Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Ceisteanna (1, 2, 3, 4)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

1. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the status of the programme for Government. [21779/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Alan Kelly

Ceist:

2. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the status of the programme for Government. [23207/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Mary Lou McDonald

Ceist:

3. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the status of the programme for Government. [25951/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Mick Barry

Ceist:

4. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach the status of the programme for Government. [26518/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (19 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4 together.

Government has been working hard to implement the commitments in the programme for Government across a wide range of issues in all Departments. The ten Cabinet committees established by this Government reflect the full range of policy areas that it will work on during its lifetime as set out in the programme for Government. Cabinet committees meet regularly to continue this work. Strategy statements which have been prepared by Departments reflect the key national priorities as outlined in the programme for Government.

My Department has been involved in progressing some key programme for Government commitments in recent months, including ongoing monitoring and management of the impact of Covid-19 on the provision of both Covid and non-Covid healthcare; the establishment of a shared island unit in my Department; the establishment of a unit in my Department to help support social dialogue; an ongoing major review of the national development plan; the development of a national economic recovery plan; the development of a well-being framework for Ireland; the publication of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill; engagement with European Union leaders to advance a range of high-level objectives in the programme for Government, in particular relating to Brexit, Covid, the European Union budget and the European Union green agenda; implementation of Global Ireland 2025; establishment of a future of media commission; completion of the work of the Citizens’ Assembly on gender equality; and ongoing oversight of the implementation of A Policing Service for our Future, the Government’s plan to implement the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.

Government will continue to work hard to ensure delivery on every aspect of the programme for Government.

The programme for Government stated explicitly that the annexation of Palestinian territory by Israel was a crime against international law and that the Government would respond appropriately using its positions. What will the Government's response be? I believe it should expel the Israeli ambassador and impose sanctions immediately. Israel is not just annexing territory. It is ethnically cleansing Palestinian land, most recently the ethnic cleansing of 28 families from Sheikh Jarrah, inciting the current escalation. As we speak it is committing war crimes for the fourth time in the past decade against the people of Gaza. It is involved in systematic apartheid policies. At what point will the Government expel the Israeli ambassador and acknowledge that the apartheid state of Israel is a rogue state that needs to be isolated?

This morning I heard credible reports that US military aircraft, en route to Israel, refuelled at Baldonnel Airport. I do not know if that report is true, but it comes from credible sources. Does the Taoiseach know anything about that? Will he find out if it is true? Let us not forget that the US is arming the Israeli regime, giving it the missiles to fire at people in Gaza. It is absolutely shocking if US military aircraft are having their planes refuelled in Irish airports and that we would in any way be facilitating the horror that is going on in Palestine.

With recent developments and new policy commitments on housing, are there plans to review what the Government has put down in the programme for Government in respect of housing? Things may have changed. The Government is obviously going to make an announcement on a package that has been agreed at Cabinet today. Will the Government be changing the commitments on housing that it has written into the programme for Government?

It is reported by Simon Carswell in The Irish Times today that the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, is about to sell 69 apartments in Malahide to a UK investment fund. Does the Taoiseach agree with this? Are there plans to ensure apartments like these can also be offered to first-time buyers or to older people who are downsizing? Is it Government policy now that apartments should be rented and not owner-occupied? What is it going to do in this area?

The Business Post reported that Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council is about to lease an estate of 39 homes over 25 years at €2,500 per month. Local councillors were not even told about the deal. What is the Government's view and position on this? Does this apply to other deals? My colleague, Councillor Martha Fanning, had no idea about this even though she is the chairperson of the housing policy committee.

My final question relates to Project Ireland 2040 and the planning framework. We have gone through the Covid-19 period and hopefully we are coming out of it. It has been the biggest disruptor our country will ever see. Project Ireland 2040 will surely have to be rewritten. Our priorities have changed. Surely there will have to be a refocus on it. The process by which the planning framework is working in county development plans is going to become one of the biggest headaches the Government has ever had to deal with. What does the Government propose to do on that? There are serious issues coming down the line as to the restrictions and the profiling that will have to go on in many county development plans because of the way in which this has been interpreted and implemented. I can tell the House it is going to be a problem.

The Citizens' Assembly on gender equality made a number of recommendations that complement and supplement the programme for Government commitments on tackling domestic, sexual, and gender-based violence and supporting victims and their children. Is it the intention of the Government to consider the implementation of these recommendations in tandem with its own work?

The Taoiseach is aware that Tusla's review of emergency accommodation is due for publication. There are nine counties with no refuge provision. Community and voluntary services continue to bridge the gap left by the State's failure to meet its emergency accommodation obligations as per the Istanbul Convention. How quickly can we expect the Government to increase such accommodation and the necessary wraparound services following the publication of this review?

An audit of the segmentation of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence responsibilities across Government Departments and agencies is also ongoing, as is an update to the national strategy. Can the Taoiseach inform the House when he expects the audit and the strategy to be completed? How will he approach their implementation?

We are also waiting on domestic violence paid leave proposals as well as legislation to provide for domestic homicide reviews, which is a very important measure. Deputy O'Reilly and I have introduced a robust piece of paid leave legislation and the Government should proactively engage with it.

The current cross-departmental approach to domestic and gender-based violence robs us of a single point of responsibility and accountability within the Government. As a result, we have a disjointed system of policy development, funding, service provision and legislation. Therefore, we continue to fail victims and their families. Will the Taoiseach consider establishing a unit within his Department to oversee the implementation of the programme for Government commitments and the outcomes of the various reviews and audits that are currently under way, as I have described, along with the Citizens' Assembly recommendations?

We have two further questioners and we need to allow time for the Taoiseach to respond. I call Deputy Barry now followed by Deputy Paul Murphy.

Last night in Limerick more than 70 gardaí, including 20 members of the public order unit, were mobilised to try to help strike-breakers to pass picket lines organised by Debenhams workers. The gardaí sealed off two entire blocks of the city centre street and unsuccessfully attempted to kettle the workers and their supporters. They also pulled a worker with more than 40 years of service towards this, treating him like a criminal. I am delighted to report that the workers and their supporters mobilised in such numbers and with such determination that this strike-breaking attempt failed for the third time.

Last week I asked the Taoiseach about a similar Garda mobilisation in Waterford. He said that he was not aware of it and would look into it. There have been, by my estimate, more than 300 gardaí mobilised for seven separate attempts at strike-breaking - in Limerick on three occasions and in Waterford, Tralee, Henry Street in Dublin and Blanchardstown in Dublin. I believe that the Taoiseach is very well aware of this.

The programme for Government states:

Protecting citizens is the founding duty of the state and policing has a defining role in that basic function. An Garda Síochána has a strong tradition of policing by consent with deep rooted connections in every community that enable it to carry out its work fairly and effectively.

I have a question for the Taoiseach in light of the difference between what is on the printed page and the reality in Limerick, Waterford, Tralee and around the country in recent weeks. Why are gardaí, who are being paid by the taxpayer to fight crime, being used as a battering ram against working people in a legitimate industrial dispute?

I ask that Deputy Murphy might be brief, please.

The terror, murder and collective punishment being inflicted by the Israeli state on the Palestinian people is horrific. Bombs are raining down in Gaza. I have been there and I have seen with my own two eyes just how densely populated it is. The consequences are that over 60 children have been murdered, over 200 Palestinian people have been killed and over 1,000 people have been injured. Ethnic cleansing is taking place in East Jerusalem. Within the borders of Israel, pogroms organised by far-right activists are taking place against Palestinians. The Taoiseach said earlier that it has to stop but is the Irish Government going to do anything to attempt to put pressure on the Israeli state to stop? Will he expel the Israeli ambassador? The Minister for Foreign Affairs says that this is a flawed idea and that it would not make any difference. Would it not send a very clear message that would resound around the world, of opposition to the murderers who make up the Israeli Government and of solidarity with the Palestinian people?

The Taoiseach has four minutes to respond now.

I state again that what is going on within Gaza and Palestine is absolutely unacceptable and unjustifiable. In my view, there has to be a ceasefire. Both sides should immediately cease hostilities. In particular, I have condemned Hamas for firing rockets indiscriminately over the border into Israel which has also resulted in deaths and injuries.

There is no equivalence-----

The Israeli Government response has been wholly disproportionate and wrong, in my view. I have said this. I have been in Gaza. One cannot bomb Gaza in the manner it has been bombed without killing innocent civilians - children, men and women. That has happened as a result of the decisions of the Israeli Government. It is wrong and it should stop. Both sides should stop - both Hamas and the Israeli Government - in the interests of innocent civilians. From any humanitarian perspective, what is going on is shocking. The world is watching with horror at what is unfolding. There is abject poverty in Gaza. The long-standing situation there is that it is essentially being hemmed in from the rest of the world. Proper access has not been allowed to a whole range of activities that would be normal in most people's lives.

The European Union and others have supported the region with particularly the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, which provides education, food supports and a range of other services for Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza. That is good and constructive support but there comes a time when the EU and others have to call it as it is, in terms of the unjustifiable and disproportionate approach by the Israeli Government to this issue. That said, I do not agree with the idea of breaking diplomatic relations as somehow being an answer or response to this.

In my view, diplomatic relations maintain the channels of communication and engagement with governments that you may disagree with or that might have different perspectives on issues but, fundamentally, we should maintain diplomatic relations with as many countries as we possibly can on an ongoing basis. If one was to follow the scenario the Deputy is opening up through to its logical conclusion, there is a lot more out there in the world that we could be looking at in the context of that sort of an approach. Having been Minister for Foreign Affairs, it does not make a whole lot of sense to me. It would be a 24-hour wonder and would achieve very little, if anything.

It makes sense if you are a Palestinian.

No, the expulsion of an ambassador does not make sense. What matters to a Palestinian is the sustained support that successive Irish Governments have given through Irish Aid and UNRWA.

It worked with apartheid South Africa.

We have done that as a Government and Europe has as well, on its credit side. It is difficult to get cohesion across the EU on this issue but it has supported, from a humanitarian perspective, social, educational and community projects right across Gaza and the West Bank, and governance as well, to try to support the creation of a two-state solution, which we have always believed is the ultimate answer to this terrible thing.

In terms of the housing issues raised by Deputy Kelly, aspects of the programme for Government are always being looked at and we are open to new innovations and new changes. When I said that housing was the number one priority for the Government, it means we will look at everything, in all areas, to see if we can create additional housing supply. We are not supportive of existing supply of housing being bought up by investor funds in any shape or form-----

I thank the Taoiseach. We have to move to Question No. 5. We are out of time.