Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Vol. 1021 No. 6

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

Speaking on the radio yesterday morning, the Taoiseach described questions regarding ownership of the new national maternity hospital as a “red herring”. That is a very unfair characterisation of very genuine concerns that are grounded in decades of women’s experiences of healthcare in this State. The Taoiseach's dismissal of these concerns is particularly disappointing given that his comments pre-empt Oireachtas examination of the Government’s proposal. The process and debate to take place this week at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and in the Dáil are undermined when the head of Government brushes aside the central questions before the scrutiny even begins. Why bother allowing for the scrutiny of the proposals at all if the Taoiseach presents the current deal as a fait accompli and says the Government will be "pressing ahead" with the plan regardless of the outcome of Oireachtas deliberations? That is the wrong way to deal with this issue.

The Government proposes to invest between €800 million and €1 billion of taxpayers’ money in building a new and much-needed national maternity hospital. It simply makes sense that the land on which that hospital is to be built is owned by the State. This means a very clean transaction whereby the land is transferred directly to the State. That was the original plan so why do we get this convoluted, messy ownership structure instead? The answer to that question is all about the financial power of the land. It is about the St. Vincent’s Healthcare Group retaining control of the land so it can use its value as leverage for future financial transactions. It is about the private interests of this group trumping the public good and a Government that is willing to let this happen. The Taoiseach can talk all day about the land costing only a tenner a year but what he does not say is that the St. Vincent’s Healthcare Group retains the right to impose a rent of €850,000 a year if a dispute about the operation of the hospital arises in the future. This gives the private landlord significant leverage and control and it most certainly does not amount to public ownership, as the Taoiseach has claimed.

Genuine concerns have also been expressed about the lack of clarity regarding the definition of "clinical appropriateness" in the legal documents. While the Minister says he has legal guarantees, it will be judges and not politicians who will adjudicate on any potential dispute and any legal interpretation.

For this and other reasons, the ownership of the site is not a red herring. Everybody wants this new hospital and we want it built quickly, but we need to get it right.

Is é an rud is ciallmhaire ná go dtógfar an t-ospidéal máithreachais nua ar thalamh poiblí. Is é seo an bealach is fearr chun na himní atá ar dhaoine maidir le neamhspleáchas cliniciúil an ospidéil a laghdú agus chun infheistíocht shuntasach an Stáit i gcúram sláinte forásach nua-aimseartha do mhná a chosaint.

This convoluted and complex ownership model is the wrong footing on which to proceed. What we need is a public maternity hospital built on public land, and this can still be done. Will the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Health now get around a table with St. Vincent’s Healthcare Group and convince it to transfer the land directly to the State, as was the original plan and the original commitment from the Sisters of Charity?

The one thing that undermines public debate on this issue is honesty of approach. I genuinely say we need honesty and we need a full focus on the facts. We should not play politics with this because it is too important. It is too important for women's health and for premature babies who will be born into the future and need a first-class neonatal facility. That is what the new hospital will do. It will go from 35 neonatal beds to 50 and there will not be the same confinement that we have in the current hospital. The current hospital is not fit for purpose. Since 2013, this has been mooted. We are now in 2022, nearly nine years later, and Deputy McDonald wants to delay it another few years and does not seem to want to get what is a modern maternity hospital built. It will take some years yet to get it built once we get sanction.

Honesty is important in the debate. For the Deputy to come in and suggest that a 300-year lease at a nominal rate of €10 a year is somehow not ownership is being dishonest. I have to be clear about that. I do not like saying this-----

-----but there is only so much nonsense that can be accommodated here in respect of the ownership question. The ownership is not an issue here. If Deputy McDonald does not listen to me, that is fine, but listen to the senior midwives at the hospital, who have asked all politicians, Government and Opposition, to listen to the clinicians in the hospital. I have the letter here from the senior midwives of the National Maternity Hospital, who are very clear that future service users require and deserve state-of-the-art infrastructure and facilities, and who state: “We urge all political parties in Government and Opposition to listen to the clinical staff delivering the service and to approve this project without further delay”. It was signed by Mary Brosnan, the director of midwifery and nursing, and quite a number more, including other assistant directors of midwifery and nursing. These are people who were there at the coalface every day, dealing with the clinical realities and the unacceptable situation at Holles Street right now.

In this morning’s Irish Examiner, for example, there was a column written by Fergus Finlay, a member of the HSE board who gave some illustration of the detailed consideration given by the HSE board and its audit and risk committee in respect of this hospital, and all of the documentation and the guarantees. He is a person, irrespective of politics, who would not sign off on any deal that would compromise healthcare for women or that would allow any religious ethos to have any influence whatsoever on a maternity hospital.

I ask Deputy McDonald to accept that. I mean, it is 300 years at a tenner a year. The Deputy mentioned the condition. The condition is that they have to build a maternity hospital, essentially. That is what we are all about - building a maternity hospital. What other business has the HSE if it is not going to build a maternity hospital here or facilitate the construction of a maternity hospital with neonatal? Let us be honest - it is €10 per year for 300 years. That is the deal. It is leasehold. It is not going to be a cardiology hospital. It is not going to be any other type of hospital. It is going to be a maternity hospital.

I am pleading for people to at least read the documentation, not try to distort it. I am not saying Deputy MacDonald has distorted the documentation but quite a lot of people have. What Deputy McDonald comes up with now is "convoluted this" and "convoluted that"-----

It is convoluted.

-----but the bottom line is this: it is not our land and never was our land.

We now have a gift of the land, essentially, for 300 years at a tenner a year. That is the reality. Deputy Cullinane understands leasehold too. He knows damn well what I am saying is the truth. What I am saying is the truth-----

If it was, we would be the landowners.

-----but for politics and for fighting other battles-----

Other battles are being fought here through this hospital issue. I am concerned and focused entirely on women and premature babies who will be born in the future.

Can we stick to the allocated time, please?

They need the best healthcare we can give them. This is the best opportunity we can take to give them that.

Let us have facts and honesty then, shall we? Holles Street is certainly not fit for purpose. It is not fit for purpose because of underinvestment by Government after Government.

The Taoiseach was the Minister for Health.

By the way, it is even worse than just that. It is not just Holles Street. The Rotunda Hospital and all of our maternity services are similarly under pressure and, similarly, Government after Government looked the other way.

Sinn Féin campaigned against investment for the Rotunda Hospital.

What makes it even worse again is that Government after Government in the history of this State colluded with religious dogma to deny us, as women, what we were entitled to by way of healthcare. When we raise these legitimate, well-founded questions in a spirit of honesty, we do that borne of bitter experience and a determination that that will never happen again.

The Taoiseach has talked about a tenner a year for 300 years. He is trying to pass that off as public ownership. He says the land was gifted.

The crux of this issue is that the land has not been gifted.

Let me put my question again, a Cheann Comhairle.

I ask the Deputy to put her question because she is over time.

I ask the Taoiseach, along with the Tánaiste and the Minister of Health, to go back to St. Vincent's Healthcare Group, which the Taoiseach says has no----

-----ulterior motive in the building of this hospital. Let us take it on its word and tell it to make this a clean transaction and gift and transfer that site to the State. In one fell swoop-----

The time is up.

-----all of our concerns would be resolved. Will the Taoiseach do that, yes or no?

The bottom line is that it is ownership by the State of this hospital. The Deputy just refuses to accept that and is creating an issue that does not merit the prioritisation she has given it in the context of this debate. A 300-year lease at €10 a year is ownership by any other name. That is a fact. Anybody who understands anything about property law knows that.

The real issue is this. The Deputy has identified instances in terms of investment in healthcare. We want to make investment. This Government has been in place for two years. This represents a significant advance on what was put on the table in 2016 by the previous Government in the Mulvey agreement. This is a very significant advance in terms of the constitution of the hospital, the operational licence from the HSE to the hospital, the representation from the State via the Minister's three nominees-----

Why not go the full way?

-----and all of the legal guarantees that are there in terms of clinical, financial and operational independence of the hospital. Deputy McDonald knows all of that but it suits the Opposition to delay this project, it seems at this stage.

How are we doing that?

I do not know, other than politics. The Deputy is playing politics with every issue that comes before the House. Whatever the issue, she just wants to weigh up how she can undermine the Government of the day.

The Government is well fit to undermine itself.

It does not even have to be the maternity hospital. She cannot have it both ways all of the time.

We have to get moving. We should get the hospital built. It is the best thing to do and we have the guarantees to underpin it.

The women of Ireland require us to conduct our business in an orderly fashion on their behalf.

Perhaps the Taoiseach will answer the question.

Developments over recent days have just compounded our concerns about the proposed new national maternity hospital. Our concerns persist. They are valid and legitimate concerns that remain around the ownership, control and governance of the proposed hospital. The core question for the Labour Party remains that of ownership. It is freehold ownership. We are talking about ownership in perpetuity. That is the difference between public ownership in perpetuity and the leasehold arrangement, a "complicated" arrangement, as Mr. Fergus Finlay describes it, that is currently on the table.

The core point for us in the Labour Party is that we want to see a publicly-owned hospital built on publicly-owned land. That does not mean land that is held on a 300-, 200- or 100-year leasehold where St. Vincent's Healthcare Group is the landlord and the HSE the tenant. It does not mean land that is privately owned by a successor company to a religious organisation.

It is publicly-owned land that we seek. At this stage, in 2022-----

It was addressed in 2016.

-----we believe the hospital must be built on publicly-owned land. Without that freehold public ownership, our concerns about control and governance remain. They are concerns that arise from any close reading of the text of the documents that have been published. They are around the €850,000 penalty rent clause, the right of the landlord to appoint directors, the right of those directors to nominate a rotating chairperson and the language of "clinically appropriate", language that is not used to qualify the Minister's "Golden Share" in clause 5, but which is used elsewhere in the document. These concerns have not been addressed in recent days and we were not reassured by the interview with the deputy chairperson of the current board of the National Maternity Hospital.

We ask this question again. If a 299-year lease is ownership in all but name, as the Taoiseach and the Government say it is-----

-----then why not put the matter beyond legal doubt and place the site in public ownership? Seek that the site be gifted to the State or to be sold at a nominal fee to the State, as was the original plan. Why, back in 2017, did the then Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, decide to proceed with this convoluted legal arrangement, rather than insisting then, as the Labour Party said he should, that the site be transferred into public ownership? Why, in 2017, was a decision made to proceed with this convoluted Byzantine legal arrangement, which throws into doubt issues around a lingering ethos? Why was the decision made then to proceed, rather than simply insisting on the land being transferred into public ownership? Why did the State put aside the question of a compulsory purchase order mechanism? Why did the State lose that leverage by which it would have been possible to acquire the site in perpetuity in public ownership? These are the key, valid questions that we in the Labour Party have. For us, the site must be in public ownership. It is simply not good enough that we are contemplating, in 2022, building an €800 million or €1 billion public hospital on land that will remain in private ownership by a landlord and that will not be in the ownership of the State in perpetuity.

I was not in government in 2017.

I am asking about this Government.

I have been in the Government for the last two years and I am determined to get things done-----


Deputies, please.

-----in this country, and not go on with endless prevarication and clouding of the issue so the hospital does not get built. That will be the outcome, if the Opposition wants it its way. We do not own that land and we cannot dictate what happens to it. If people do not want to cede ownership, they do not want to cede ownership. By the way, I do not see the logic of a compulsory-----

Deputy, please.

-----purchase order, costing a significant amount of taxpayers' money, being better value than a 300-year lease at €10 a year. I do not understand why the resources that would be wasted on a CPO would not go into the hospital instead. I do not get the logic of the proposition around the CPO five years on. The church is not involved in this, good, bad or indifferent. Surely the Deputy will take the words of Fergus Finlay regarding his experience of what has gone on here. He stated: "Nobody will have a controlling interest, and nobody will have a beneficial interest, except that the minister for health will have a 'golden share'", which protects the reserved powers of the new maternity hospital contained in the constitution. There is a legal constitution there now, which has been transparently published and which gives real protection in terms of the clinical, financial and operational independence of the hospital, but above all that states all services lawfully permitted in the State today and well into the future will be provided.

The Government has no agenda other than to provide the best of healthcare for women in the 21st century and for premature babies as early as 23 weeks who deserve better conditions than they currently have. We are talking about Nightingale wards, with curtains separating mothers at the moment, while in intensive care situations. We are talking about clinical transfers from one hospital to another across the streets of Dublin. Surely that is not acceptable?

There has to be a balance and a degree of perspective about this, which I think is now missing. One would honestly believe that the Government has some hidden, covert agenda to create a healthcare environment or a new hospital that would somehow deny people access to the laws that many of us worked for and voted for, in terms of changing the Constitution or enacting legislation in this House to ensure that women had all lawful services available to them. There is no Government agenda towards that end. There is no agenda here either from the HSE, which is giving the operational licence to the hospital.

It is the HSE that insisted on the language of "clinically appropriate", not anybody else, because it does not want any other type of hospital built other than a maternity hospital. We find consistently on this side of the House our bona fides and our integrity questioned in relation to this, not by the Deputy, I accept, but by many in the debate. There needs to be some sense of calm perspective applied and less clouding of the issues. I say that with respect.

I am seeking clarity on the issues and I am certainly not questioning the Taoiseach's bona fides. All of us want to see a new, state of the art, modern National Maternity Hospital but we want to see it done right. We do not want to see the mistakes of the past repeated whereby the State has poured millions of euro into maintaining publicly funded hospitals and schools on land that remains in the ownership of religious orders or their successor lay-run companies. That is what we do not want to see. We are happy to engage with the Government. We are glad that the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, is engaging with us and indeed we will be meeting with him tomorrow for a briefing. We want to ensure that we get this right and that we move away from the mistakes of the past.

There is clearly an agenda lying behind the decision not to gift the land to the State or sell it at a reduced rate. It is not an agenda of the Government or of the HSE, but there is an agenda and a rationale, presumably, behind the decision by the current owners of the land not to transfer it to the State for a nominal sum or indeed to gift it to the State. That is the question we are asking. I do not think any of us on the Opposition benches have got a satisfactory answer as to why the land could not simply be transferred in that way. If there is a willingness to transfer it on a 299-year lease, why not put the matter beyond doubt and provide it to the State in perpetuity?

The previous agreement, by the way, had a much lesser lease period. There was very little shouting and roaring about it, actually, after the Mulvey agreement.

That is because Fianna Fáil was the Opposition then.

There was very little shouting and roaring. The Deputy was in opposition too.

We protested in 2016.

The Deputy will jump up and down when it suits and when the pendulum swings from opinion poll to opinion poll. That is the modus operandi of Deputy Carthy. Deputy Bacik asked a question.

We have consistently raised this for five years.

I want to make the point that reference was made to the €850,000 and so on. That only applies if the building is sold or turned into something other than a maternity hospital. The whole purpose of seeking the lease was to build a maternity hospital. The whole idea behind going to St. Vincent's in the first place was co-location, which derived from medical expertise which said the best way to guarantee the safety of women and newborn babies is to co-locate with a tertiary hospital. In my view, that decision was taken a long time ago. I believe if we try to revisit that decision we really are looking at some greenfield option which would mean taking another ten years to build a hospital. I genuinely say that to the Deputy.

I appeal to the Taoiseach to stop; to stop that side of the House from trying to make us look like we do not give a damn about the maternity and reproductive care of women, that somehow we are delaying it through misinformation, that we are Opposition for the sake of opposition and that we are playing politics with this. Please stop. This is not helping the debate for the ordinary people out there who are interested and who want to know what the hell is going on. Poll after poll has shown that the vast majority of ordinary people do not trust this arrangement. Many are still undecided about whether they trust the Government but the majority does not trust it on this. The women of Ireland do not trust you.

On Saturday outside this House there will be a major protest about this deal with the call that the Taoiseach, the Cabinet, the entire Government and the whole Oireachtas should be screaming at St. Vincent's Holdings and St. Vincent's Healthcare Group to give us the land. They are after all a body that was involved in redress for what happened to the women of this country. There is a legacy and a history and there is a bad taste in our mouths.

The Taoiseach should not tell us we are playing politics with 100 years of attacks against women and their health. If he thinks there is no reason we should not trust him, he should look around him at his Cabinet and his Ministers who voted and campaigned against the repeal referendum, who tried to hold back progress for women. I will remind everybody that the new National Maternity Hospital is not just about delivering babies and good maternity care. It is all about that but it is all about the entire gambit of reproductive rights including abortion and sterilisation.

We have constantly been given guarantees that that would be written into the arrangements of three different boards with three different constitutions, with a plethora of complex intricacies to create a board of management that the Taoiseach is telling us will be guaranteed to deliver and that we do not need to own the land. However, then he says we practically do own the land. If we practically do own it, the best thing for the entire Cabinet to do is to call on St. Vincent's Holdings to gift the land to the people of Ireland and remove the complex, labyrinthine arrangements around the future of maternity and reproductive care for women and girls in this country. We are owed at least that after 100 years of absolutely outrageous persecution of the female sex in this country. We are owed at least the guaranteeing of the future. It will not be guaranteed under these documents. I will get into why in my retort, but I am asking the Taoiseach to please stop accusing us of playing politics and take this debate seriously.

The Deputy should stop accusing members of the Government, who are entitled in a democracy to their points of view on other issues. They are entitled to their views, but the Deputy seeks to blacken people-----

The Deputy just did in her contribution, so she cannot have it both ways. I respect people's views irrespective of what they are. We are in a democracy and I always respect people’s views, particularly in a Parliament. If the Deputy does not trust me, that is fine, but maybe she will trust the clinicians, senior midwives and directors of the hospital, including Mary Brosnan, Martina Carden, Ann Calnan, Geraldine Duffy, Eimir Guinan and Rachel Irwin and Shideh Kiafir. What are they saying? They say they do respect and understand the very genuine fears expressed by many members of the public to their public representatives. They say they know from experience that the full range of maternity and women's health services are all available to women at the National Maternity Hospital. They say they are not limited by any religious ethos and will not be in the future. Future service users, they say, require and deserve state-of-the-art infrastructure and facilities, and they urge all political parties in government and opposition to listen to the clinical staff delivering the service and approve this project without further delay. From earlier correspondence, we know of the desire of about 52 clinicians in Holles Street to get this hospital built and their absolute certainty that all services, including all services concerning reproductive health and the termination of pregnancy, will be provided in the hospital in the future. The clinicians are saying they will be. Not only that, the legal documents that have been published, which people should read and which include the constitution of the hospital and the operational licence that will be granted by the HSE to the new hospital, insist that they must be. There has to be, and is, legally enforceable compliance with the law of the land in terms of services that women are entitled to under the legislation and under the Constitution of the State. That is what all the negotiations to date have provided for. All of the issues have been negotiated for the last seven year in respect of the leasehold and so forth. They are not prepared to give a full freehold title for the land. We should remember this is co-location. The site is within a much larger healthcare site. The optimal value from co-location is related to the very easy access from the delivery rooms in the maternity department to the theatres in St. Vincent's for women who develop complications. Thanks be to God, complications are rare in modern maternal health but they happen. Medical expertise says we should co-locate alongside tertiary hospitals.

The vast majority of what happens within a maternity hospital is the delivery of babies and so forth. We want that to be as healthy and as decent an experience as possible in the 21st century. That is the only agenda that the Government is advancing.

Let us move away from the historical legacy of the religious order's involvement and the mistrust and take at face value what the Taoiseach is saying, that we will effectively own the hospital. The St. Vincent's Healthcare Group fact sheet, which is very useful, asks on page 2: "Who owns the NMH?". It states: "The new NMH DAC will be part of St Vincent’s Healthcare Group."

It asks: "Who owns the land where the NMH [new maternity hospital]...facility will be built?" The reply is: "The land is owned by St. Vincent's Healthcare Group." Why will the national maternity hospital be owned and run by St .Vincent's? One of the reasons it gives is that the floors in the new building, apart from being physically integrated, will have both the national maternity hospital and St. Vincent's University Hospital clinical and non-clinical facilities and that, somehow, it would be really difficult to integrate the care of women on these floors between one set of clinicians and the other unless St. Vincent's Healthcare Group group maintained a serious interest in the new national maternity hospital. Does it maintain it? Yes, it does.

One of the six stipulations for the rent on the land remaining at a tenner a year, rather than going up to a million euro a year, is that the HSE will never attempt to acquire St. Vincent's interest. What happened to Sláintecare? What happened to the aspiration of the State to move away from private, voluntary and two-tier medicine to a fully State-owned, publicly run and controlled health service? That has gone out the window. One of those stipulations will not allow us to do that unless we are prepared to say to St. Vincent's that we will give it a million a year for land on which we build a publicly funded hospital. This does not stack up, and it needs to be answered.

The purpose here is to build a maternity hospital, not any other hospital. The purpose of this exercise was never to buy out St. Vincent's. That was not the objective when Holles Street and St. Vincent's originally decided to co-locate. Let us not mix up the agenda. The agenda was to build a modern national maternity hospital with co-location of expertise in terms of maternal and neonatal care and in respect of a tertiary hospital.

In respect of the ownership, the protections in the constitution of the new hospital and other documents are designed precisely to deal with the issue the Deputy has referenced and prevents SVHG exercising the control which a parent could normally exercise over a subsidiary. St. Vincent's Healthcare Group is specifically obliged to promote the principal objective of the provision of clinically appropriate and legally permissible services and the interests of the national maternity hospital, including the independent exercise by the national maternity hospital and the board of the reserved powers. The reserved powers are in the constitution of the new hospital. The Minister can direct the directors to make sure the reserved powers are implemented, namely, all legal services being made available.

A range of people have been involved in this for quite a number of years in getting to this point, beyond the Mulvey agreement and so forth. To be fair to all concerned, the agenda is, as has been stated by many involved, to provide the best of modern care to women, in terms of maternity care, and newborn babies, in particular premature babies, well into the future. That is the only agenda here.

In early 2021, I raised with the Tánaiste the effect of the proposed ban on the granting of new exploration licences and how it would leave us not only without any energy independence but also undermine investment in all existing exploration licences off the Irish coast, in particular the south-west coast of Ireland and Cork. Sadly, despite a new awareness in the system that we will struggle to keep the lights on this winter, little has changed to provide long-term solutions for our energy needs. The cost of living in Ireland is increasing at an alarming rate. One of the main reasons for the increase is the uncertainty over energy supply and the rising cost of energy and fuels. Not a single person in Ireland is unaffected by rising costs. The direct impact of rising fuel costs on farmers, hauliers and fishermen is pushing up the cost of food. The ongoing situation in Ukraine has highlighted the need for Ireland to be self-sufficient from an energy perspective.

I acknowledge that transitioning to renewable energy sources must be our key focus in the years ahead. However, oil and gas will be required for at least another two to three decades while we transition to renewables. We currently import 100% of our oil and coal and 70% of our gas, but we have a unique opportunity to harness an indigenous supply of oil and gas on our doorstep by optimising the Barryroe field off the south-west coast. This House and our political system need to wake up to the exposure of our security of supply. Ireland must demonstrate that it has taken all of the necessary measures so that, in the event of disruption, we have the capacity to satisfy the demands of our society and economy.

The Kinsale Head gas field and associated satellite field developments transformed Ireland, being the primary enabler for the formation of Bord Gáis Éireann and gas pipeline infrastructure, creating a large number of jobs and stimulating significant industrial development in the Cork area.

The potential in Barryroe could match that of the Kinsale Head gas field, which has delivered big benefits for the local economy and shown what can be achieved. It has been worth up to €30 million a year in wages and the provisions of supplies and services. County Cork, its ports and airports and its skilled workers have shown the infrastructure is there not just to serve the existing fields, which will soon enter wind-down, but to repeat that success all over again. The potential is not just for gas but also to pave the way for wave, solar and offshore wind.

What, if anything, has the Government done about pursuing domestic indigenous energy beyond renewable energy? As I stated, Barryroe is one of the largest undeveloped offshore oil and gas fields in Europe. It has the potential to provide significant strategic and fiscal value to Ireland and to give it security of supply as well as creating substantial employment opportunities. I am aware Providence Resources, under the existing exploration licence, submitted the application for a lease undertaking in April 2021. Ministerial approval of the lease undertaking is urgently required to allow the Barryroe development to move forward. Who is delaying the development going forward? What is the Taoiseach going to do about the ongoing delays in respect of this national asset?

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. As regards the broader picture around energy supply and security of supply, the very strong focus is on renewables and the entire agenda over the next decade or so will be to develop very significantly offshore wind across the east, west and south-west coasts. I believe the next decade will witness transformative investment in wind energy in particular, including offshore wind energy, and will create a lot of economic activity on coasts along the western seaboard and in the south west. The Shannon Estuary and Cork Harbour port will all be significant centres, as will a number of ports on the east coast. I was in Galway recently for a significant conference on the exploitation of offshore wind with a view to bringing economic benefits to that region.

The consensus in the House, as the Deputy may be aware, over the past two Dáileanna has been to move towards renewables and away from fossil fuels in general, and particularly, of course, away from exploration for fossil fuels. I know the Barryroe licence is an existing one, but my understanding is it has been on the go for quite a long time. By that, I mean it is an area that has been drilled and so on. There have been different iterations but nothing has ever come to fruition. I believe there is an application in with the Minister, who, obviously, is considering that application. It is a matter for the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications in respect of that specific application.

More generally, however, the focus is moving towards renewable energy as the basis for our future energy needs. As regards the interim, I accept that gas remains a transitional fuel and will be a transitional fuel well into the future as a backup to wind and that those will be the key aspects. There is no doubt that transitioning to a renewable energy supply base will be challenging in the context of security of supply because the economy has grown at very strong rates in recent years, notwithstanding Brexit and Covid-19, and it continues to grow. In particular, the foreign direct investment side of our economy has been very strong in terms of new investments in life sciences, technology, financial services, all of which is beneficial, and in terms of the digital economy. We accept there are challenges in respect of energy into the future but we are in no doubt that the key focus of the State's activity should be the development of offshore wind at critical mass so that in the mid 2030s the nation should be a net exporter of energy through offshore wind exploitation.

Live, horse, and get grass.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply but, in fairness, the Barryroe field has massive potential. I do not think he has researched it properly. Is he aware that the Minister, Deputy Ryan, has refused point blank to meet with those from the Corrib and Barryroe fields? Does the Taoiseach agree with that? If the Minister will not meet with the industry because of his own beliefs, will the Taoiseach meet with them or consider appointing a Minister for energy who will listen to the alternatives that lie off the Irish coast and will enhance our energy supply? The Taoiseach referred to renewables. It will be a very long time before the fishing boats of Courtmacsherry, Union Hall, Schull and Castletownbere, the farm equipment of the farmers supplying Barryroe Co-operative or the milk tankers delivering milk to the Carbery Group, winner of Cork company of the year, will be powered by renewable energy.

It is time for the Taoiseach and his Fianna Fáil Deputies to leave the fantasy energy world of a failing Green Party and come into the real world of energy security. In July 1942, in this House, his political hero, the great Seán Lemass, the then Minister for Supplies, said:

The facts must be faced. There must be no more self-deception in this country. We have all lived too long in a fool's paradise and it has taken a world war to awaken us to a sense of reality.

In this time of another war, will the Taoiseach take his advice and extend the Barryroe licence?

Thank you, Deputy.

It will give our country energy security and create a significant number of jobs in rural areas in west Cork. It is indeed time to exit this fool's paradise.

I want to pay tribute to the Carbery Group on winning the overall award for Cork company of the year. Maybe the Deputy should take its example because one of the issues the company champions is net zero-emissions farming. It is way ahead of the game in respect of that. That is west Cork leading and a great west Cork company leading. Perhaps the Deputy should discuss that with the company in terms of how it is going about it and doing it.

In respect of the broader issue of self-deception, we got the latest meteorological report yesterday to the Cabinet subcommittee from Professor Peter Thorne. If there is any self-deception going on, it is a collective self-deception about the impact of climate change, how fast it is approaching and how devastating it is going to be for our children's children in particular. It is quite frightening. We need collectively to get a grip of ourselves and not be fighting minor battles about turf. I am honestly saying that.

The time is up, Taoiseach.

If we get into all sorts of high doh about very minor issues relative to the enormity of what is coming our way in respect of climate change, it is quite frightening.


I do not mean that in a way of apportioning blame or anything like that. I am saying that, collectively, we need to get a grip here and we need to move.

What about Seán Lemass?

The time is up.

The Taoiseach did not answer my question.

That concludes Leaders' Questions.