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Appointment of Taoiseach and Nomination of Members of Government (Continued)

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 953 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Willie Penrose: Information on Willie Penrose Zoom on Willie Penrose] She must prioritise investment in small towns across the regions but in particular in those areas that have not benefited from the recovery in employment. There is no substitute for infrastructural investment by the State for long-term development. There is no substitute for advanced factories and offices, high speed broadband, good quality roads and public transport connections. Indeed in Mullingar there is a fine industrial estate of 27 acres ready to go in Marlinstown and the Industrial Development Authority Ireland, IDA Ireland, has failed to deliver there. It is like the forgotten child, bypassed every time. If regionalisation and development of the regions is going to mean anything the Minister should start in the midlands. State investment is critical to securing foreign investment and IDA Ireland must spearhead this in small towns.

Connectivity and increasing the scale of high speed broadband is critical for rural areas. It can transform them. The Ludgate Hub in Skibbereen is an outstanding example of how transformation can be achieved. The World Bank has suggested that a slight increase in broadband speeds can raise local gross domestic product, GDP, by 10%. Once super fast broadband reaches an area success follows. Connectivity is a key. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. The Ludgate Hub serves as a beacon of innovation for rural Ireland and this can be replicated across the country if there is a will to do so. Talk is cheap but bringing the whole community together and installing the necessary infrastructure can bring results. Let us resurrect rural villages and bring people back into rural towns.

The Minister knows that villages are being decimated. I live in one. Shops are closing. Very soon there will be no shop between the two major towns of Longford and Mullingar. Petrol stations and newsagents are disappearing. We do not want to impose rates on shops that are not making a tosser by calculating them on the basis of leasing values. What sort of a message does it send to rural areas when the rate for a shop that has been for sale for six years without an offer is calculated on the basis of a leasing value relative to a town? Shops in rural towns and villages create four or five jobs. They pay the proper wage and they pay their taxes. There is no black economy in those shops but they are being decimated by Government policy. It must be reversed. I ask the Minister for Community and Rural Affairs, Deputy Ring, to make sure that will be achieved. There is a report on the post office network and now is the time to implement it. In County Kildare, the service available at the post office was widened and it is going to thrive in Ballymore Eustace. That is the prototype that should guide us forward.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan I congratulate all the Ministers and wish them well. I am, however, disappointed that there will be one woman fewer sitting at the Cabinet table than before this reshuffle. That is particularly disappointing.

Deputy Paul Kehoe: Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe That is not true.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan The Attorney General was female so there will be one fewer women at the Cabinet table. That is particularly disappointing at a time when we need to see more women in positions of power and influence. I very much regret that.

I very much welcome, as Deputy McDonald has done, an indication that there definitely will be a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment to the Constitution. I do not think the Government has said that before but the Taoiseach has specifically tasked the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, with arranging for a referendum, which I hope will be early in 2018. I ask the Taoiseach to set the date as soon as possible.

The first speaker in the round of debates today, the outgoing Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, referred to the need to address child poverty. The new Taoiseach has referred to it in connection with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone. Addressing child poverty, however, needs to be led by the Department of the Taoiseach. It is one of the most important issues the Government needs to address, particularly as there is economic recovery and more money in the economy but many children still live in consistent poverty. I am glad the outgoing Taoiseach brought it up as one of two or three issues he specifically referred to when speaking this morning. I hope the new Government will place it centre stage because it is so important.

Among the children most at risk are those who are homeless. I wish the new Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, well in his job in that Department. It is a very challenging job. While there has been a plan and many announcements there has been very little real action. We need real action and the provision of homes for all our people. A suggestion was slipped out very quietly last week by, I think, an official of Dublin City Council, that the target of taking all families with children out of hotels by the beginning of July may not be reached. If that is the case it is most disappointing and I urge the new Minister to ensure immediately that particular target is met.

I welcome the fact the Taoiseach has said the issue of vacant homes will be addressed because there are almost 200,000 vacant homes around the country. That can be the quickest win but we have not yet seen the vacant homes strategy. That needs to be announced very quickly. I also welcome the fact the Taoiseach did suggest that he would consider a vacant homes tax. We need a tax to ensure that empty houses become homes for the many people around this country who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness. There are several housing issues that are most urgent but we particularly need to see action rather than simply words and announcements.

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Seán Sherlock Zoom on Seán Sherlock I join in wishing the Taoiseach and the new Cabinet well in their endeavours. I particularly wish the new Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, well in his new role. I acknowledge his commitment to and role in the negotiations in Northern Ireland. He has made an impact and the parties in Northern Ireland will miss his solid engagement there.

There was a so-called public sector pay agreement that has yet to be balloted upon but there was nothing in the Taoiseach's speech tonight to give comfort to those public sector workers and trade unions about who now has political responsibility for continuing the work. I wish the new Minister for Finance and for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, well in his endeavours. If he is to continue to lead in this it will be an onerous task in addition to responsibility for finance, public expenditure and reform. I worry that the Government will take the foot off the pedal in those important talks with the public sector unions.

In respect of Innovation 2020, I have noticed in the past year that the foot has been taken off the pedal of Ireland's research, development and innovation agenda. The innovation agenda was a key pillar of the last Government and continued to be, under the Minister of State, Deputy English, when in the Department of Jobs, Innovation and Enterprise and by the Minister, Deputy Bruton, until he became Minister for Education and Skills. It has now slipped off the agenda. Ireland is now far below average in its spending on research and development and the number of PhDs in real terms is decreasing. If we are talking about becoming an innovative island on the western periphery of Europe, Brexit has permutations too in respect of our ability to attract world class researchers to our shores. The Government needs to give priority to that and we must ensure that our spending on research, development and innovation does not become a lower priority. It needs to be given greater weight by Government.

While I congratulate the new Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, I fear that we are going to lose him because the foreign affairs agenda will perhaps take him away from the Cork agenda and the Munster agenda and the regional economic development-----

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Michael Creed): Information on Michael Creed Zoom on Michael Creed It is alright. I will look after that.

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Seán Sherlock Zoom on Seán Sherlock -----of Cork, Limerick, Galway and Donegal, the western seaboard of this island, and the investment in the Cork-Limerick bypass.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae Kerry too. The Deputy is forgetting Kerry.

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Seán Sherlock Zoom on Seán Sherlock Kerry as well. We should not forget Kerry. It is important to speak to the action plan for jobs which has specific targets in respect of job creation beyond the pale and that includes those counties I have just referred to. That needs proper infrastructure.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith Go raibh maith agat a Cheann Comhairle. Beidh an Teachta Mick Barry ag úsáid leath den am atá agamsa. Ba mhaith liom an Taoiseach a mholadh mar gheall ar an iarracht a bhfuil á dheanamh aige an teanga a labhairt sa Dáil. Má choimeádann sé leis an iarracht sin, b'fhéidir go dtabharfaidh sé cic sa tóin, mar a deirtear, don Dáil go léir níos mó úsáide a bhaint as an teanga.

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