It has been agreed that the report of the Business Committee will be taken as read. Are the proposed arrangements for next week's business agreed to?
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
They are not agreed. Only three and a half hours have been set aside for the Official Languages (Amendment) Bill tomorrow evening. There are more than 300 amendments to the Bill. I understand that leaves 40 seconds for every amendment. My colleague, Deputy Ó Snodaigh, our spokesperson, has strenuously asked me to appeal again to the Government to set aside time this Wednesday and the following Wednesday to allow proper scrutiny of the Bill. Two three and a half hour sessions would allow proper time to debate the amendments. This is a very important piece of legislation and it should be given the necessary time over the next two weeks. I appeal again for that to happen.
Ba mhaith liom mo dhíomá agus mo chuid feirge a chur in iúl go bhfuil sé leagtha amach go mbeidh díospóireacht srianta againn amárach ar feadh trí uair agus fiche nóiméad. Tá sé sin scannalach agus maslach agus nílimid chun glacadh leis. Níl sé féaráilte. Táimid ag fanacht leis an mBille le fada. Níl a fhios agam cé chomh fada agus atáimid ag fanacht - ag dul siar go dtí 2015 - agus fós, níl na leasuithe feicthe againn sa bhunpháipéar.
Níl sé foilsithe fós ag Oifig na mBillí agus níl locht ar bith uirthi. Tá an locht go huile is go hiomlán ar an Rialtas. Ní féidir leanúint ar aghaidh agus a rá go bhfuil sé dáiríre faoi Bhille nua agus an t-am chomh srianta agus atá sé.
On No. 11, motion re Part 2 of the Health (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 2021, it is beyond comprehension that the Government would extend the emergency powers. Everybody's expectation is that we will be reopening everything on 22 January. The schools are back due to the heroic effort made by so many. To think the Government wants to hold onto this power grab for another three months and kill this Christmas as well, given communities, families and the business community have suffered so much. They are trying to get up off their knees and the Government wants to introduce this. My colleagues are complaining about having three and a half hours for the Official Languages (Amendment) Bill, and I agree, but we are only getting two hours and 20 minutes. Our group will have six and a half minutes to debate such an important and draconian measure. It just goes to show that something deeper is going on here about this whole Covid business than the health of the people and the welfare of the citizens of Ireland, the business people and the people trying to carry on their work and their duty. It is apartheid what is going on and we are objecting to that. I am not at all satisfied.
I have a problem with the use of the word "apartheid". I am against the Bill as well but to describe it as "apartheid" is not acceptable. It undermines the actual reality of apartheid.
I often disagree with my colleague across the way but, on this one, I do not. I think we need to be careful with the language we use here-----
It is medical apartheid.
-----because, otherwise, we start undermining what are words that describe issues that we need to be taking a very strong stand against.
There is not something deeper going on here. We have been debating in this House, both live and remotely, measures that the Government needs to put in place to protect people in the context of Covid for 18 months now, and that continues as we remove restrictions on society.
They are keeping the powers.
I respectfully suggest that Deputy Mattie McGrath tries to work with us on that-----
I did for a long time.
-----so we can safely move away from restrictions towards personal responsibility and, indeed, continue to take medical and scientific advice on how we do that.
In regard to the Official Languages (Amendment) Bill, I hear what colleagues are saying. My understanding is that 25 hours were given on Committee Stage to this legislation. My understanding also is that the Irish language community wants to see us moving on and passing this legislation now. We have a limited amount of time this week to do that. The proposal from the Government is that we get on and finalise this legislation, as opposed to committing many more hours to it, given the amount of time we have spent considering this legislation already on Committee Stage.
Are the proposals for this week's business agreed to?
Can I respond or is that out of order?
If you wish to.
Go raibh maith agat. The Minister's answer is totally unacceptable. The committee worked so hard for those hours because the Bill was so deficient. We forced a situation where we brought in amendments, the vast majority of which were ruled out of order. The Minister was to come back and discuss with us the new amendments to save time but that never happened. We are now in a position where we have not even seen which amendments are ruled in and which are ruled out, and we are supposed to make a final decision tomorrow night. It is simply unacceptable.
In order to get clarification, is part of the problem here the lack of availability of the amendments at this stage?
We know the amendments but we do not know which ones are in and which ones are out. The main problem, in addition to that, is the limited time of three hours and 20 minutes. We have two problems: we do not know which amendments have been ruled in or out, and there is limited time.
My colleague, Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh, points out that the Minister has tabled 40 additional amendments. The Irish language community has waited nine years for this legislation, so I think one more week to get it right would not go amiss.
Are the proposed arrangements agreed to?
- Burke, Colm.
- Calleary, Dara.
- Chambers, Jack.
- Crowe, Cathal.
- Devlin, Cormac.
- Durkan, Bernard J.
- English, Damien.
- Farrell, Alan.
- Fitzpatrick, Peter.
- Flanagan, Charles.
- Grealish, Noel.
- Griffin, Brendan.
- Haughey, Seán.
- Higgins, Emer.
- Madigan, Josepha.
- Moynihan, Aindrias.
- O'Brien, Darragh.
- O'Brien, Joe.
- O'Callaghan, Jim.
- O'Dea, Willie.
- O'Gorman, Roderic.
- O'Sullivan, Christopher.
- Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.
- Phelan, John Paul.
- Richmond, Neale.
- Boyd Barrett, Richard.
- Carthy, Matt.
- Connolly, Catherine.
- Cronin, Réada.
- Cullinane, David.
- Gannon, Gary.
- Harkin, Marian.
- Kelly, Alan.
- Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
- McGrath, Mattie.
- Mitchell, Denise.
- Munster, Imelda.
- O'Callaghan, Cian.
- O'Donoghue, Richard.
- Ó Murchú, Ruairí.
- Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
- Ryan, Patricia.
- Smith, Duncan.
- Ward, Mark.
Mention was made there of the role of the Bills Office in preparing this legislation. I should point out it was 5.10 a.m. this morning when the Bills Office and Rannóg an Aistriúcháin completed their work in preparation for dealing with this Bill this week, having worked through the night.
Except that was the whole point-----
We will move to questions on promised legislation and I call Deputy Conway-Walsh.
Yesterday was a day for bold, transformative decisions. We in the west waited with anticipation for our share of the €650 billion national development plan but there were no individual projects. The Minister for Foreign Affairs mentioned earlier individual projects had been named. County Mayo was not mentioned anywhere in the national development plan. There was no mention of the R312, the N26 or of Mayo University Hospital. There was one mention of the western rail corridor. It is not only me saying this. Fianna Fáil Oireachtas Members and Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael councillors are really angry at what has happened and at the way in which the Government turned its back on the west yesterday.
On the western rail corridor, comments made by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, after the publication of the NDP seem at odds with the absence of any commitment. Will the western rail corridor be delivered, as was promised?
First, the west of Ireland is not forgotten by this national development plan. It is quite the opposite. The whole point of this national development plan is to try to rebalance the country in the context of the over-reliance on the capital city and the east coast as an economic driver. As a result of that situation, we have people working in Dublin who live as far away as Portlaoise and further, who are commuting every day. This development plan is about changing that by focusing on quality of life, where people work, how they move around and being able to work from home. It is about investing in things like broadband, public transport systems, better rail systems, including commuter rail, light rail systems and so on, thus ensuring not only is the population growth outside Dublin in cities outpacing such growth in Dublin but also in rural towns and villages. It is in that context that infrastructure in the west of Ireland will be funded.
Three weeks ago I raised with the Taoiseach the lack of places available at the Central Mental Hospital, Dundrum, and the case of a young man who spent four and a half months in jail because there was no secure unit facility for him. I have raised it with the Taoiseach and with the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health, Deputy Butler. It is scandalous that the State is letting him down. It is also costing a fortune. He was sent to Ennis psychiatric services three weeks ago. I said on the floor of the House he would be leaving there and if a unit was not found for him he would be going back to jail.
A few hours ago he was sent back to jail for another four and a half months, which will mean nine months in jail for a young man with a very severe, psychotic mental illness who should be in a secure unit. I ask the Minister to look into this because he cannot spend another four and a half months in jail. I also ask him to look into the provision of secure places for people across the country, particularly in Dundrum.
This is clearly a very sensitive and serious case. The note that I have on it says that the case is subject to legal proceedings and in that context, I must keep my comments on it very short. I will follow up on it on the Deputy's behalf with the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health, Deputy Butler. I know that the new national forensic mental health service facility at Portrane is due to open before the end of the year but in the meantime, this particular case needs more attention. The idea that we have to use our Prison Service to accommodate very ill people seems substandard, despite the supports that are there. I will raise the matter with the Minister of State and will revert to the Deputy.
People on low incomes will be having their own blackouts this winter because they simply will not be able to afford to keep the lights on, according to a representative of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul at the launch of the society's report, Warm Housing for All, this week. The price of gas and other fuel has increased by 19.6% in the past year. The moratorium on disconnections finished on 1 June 2021 and while many of us would not have noticed because of the warm weather, that is changing. People are getting cold in their homes and are worried about being able to keep the lights on. I appreciate that the Minister will not be able to tell me the exact measures in this year's budget to alleviate fuel poverty but when does he expect those measures to kick in? They cannot wait until January. Will the Government consider reinstating the moratorium on disconnections because we cannot, in the middle of an energy crisis, have a scenario where power to homes is cut off.
Unfortunately, fuel prices are on the way up and this is being driven by external factors, predominantly the price of gas on international markets. We are a price-taker in that regard, despite the fact that we have competition in Ireland. Fuel poverty will be a focus of the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform in the budget next week but obviously I cannot give the Deputy any details on that. I take Deputy Gannon's point about the onset of winter and whether we can wait until some point next year to introduce improved supports. I will pass on his concerns to the Ministers involved.
We need answers from the Government about the quite incredible situation involving the Attorney General effectively double-jobbing, acting as legal adviser to the Government during the week while at the weekend, doing what appears to be a nixer for former Independent News & Media, INM, directors. This is the same Attorney General who provided legal advice against a ban on evictions and rent increases without following the legal requirement to submit, in writing, a declaration of a potential conflict of interest given that he has a property portfolio estimated to be worth up to €8.5 million. We know that the Attorney General was doing work for the INM directors just days before the Government said his private work had ceased.
I have a few questions for the Minister. First, when did Mr. Gallagher's private work cease? Second, can we see a full list of all of the private practice he engaged in while working as Attorney General? Third, on what basis did the Government agree to this arrangement?
I am not sure I will have time to answer all of those questions now but what I will say is that prior to his appointment in June 2020, the Attorney General disclosed to the Taoiseach that he had a few existing litigation commitments to complete, which he considered he had a professional obligation to discharge. The Taoiseach informed the other Government leaders prior to Mr. Gallagher's appointment. In the normal course of events, these private professional obligations would have been discharged in a short period following his appointment. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic there were exceptional delays in hearings of those aspects of the litigation in which the Attorney General was involved and it was not possible to discharge those obligations as early as anticipated. The Attorney General has no continuing private professional obligations, the last of which was scheduled to cease and did cease on 25 September 2021, on which date he discharged the last of his outstanding private professional obligations.
Plans for the N6 Galway city ring road were lodged with An Bord Pleanála on 18 October 2018, 20 years after the initial application for the official application for the Galway outer-city bypass was lodged and five years after the original project was abandoned. Three years after the initial lodging of this project application there still has been no decision on whether this piece of infrastructure can go ahead. Five times, An Bord Pleanála has deferred making a final decision, the latest being last Friday. It says the case is now due to be decided by 19 November. That is not guaranteed and it could be extended again.
There are 54 householders whose homes are to be demolished or bought out to make way for this road. Their homes have been effectively frozen for the past five years. They cannot sell or renovate. These delays are causing enormous distress for these homeowners. Will the Government bring in legislation which provides that when the board sets a date for a decision, it be required to make a final determination on the application by that date?
As the Deputy stated, an oral hearing commenced on 18 February 2020 and concluded on 4 November 2020, including a seven-month gap in proceedings due to Covid-19 restrictions. Galway County Council is awaiting a decision from An Bord Pleanála, which has recently been pushed back to a new target date of 19 November. An Bord Pleanála makes decisions independently of the Government, as the Deputy is aware. I have been to Galway and have heard the concerns and frustrations in relation to this road infrastructure which, in my view, is essential in terms of traffic management of the city. To be honest, even if we wanted to introduce legislation, we would not be in a position to introduce legislation and have it passed before 19 November. I take the point the Deputy is making, however. There have been a lot of false dawns regarding decisions on this piece of road infrastructure. I hope we will see An Bord Pleanála finalise the decision to meet the target date that is now there.
The National Ambulance Service is in paralysis. The paramedics and first responders are voting with their feet and leaving. Response to emergency calls is evaluated including response times. On one recent day, the Clonmel ambulance did not service a single 999 call-out in County Tipperary. It was sent as far away as the Aran Islands. This is crazy. The fleet is burning out, as well as the manpower. They are not getting their lift or their leave, they are not finishing on time and they are not getting respected for it. It is frustrating that they might get a call from anywhere, it could be 120 or 140 miles away and they have to respond to it while a poor patient on the ground or at home, with whatever injuries, thinks the ambulance is on the way. They are not told that the ambulance is two, three or four hours away. This is madness and it needs to be overhauled. The call centres do not understand the geography. It is just a face-saving exercise by the National Ambulance Service and it is totally unacceptable.
I am not sure that there is anywhere in the country where there is an ambulance that is two or three hours away.
If it happens, it should not be happening. If the Deputy has specific instances of significant delay times like that, I would certainly like to get the detail and I will pass it on directly to the Minister for Health.
Tá seirbhísí faoisimh agus seirbhísí ionad lae á ardú agam. I am raising respite services and day centres, particularly in relation to Galway and the units in Merlin Park. They are not functioning. There is no respite services. Níl Áras Mhic Dara, ar an gCeathrú Rua, ag feidhmiú fós agus tá na Proinsiasaigh i nGaillimh oscailte ach tá siad srianta.
I have to keep raising it because I have no understanding as to how we can let people drink and be merry and not open our essential services. If it is safe to drink and be merry, then it is surely safe to open our day services. Where is the leadership from the Government on essential services that remain closed in Galway?
I can read the Deputy a long note on essential services but I think that will irritate her more than anything else. If the Deputy could send me the details of the actual centres I will try and get her a direct answer from the Minister for Health, if that would be helpful.
I want to raise the case of Theo Whelan, a five-month-old Killorglin boy who has spinal muscular atrophy. Theo's parents, Shane and Stephanie Whelan, have contacted me to try to get the HSE to give approval to the so-called miracle drug, Zolgensma. I understand that two children, Theo and little 17-month-old Kate Mynard in Cork are the only known suitable recipients in Ireland for this drug, which can dramatically improve the quality of life with children with the condition if the drug is administered before the age of two years. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan raised the case of Kate with the Taoiseach very recently. Time is crucial. I recall from the Orkambi campaign that this process can take far too long. Ireland is in negotiations with the company, together with Holland and Belgium, but while those negotiations are ongoing, Holland is administering the drug to children who need it right now before a long-term arrangement can be put in place. Can we pursue that? Can the Minister contact the Taoiseach's office to pursue the matter?
This sounds like a very difficult case, particularly when there are time considerations in respect of the application of the drug. I can understand why parents would be at their wits' end trying to get access to a drug they believe can make a life-changing difference to their child. It is the first that I have heard of this case but I will follow up on it. If the Deputy sends me the details I will speak to both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health on it. There is a process that needs to be followed for the approval of new drugs, even for very rare conditions. I do not know whether it is possible to look at interim treatment but I will ask that question for the Deputy.
In view of yesterday's announcement, I want to ask about an essential piece of infrastructure, namely, the proposed Cork-Limerick or, as I prefer to say, Limerick-Cork, motorway. I am as wise today as I was yesterday. What I seek is an assurance that this will actually happen. If it is to happen, can the Minister give us a clue or his opinion as to what year it might start? I am inundated with queries from business organisations, communities etc. down in Limerick. Is it possible that this could be dropped entirely due to the inter-road competition we are hearing so much about now?
I do not think there is any chance of this being dropped for many of the reasons the Deputy outlined but also because many in the Government, myself included, have given strong commitment to delivering on a motorway between Ireland's second and third cities. There was a strong commitment in the last development plan to deliver the M20 and there is a strong commitment in this development plan to do it. The big difference between the two development plans is there is more time and a lot more money attached to this one. I cannot give the Deputy an exact date because the permissions and processes that need to be gone through but certainly there is a very strong political commitment to the M20.
Many families are facing a cost of living crisis. They are burdened with the highest mortgage rates in the eurozone and among the highest rents, childcare, insurance and utility costs in the world. On top of this, there have been more than 30 price-hike announcements from Irish energy suppliers this year. The Government's proposed response is to add to the cost of living by increasing the carbon tax yet again in this year's budget, pushing an extra €1.50 on a fill of motor fuel, an extra €13 on the average gas bill and an extra €20 per tank of home heating oil. Does the Minister accept that many families simply cannot afford these price hikes, which in turn will be subject to VAT? Will the Government commit to scrapping the proposed carbon tax hike considering that many of those who will be impacted most have no alternative but to use their current car or heating system?
An increased price of living will be factored into our considerations when the Government announces a budget next week. The carbon tax measure, as the Deputy should know, is a climate action measure that is a medium-term measure, which is about giving a price signal over a ten-year period, not a one-year period or a six-month period-----
So you are pushing ahead with the carbon tax.
It is about giving a signal to people of the need to move to alternatives to fossil fuels and I think that is sound policy. Of course we have to look at ways by which we can support people through the transition particularly at a time when the price of carbon-based fuels, gas in particular, is increasing the way it is at the moment. We will factor in that, in terms of the supports that will be available next week.
I believe it is safe to say that everyone across Ireland is eager for the further easing of restrictions on Friday, 22 October. While the Government is pressing ahead and making every effort possible to encourage and restore the night-time economy, workers and customers will need access to public transport to get home after midnight. Will the Minister provide an update to the House on the roll-out of 24-hour bus services, particularly here in Dublin, and on the resumption of the Nitelink services across the capital?
It is my understanding that the National Transport Authority plans to introduce further 24-hour services from the end of November between Dublin city centre and the Chapelizod, Palmerston, Lucan, Adamstown Leixlip, Celbridge and Maynooth areas to the west, as well as the Sandymount and Ringsend areas to the south east. These 24-hour services are part of phase 2 of the revised bus network that is being introduced under the BusConnects project. Branch E1 will continue to Bray and Ballywaltrim similar to the current route 145, and branch E2 to Dún Laoghaire will be similar to the current route 46A. It is planned to operate both routes E1 and E2 on a 24-hour basis. That is positive news.
Today I wish to raise the issue of Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen, who has accused the social media giant of prioritising profit over safety. She claims that Facebook has realised that if it changes its algorithms to be safer, people will spend less time on their app and will click on fewer adverts and ultimately, Facebook will make less money. Facebook's own internal report shows clearly that certain content promoting eating disorders on Instagram is leading to negative self-image and poor mental health among young girls. Instead of removing this content, it is claimed that Facebook has promoted pages that glorify eating disorders to get more clicks and more money.
Yesterday, for a very short while, all of us were reminded of what a world without Facebook and Instagram looks like. Many people were lost without the apps but others were relieved of the constant anxiety it causes them. I put it to the Minister that making social media safer might not be a priority of Facebook but it needs to be a priority of the Government. Will the Minister outline what is being done to tackle it?
I listened to that interview this morning and I suspect the Deputy also heard it. It made for very compelling listening on the impact and the power that Facebook and other platforms similar to Facebook have on young people's lives with regard to their sense of self-worth and their sense of the need to respond to peer pressure and social pressure, which often leads to eating disorders, mental health issues and negative self-worth consequences.
There is responsibility on us all. It is my understanding that there are hearings in Washington D.C. on this issue with Facebook and others. We should be very much part of this discussion as a country that hosts many of these platforms and of course that has a consumer base that uses them all. It is something we have not heard the end of.
The programme for Government commits to investing in a new roads infrastructure to ensure that all parts of Ireland are connected to one another. Two parts of the country that are not very well connected are the north and south banks of the Liffey in Droichead Nua, that is, Newbridge, County Kildare. I scoured the national development plan that was launched yesterday but there is no mention of a new bridge for Newbridge. We need a second bridge to ensure there is sustainable development in the largest town by population in the county. There are three strategic housing developments in Newbridge, which comprise more than 1,100 homes. These homes are badly needed but we also need the infrastructure or we will see the same mistakes repeated. I ask that this does not happen. Will the Government prioritise a new bridge for Newbridge, County Kildare? It is a case of droichead nua do Dhroichead Nua.
Hear, hear. Can the Minister help in this regard?
I thank the Ceann Comhairle.
I do not want to overpromise to bridge that particular gap but a lot of people have asked whether, if their project is not in the national development plan, that means it will not be built or will not happen. The answer to this question is a very strong "No, that is not necessarily the case". There is a significant increase in capital expenditure within this programme. Obviously, when projects are prioritised by local authorities and by Departments, there is no reason they cannot be delivered. They do not necessarily have to be on a list of projects in the document that we launched yesterday.
I thank the Minister. There are three Deputies in the Chamber remaining. If they take 30 seconds each we can take those three questions. Deputy Collins will be first.
I will make my question short. The Whiddy Island disaster took place 42 years ago, when a massive explosion occurred on a French oil tanker, taking the lives of 51 people. On Saturday night we heard the radio documentary "Fire in the Sky", which relived that night for quite a lot of people. It is well known now that no rescue took place because of catastrophic safety failures and that the regulatory system in place in the run-up to the disaster was appalling. The Irish, French and British families concerned have had to live with this, together with the fallout afterwards, with no resolution.
Throughout this horrendous ordeal for the families over the past 42 years, the State has never apologised to these families for the appalling failures in the administration of justice and the failure to implement regulation. Will the Minister speak to the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and issue an apology to the families of the Whiddy Island tragedy today? Will he meet the representatives of the French-Irish Association of Relatives and Friends of the Betelgeuse to help them in their goal to have the High Court change the victim's death certificates to unlawful deaths?
Has the Government confirmed over the past weeks that we are actually trying to defend a tax haven status for big multinational corporations in this country? While the rest of the world has finally recognised that staggeringly profitable corporations making billions in profits should pay a greater contribution, a minimum effective corporate tax rate, Ireland is almost alone in trying to defend the pitiful levels of tax that these corporations pay. How can the Government possibly justify this when these multinationals are robbing citizens of this country and the world of billions in tax revenue that could be going into housing, health, infrastructure and education? The Government is trying to resist efforts to make them pay a little bit more corporate tax. How can the Government possibly justify this?
On the national childcare scheme, we all accept that it is a job activation scheme. The problem is that disadvantaged kids have been getting after-school care and such under the community childcare subvention programme, CCSP. A number of bodies may possibly close in the next while. I have dealt with the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, in this regard. A review of this scheme is ongoing, as is a review of the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, funding but this will not happen until November. We need solutions now. Tusla is a possible referral service, which would be imperfect because not all parents want to deal with it. We now need a directive from the Government to Tusla and we need Tusla to set out a directive or a straightforward roadmap on how children can be referred into the services. Otherwise they will close and kids are going to miss out.
I ask the Minister for a very brief response to each of those questions.
I will address the questions in reverse order. I am aware of the intention to introduce a DEIS-type scheme to ensure that people who are living in areas that are disadvantaged or who perhaps may have very low incomes can ensure that their children can access early learning and childcare services. I am aware that the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, is working on this.
On Deputy Boyd Barrett's question, from what I have seen and from conversations I have had, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, is doing a very good job in defending Ireland's interests, while at the same time recognising the reality of where this debate is moving. I hope the Minister will be able to bring a recommendation to the Government on Thursday on Ireland's approach on international efforts to introduce-----
The French finance minister has said that the decision is already made, by the way. He just said it today.
The French finance minister can say whatever he wants but our Government has not had a recommendation yet as the basis for a decision.
With regard to Deputy Collins' question, I have met many of the families who were deeply impacted by the Whiddy Island disaster, which was an horrific tragedy. Perhaps I will speak with the Deputy offline on what the Deputy is looking for rather than give him a short curt answer here.