of the year.

This is contrary to the 2014 Stormont House Agreement. Did the Taoiseach discuss this issue with the DUP leader? What is his view on the British Government proposals on legacy?

I am not sure if the Taoiseach mentioned the shared island initiative. Did that come up in his discussions with Sir Jeffrey Donaldson? Did the Taoiseach get the impression that the DUP leader is supportive of it? Does he believe it is beneficial to the people of Northern Ireland? Does the DUP support the shared island initiative and what it is trying to achieve?

I will speak about Question No. 5, which is in my name. I thank the Taoiseach for his ever-fulsome response about his recent meetings with the First Minister and the leader of the DUP in Northern Ireland. However, when will he meet them next? Will there be a next meeting before there is an assembly election? What can the Taoiseach do in the office he holds to ensure those meetings take place involving not just himself but also Ministers from this Government and Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive? It is unacceptable that once again political activities are jeopardising the Good Friday Agreement and the very important institutions which ensure North-South co-operation at a time when such co-operation has never been so important.

We look worryingly at the Covid-19 situation in Northern Ireland and we need to see how both Administrations can work closely together. Both Administrations have very clear opposition to the British Government's position on legacy. As Deputy Haughey has outlined, much work remains to be done on the protocol. In his position as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, how can the Taoiseach ensure that the DUP's political play-acting does not jeopardise the responsibilities of that agreement?

The Good Friday Agreement and how it underpins Stormont needs to be reformed. We cannot have an ongoing situation where one party can pull down the Administration in the North of Ireland.

I want to focus on another aspect of this. Denise Mullen is an Aontú councillor in Mid Ulster. Forty-six years ago, the Glenanne gang murdered her father in her family home. Denise was just four when she came upon her father's lifeless body in that home. She had to stay with her father for two hours before the medical professionals could get into the house because they were fearful the house was booby-trapped. The Glenanne gang murdered 120 people in the Tyrone and Armagh area. They did so in cahoots with the RUC and the British Army. They also planted bombs in the South, killing 34 people in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in 1974.

Just last year, Councillor Denise Mullen received a death threat from Garfield Beattie, the man who murdered her father. These issues are ongoing in people's lives right now. It is absolutely wrong that the British could consider giving an amnesty to people who were involved in these heinous crimes. I have asked three taoisigh - Enda Kenny, the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, and the current Taoiseach - to meet the survivors of the Glenanne gang. The first two refused to do so and ignored those requests. In fairness, the Taoiseach said he would, which I appreciate it. I know the Covid pandemic has got in the way of that. I ask him to try to find time in his schedule to finally meet those people, especially at this critical time when the British are seeking to do what they want to do.

I also attended the 50th anniversary of the Ballymurphy massacre in Belfast. One of the sentences I repeatedly heard is that the British are trying to get away with murder. That is exactly what they are trying to do in this situation. I ask the Taoiseach to say the Irish Government will not accept this unilateral move by the British Government under any circumstances.

Although it has already been stated, it is worth restating there is absolute opposition to any proposal from the British Government in respect of an amnesty. That is one of the issues on which we have a common position across the island. The question is how that can be leveraged to influence the behaviour of a British Government which frankly does not give tuppence for the rule of law or compliance with international law and norms.

I attended the meeting with Commissioner Šefčovič. The Commissioner set out the enthusiasm for the EU institutions to be flexible and reasonable. Everybody wants those things. He also pointed out that there are solutions. There are solutions in respect of medicines. There are solutions in respect of the checks which some regard as excessive in these times. What there is no room for is any misunderstanding on the protocol itself - the need for it and the fact it will endure. I regret and I know many people deeply resent the kind of sabre rattling that the DUP has engaged in. Everyone concerned, including those in London, needs to make clear to the DUP that kind of behaviour will not be rewarded in any fashion.

Commissioner Šefčovič heard at first-hand from business people and community interests that people recognise there are difficulties and complications, but they can be sorted out. They also heard a significant appetite for progress. The DUP is in a minority. In its unilateral action to pull away from the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement, it is on its own. The party leaders will meet again on Friday and I believe the isolated position of the DUP will be reflected again. It is important the Taoiseach and this House realise that is the situation.

I thank Deputies Haughey and Richmond for raising these issues. I thank Deputies Tóibín and McDonald for their questions. Deputy Haughey asked about my meeting with the new DUP leader and the issue of the Executive in the North. The DUP leader took the opportunity to highlight his concerns. He left me in no doubt that there is unionist concern over the protocol. Whether you agree or disagree, that was his main purpose in the meeting. Our point back was that Europe was in solution mode and wants to create a flexible response to any issues that might arise with the operation of the protocol in respect of people living in Northern Ireland and the routine trade that goes on between the UK and Northern Ireland.

They are not against the shared island issue, but official unionism has had challenges in openly embracing North-South initiatives of this kind. It is very helpful that about 1,000 people have now participated in the dialogue on the shared island. They come from all communities and traditions in Northern Ireland and include many young people and more women. Two new groups have been formed within that dialogue. An all-island women's forum has been established arising out of the dialogues to give a stronger voice to women in respect of the future of the island and in terms of human rights and other aspects, which is good.

The DUP leader was unequivocally against any amnesty. He does not want anyone who is guilty of murdering or killing anybody to be freed from justice. He was very clear about that at the meeting. I took the opportunity to speak about the shared island initiative. He wished us well and understood our bona fides. We pointed out how we felt it was important not just to build bridges physically, as in the Narrow Water Bridge, but also to do it between people and to get practical things sorted on energy, climate change and all of that.

On the British-Irish Association and Deputy Richmond's point, there is now a window of opportunity to see if we can get this issue resolved between the European Union, the United Kingdom and the parties in Northern Ireland with the Government in the Republic playing a facilitative role. We have sensitised the EU system to the issues. Commissioner Šefčovič and I had a long meeting over dinner the day before he went to Northern Ireland.

It is clear to me from that meeting, as Deputy McDonald and others have said, that the EU is in solution mode. I have conveyed that to unionist leaders and to all parties. It is clear to us that the EU wants to be helpful. It has invested a lot in the peace process in Ireland. It sees it as one of the success stories of European conflicts. Most conflicts are frozen and have not been resolved. This one was resolved. The PEACE fund goes up to approximately €1 billion. That was because the European Union initially put in €120 million, then there were pro rata responses from the British and Irish Governments and the Executive, so €1 billion will be available over and above the shared island fund for a range of range of cross-Border reconciliation projects and initiatives in the North. Europe is invested in this. It wants to be genuinely engaged and to try to get a resolution to this. I agree with what Deputies Haughey and Richmond said. It is not good enough to say that we will end all North-South co-operation unless this is resolved. The main point made by anyone I meet is that the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement need to be retained and kept operating for the benefit of the people, so that health, housing and all the various issues relating to Covid are dealt with by the Northern Ireland Executive.

In response to Deputy Tóibín, the amnesty applies to the Glenanne gang too. I will meet with the relatives. I do not know if they have contacted my office. Things have been fairly hectic and we have UN business next week. I have met some victims in the past in a different context. They were families of victims of the Glenanne gang. It would be unthinkable for them to be given an amnesty. It is unthinkable that the perpetrators of the Kingsmill massacre, Claudy bombing or Ballymurphy massacre would be given an amnesty. I took the opportunity in my speech to the British-Irish Association to say that unilateralism has no place in the relationships between the British and Irish Governments and the parties in Northern Ireland. The British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference is looking at the question of how we deal with Brexit. We said to the British Government that there cannot be a unilateral response to this. I made that clear in the opening address to the conference. I met with Ministers over that weekend. The Chatham House rule applies to British-Irish Association meetings, which allows us to speak frankly. There is a window of opportunity over the next month or so to try to get this resolved. The UK Government says that it does not want to escalate tensions in the North. I take it at its word but we need to get a solution.