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Departmental Programmes

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 1 March 2022

Tuesday, 1 March 2022

Ceisteanna (12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

12. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he is planning to update his Department's Strategy Statement 2021-2023. [7687/22]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Paul Murphy

Ceist:

13. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he is planning to update his Department's Strategy Statement 2021-2023. [7690/22]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Mary Lou McDonald

Ceist:

14. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the progress of the implementation of the Strategy Statement 2021 of his Department. [9279/22]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Mick Barry

Ceist:

15. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he is planning to update his Department's Strategy Statement 2021-2023. [10110/22]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Alan Kelly

Ceist:

16. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he is planning to update his Department's Strategy Statement 2021-2023. [11354/22]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Cormac Devlin

Ceist:

17. Deputy Cormac Devlin asked the Taoiseach if he will provide a report on the implementation of the Strategy Statement 2021-2023 of his Department. [11429/22]

Amharc ar fhreagra

John Lahart

Ceist:

18. Deputy John Lahart asked the Taoiseach if he will provide a report on the implementation of his Department's Strategy Statement 2021-2023. [11430/22]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (65 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

Sorry for standing up at the wrong time.

The Deputy is as enthusiastic as ever.

The Deputy is eager and he always has been.

The real Taoiseach.

We will switch it around. The Taoiseach can ask us questions.

He does not know the answers to them.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 12 to 18, inclusive, together.

My Department’s Strategy Statement 2021-2023, which was published last year, reflects the role of the Department to support me, as Taoiseach, and the Government in order to ensure a sustainable economy and a successful society, to pursue Ireland’s interests abroad, to implement the Government programme and to build a better future for Ireland and for all of our citizens. My Department will provide progress reports under the six strategic priorities set out in the strategy through the normal annual reporting cycle.

My Department continues to work at the centre to ensure that policies that are developed support the Government’s commitment to develop Ireland in a sustainable way which supports economic development and social progress. It achieves this mainly through the Cabinet committee structure. Through the work of the ten Cabinet committees supported by my Department, a range of cross-Government work has been advanced under the new strategy statement. These include: management of the whole-of-government response to Covid-19, including the national vaccination programme roll-out; the economic recovery plan, which was published in June and the implementation of which is helping to drive a jobs-rich recovery and which will support the economy in transitioning towards a decarbonised and digital economy; publication of the Housing for All plan, an ambitious and far-reaching plan to address the provision of housing, increase the supply of housing and provide a sustainable housing system into the future; supporting the cross-Government work to manage the ongoing economic and political impacts of Brexit; driving delivery of our commitments for a shared island on a whole-of-government basis through the shared island unit in my Department and the shared island fund; supporting Ireland in its role in Europe and the world, including through my participation in the European Council, Ireland’s seat on the UN Security Council and with respect to continuing European Union-United Kingdom discussions on the Northern Ireland protocol; delivery of an initial well-being framework for Ireland and a supporting information hub, which have been developed to better understand and measure our progress as a country; the establishment of a social dialogue unit for my Department, which is working to co-ordinate and support the Government's overall approach to social dialogue; the work of the future media commission, which has now concluded; the completion of the work of the Citizens’ Assembly on gender equality; the launch of the revised national development plan, which sets out the road map for investment of €165 billion in new and upgraded infrastructure over the decade ahead; supporting the development of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2021 and the Climate Action Plan 2021, which are key elements in a suite of measures introduced to fundamentally alter Ireland’s approach to climate change; and four legislative programmes, details of which have been published, to set out priority legislation across the Government.

My Department’s priorities for 2022 include: a continued focus on the whole-of-government response to Covid-19; economic recovery and investment; driving delivery of the housing plan and measures on climate action; progressing health and wider social reforms; European Union engagement; Northern Ireland; and establishing two citizens’ assemblies to run concurrently, one of which will be on biodiversity and another that will consider the type of directly elected mayor and local government structures that are best suited to Dublin.

Under the Public Service Management Act, 1997, Departments must prepare a new statement every three years or on the appointment of a new Minister.

The Taoiseach’s Department's strategy statement lists a number of priorities. Priority E is, “Strengthening Ireland’s place in Europe and the world”. In the context of the current crisis, invasion and war in Ukraine, I want to know what that means. What is our role in this? Obviously, all of us believe that Putin should be stopped, that he should leave Ukraine and that his invasion is inexcusable. Yet, I worry deeply about the comments by the Tánaiste earlier, which were about closer co-operation with the project of European militarisation and about the comments made by the Taoiseach, in which he essentially absolved NATO as some sort of defensive alliance-----

That is exactly what it is.

-----and which failed to acknowledge, for example, that it conducted a bloody invasion and occupation very recently in Afghanistan and that it bombed Libya. I wonder is the Taoiseach's opposition to warmongers like Putin selective insofar as we seem to oppose some warmongers but not others. We had briefing today with people from Yemen. They asked why no action is being taken over the role of the United States, Britain and France in arming the Saudi dictatorship to allow it to conduct a disastrous war that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in Yemen.

We are running of time.

The world is horrified by Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, by the war crimes which are now being committed and by the threat of this spiralling into a full-scale hot war between nuclear powers. We unreservedly condemn this brutal invasion and we demand that Putin withdraw from Ukraine, immediately and unconditionally. I want to pay tribute to the anti-war protesters in Russia who are under conditions of horrendous repression. More than 1 million people have signed a petition, tens of thousands have come out onto the streets and in excess of 6,000 have been arrested. Will the Taoiseach join with me in calling for those prisoners to be released?

I want to ask if the Taoiseach agrees with the Tánaiste’s comments, which clearly point towards an undermining of Ireland’s long-standing position of military neutrality? The Tánaiste said, “I do see us getting more involved in European defence”. On Permanent Structured Cooperation, PESCO, he says that it offers one route to deeper involvement in European defence. He talked about removing the requirement for the UN Security resolution for Ireland’s participation in military operations. Does the Taoiseach oppose the very cynical attempt to use people's horror at what is happening in Ukraine to drive through a Fine Gael agenda to abandon neutrality and align with NATO?

There is a commitment in the strategy statement to focus on building stronger and safer communities through reforms in the areas of housing, policing, community safety and community development. The strategy makes a specific reference to the implementation of policing reforms and to the Dublin north-east inner city initiative. The Taoiseach met with members of the North Inner City Community Coalition last month to discuss the increase of violent crime in the area. The coalition emphasised to the Taoiseach the urgent need for An Garda Síochána to grip the escalating crime and the drug-related violence and intimidation that is rapidly becoming normalised in some parts of the city.

I believe the Taoiseach recognises the need for strong community engagement, increased community safety and enhanced youth services. What progress has the Government made on these over the past month? In his public comments after the meeting, the Taoiseach specifically mentioned that additional outreach and information programmes would be rolled out, as well as youth justice and other interventions. What progress has been made on these initiatives? What agency has responsibility for their delivery? Will the Taoiseach provide a briefing on these measures and on the additional policing resources agreed between the Minister for Justice and the Garda Commissioner? Dubliners need reassurance that the Government is committed to getting tough on serious and violent crime.

The Department of the Taoiseach is in charge of Ireland's interests abroad. Those interests should have nothing to do with turning a blind eye to racism. The following are the words of Isaac, a Nigerian man trying to get into Poland from Ukraine. He stated that he and his companions had been chased back and hit by police armed with sticks. The Polish Government denies this is happening, but that is disproved by hundreds of videos on social media. The Nigerian Government has recommended that its citizens not try to flee Ukraine via Poland.

Putin's bombs and bullets do not discriminate according to a person's passport or skin colour. All people fleeing the conflict, regardless of nationality, ethnicity or legal status, should be allowed to cross the Polish border and have the right to stay in the European Union. Will the Taoiseach join with me in voicing strong opposition to the racist policy being applied by the Polish state to people fleeing a humanitarian crisis?

What is happening in Ukraine is an absolute disaster. It is a tragedy and an inhumane injustice. Ireland needs to do all it can to help Ukrainians. Bizarrely, dozens of Government Deputies signed a petition to expel the Russian ambassador, yet the Government has said "No" to them. The Deputies, therefore, are in opposition and in government at the same time. It is a strange scenario whereby the Government will not make a decision because it has not got permission from the EU to do so. There is irony in the fact that a sovereign country will not make a decision regarding the Russian ambassador in order to protect the sovereignty of another country.

There have been allegations that the Russian mission in Ireland has a large number of spies here. Is this the case? It has been further alleged that the threat from Russia is particularly high - higher even than that from jihadists or dissident republicans. Is this the case? The Taoiseach stated that he is a realist when it comes to the fact that Russian spies are in Ireland, which amounts to an admission that they are here. Is that not reason enough to expel the Russian mission?

I thank the Taoiseach for his update on the implementation of his Department's Strategy Statement 2021-2023.

This morning, the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, made an impassioned plea to the European Parliament during which he called for support from his European neighbours as his country resists Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine. It is disappointing to see reports of a number of Irish MEPs, including Mick Wallace, Clare Daly, Luke 'Ming' Flanagan and Sinn Féin's Chris MacManus, supporting an amendment before the European Parliament that would delay Ukraine's accession to the EU. Will the Taoiseach advise whether Ireland will support Ukraine's accession to the EU and indicate what practical supports Ireland can give as the Ukrainian people fight for their lives and their independence?

I thank the Deputies for raising those issues. To respond to Deputy Boyd Barrett in respect of what Ireland's place in Europe means, it means that from the outset of this crisis we have decided to take a proactive role in supporting a unified response from the 27 member states of the European Union to Vladimir Putin's assault on the Ukrainian people. As I said at the European Council meeting, it meant we wanted the most comprehensive, wide-ranging, robust set of sanctions that were possible. That was the statement I outlined, and I made it clear at the meeting as well. We supported the conclusions that had been put together by the European Union, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and other like-minded democracies that uphold universal values of free media, free speech, freedom of association, democracy, the territorial integrity of a country, sovereignty and self-determination. Those values are what European democracies support and we are going to be proactive in supporting them.

I take issue with the moral equivalence the Deputy draws, and has been drawing over successive weeks with other Deputies, between what Vladimir Putin is doing and the actions of the member states of NATO. It is fundamentally wrong.

I will tell the Deputy why. Every country-----

Yemeni lives are less important.

Every country in Europe, irrespective of whether it is a member of NATO, did not want the war and did everything possible to prevent the war, such as the German Chancellor at the eleventh hour going again to Russia. Anyone who knows the German-Russian relationship knows that Germany has tried everything, including the diplomatic channel and every other channel available to it. Germany has tried everything.

France has tried everything. Emmanuel Macron, with his country’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union, has tried everything, and the Deputy does not give credit for that or even acknowledge it. He calls those leaders warmongers on the same level as Putin. I think that is nonsense.

Yes, because they are selling guns to the Saudis.

It is nonsense.

Deputy Boyd Barrett’s approach is all wrong and it undermines the broader unity of purpose here.

In respect of the wider issue, for 20 years, irrespective of what the Deputy says, the western presence in Afghanistan gave some light to the women of Afghanistan through access to education and so on. Now they have nothing-----

Hundreds of thousands of people were killed.

(Interruptions).

There is no question that it was better to free Afghanistan from the clutches of the Taliban and other extremists who are now back.

Afghanistan was robbed of its gold just last week.

We need to be crystal clear and consistent. This idea of attacking pro forma or in a formulaic way – I am not saying every Deputy is doing that - the Russian aggression and then pivoting to attacking NATO and other countries as being the real culprits is unacceptable. Morally, I cannot stand over it without calling it out. Too much of that has been going on in this House in recent months-----

We cannot but call out the Government's double standards.

The Deputy needs to stand up and be counted and call this out, without equivocating on it or trying to dilute it-----

Does the Taoiseach support Amnesty's recommendations for sanctions against Israel?

To return to my main point, war crimes are being committed and the security architecture has changed because of Putin's actions. I listened to what the Tánaiste said; he referenced Irish military neutrality. Equally, however, the global system of a rules-based, multilateral order has been turned upside down by Vladimir Putin, and that has implications. One issue I observe is the vulnerability of Europe. The European Union cherishes democracy, social systems, education, open and free trade and so on. All of that is now vulnerable. Given the scale of Putin's forces on the European Continent, be it naval, the air force or the more than 150,000 troops with missiles and every type of advanced weapon, can we honestly say it will not go beyond Ukraine? Talk to people in Estonia, the other Baltic countries or Poland. They do not see NATO as a warmonger. I said this in response to the Deputy last week. The grandmother of the Prime Minister of Estonia was deported to Siberia when Stalin took over after the Nazis. Her mother was six months old at the time. Estonia said after 1941 that it would never be alone again. That is why it joined the European Union and NATO. It gives them some semblance of security-----

Taoiseach, we are over time.

The Deputy needs to get real about people on the borders of Russia-----

NATO is not their friend.

-----what they are facing and the fears and anxieties they experience.

We are way over time.

(Interruptions).

What about the Russian spies?

There has to be a comment on what is happening on the Polish border.

There were a number of-----

Poland has accepted more than 100,000 migrants from Ukraine.

In the past 24 hours.

(Interruptions).

That is scandalous.

(Interruptions).

Please. I will let the Taoiseach reply but we are way over time. There are a number of questions to be answered. I ask the Taoiseach to address the questions.

I think I have dealt with the issues raised by Deputy Boyd Barrett.

To respond to Deputy Barry, I accept, that war crimes are being committed as we speak. All those within Moscow protesting against the Russian aggression should be freed. The persecution that is continuing against anyone who protests in Russia against Government policy is absolutely scandalous. I support the Deputy entirely in calling that out and calling for those prisoners to be released.

PESCO is an important facility that we have joined up to. Cybersecurity is a significant issue. Ireland will not deal with cybersecurity on its own.

It did not do us any good.

Ireland needs to work with other European countries in terms of collectively responding to cybersecurity attacks that have the capacity to paralyse nations. Last evening, I read some reports coming back to us from our missions in Germany. There is significant alarm and anxiety - this was in advance of the war - about potential cyberattacks on German infrastructure. We had it last year in the context of our health service. The cyberattack here really caused enormous damage to our health service to our health service.

And the case of the Russian spies in Dublin.

In response to Deputy McDonald, there is an increased Garda presence in the area of the north-east inner city, strong support for the pilot north inner city local community safety partnership, an educational bursary for local gardaí, a community agency to enhance skills and, as she will be aware, the completion of the refurbishment of Fitzgibbon Garda Station. There is much more in the context of education, training and employment.

On Deputy Tóibín's issue, I made the point that we are not seeking permission from the European Union. We are entitled to take any decision we like in respect of diplomatic channels - ending them, reducing them or whatever. As I have stated consistently from the beginning, the strongest response from Europe is to be united.

There was a delay in the context of Russian planes

Never has the European Union been more united and ensured a more speedier response-----

The opposite policy.

-----with great determination to apply unprecedented levels of sanctions in the areas of finance and banking that no one comprehended a week ago. We do not need permission to do anything, other than what we said to the House. In the interests of Irish citizens in Russia or Ukraine, we believe keeping channels open matters in terms of helping those who could be in jeopardy. It also helps in terms of information, knowledge and communicating our position on key events.

It is an easy thing to do in one sense, but we need calm heads as we navigate our way through what will be a terrible humanitarian crisis that we will have to deal with. We have to be generous in responding to that humanitarian crisis, but it is a serious one. We have people now in Ukraine who will need our help - Irish citizens in hospitals, etc.

The Russian spy issue.

That is why we have to proceed carefully in relation to that matter.

In response to Deputy Barry, obviously, we neither support nor have any evidence of the application of any racist approach to facilitating migration into Poland.

Look at your phone. It is all over it.

What we have evidence of is 100,000 people so far have been facilitated by the Polish authorities in coming into Poland. That is important.

The Taoiseach should not turn a blind eye.

In terms of Deputy Devlin's point of view, I support Ukraine's application to be a member of the European Union. There is a process there but, I believe, it should be a candidate country. I am consistently of the view that the European perspective represents perhaps the most strategic approach that the European Union can take, not only in the eastern neighbourhood but in the Western Balkans as well. It has been too slow, in terms of application processes, for many countries and then Europe complains when Russia and others start meddling in the affairs of the western Balkans, as we saw recently during Covid-19 in terms of the deployment of vaccines for geopolitical objectives which, in itself, is reprehensible.

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