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Questions on Promised Legislation (Continued)

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 971 No. 2

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The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the Deputy for raising this. If he wants to pass on some more information about that, I will certainly raise it with the Minister, Deputy Creed, but without knowing the detail, I cannot be more helpful. If I can, I will be.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan We have to consider the Taoiseach's deeds as well as his words when it comes to the future of media in Ireland. He stated that the dominance of Independent News and Media in print and RTÉ in broadcasting was a problem, but we in the Oireachtas committee conducted a major study that found something different. The real problem is that Sky, Netflix, Virgin Media, Google and Facebook are sucking every penny out of the market and there is no money left for Irish media. It is on its collective knees and needs both help and funding. If we are to have a fair and balanced media, we must pay for it. The Taoiseach has dismissed the recommendations of the joint committee, which set out ways in which to do that. I am sorry, but the bursary for trainees and the reduction in the levy are not the scale of response that is required. If the Taoiseach wants a fair and free print, broadcast and online media and his words are to mean anything, he must stand up for Irish media and fund it, but the Government is refusing to do that. It is a do nothing Government in terms of media support and funding.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar First of all, I did not say it. Reporters Without Borders said it in its 2018 World Press Freedom Index, in which it raised concerns about the high concentration of media ownership - the Independent group in print and RTÉ in broadcasting. It is not my opinion, but a report from Reporters Without Borders, an organisation with which the Deputy will be familiar.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan The Oireachtas committee's opinion was-----

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I have given examples already of how Government is funding media: a significant reduction in VAT, worth about €100 million to the print industry over the past couple of years; and the licence fee. Only last year, the Government increased its contribution to the licence fee in respect of older persons, who do not have to pay it. Those are two examples-----

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan It is not enough.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar -----probably hitting about €200 million plus, which is a lot of money.

  Quite frankly, I would have reservations about using more taxpayers' money to fund the media, particularly the private sector media. I think that could potentially damage their independence. One would have to think very carefully about how one would do that-----

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan The Taoiseach's actions do not match his words.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar -----to make sure it was done properly.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy I also wish to raise the issue of media plurality. The Taoiseach cited the concerns in that regard. They play out in many ways, including the effect on the terms and conditions of people who work in the concentrated media sector, for example, pensions. Ownership is a significant issue, given that it covers a number of platforms, including social media.

Like me, the NUJ has repeatedly called for a commission on the future of media. Would the Taoiseach agree to doing something practical like this? A Bill of mine was debated in the House last year but the Government did not agree to it because I was told its impact on property rights would have been unconstitutional. When it comes to the common good, the balance in Ireland seems to be wrong.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The Deputy is right to raise the issue of pensions in the media sector. She knows the position that I took on that particular issue and legislation that the Government is preparing on that more broadly.

We do have media ownership laws in Ireland. We have the Broadcast Authority of Ireland and the former Competition Authority, which is now called the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. They take a view - I cannot remember the exact detail - that ownership should not exceed something like 20% or 25%. We do have laws around plurality of ownership and competition. I think that those decisions should be best made by an independent body. I would have concerns about us as politicians, the Government or the Oireachtas making decisions as to who should or should not own the media. It is best vested in an independent body like the competition authority.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy The commission.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Twenty Deputies are remaining. I call Deputy Eugene Murphy.

Deputy Eugene Murphy: Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy Yesterday, I raised with the Tánaiste news that was delivered to Roscommon's Oireachtas Members privately last Friday concerning the Rosalie unit in Castlerea, which is supposed to accommodate 33 people, a number that is now 12, with mild mental health issues, and St. Joseph's day care centre in Ballaghaderreen. Last Friday, the HSE announced that both facilities would close. The intention is to move people out of the Rosalie centre, but the HSE does not seem to have a plan in respect of the day care centre in Ballaghaderreen. While the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly's door has been open to us on this matter for months and he has tried to listen to and deal with complaints, the most vulnerable people are being left out on a limb and their families in a desperate situation. It is not good enough. I will not lecture the Taoiseach. Rather, I will ask him one question, just as I asked the Tánaiste yesterday. Will the Taoiseach pick up the phone today and tell the HSE not to close these facilities?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I will ask the Minister of State to respond.

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Jim Daly): Information on Jim Daly Zoom on Jim Daly As the Deputy is aware-----

Deputy Eugene Murphy: Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy In all fairness, the Taoiseach-----

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl No, Deputy.

Deputy Eugene Murphy: Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy The Minister of State answered yesterday. This is ridiculous. I asked the Taoiseach.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl It is the Taoiseach's prerogative to pass the question to the Minister of State.

Deputy Eugene Murphy: Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy I would ask the Taoiseach to reconsider his prerogative and answer the question, please.

Deputy Jim Daly: Information on Jim Daly Zoom on Jim Daly May I correct the record? It is not the closing of the unit that is at issue, but the welfare of the remaining 12 residents. As the Deputy and his colleagues are aware, a clinical assessment of the best and most appropriate setting for the care of these 12 residents has been carried out.

Deputy Eugene Murphy: Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy It has not.

Deputy Jim Daly: Information on Jim Daly Zoom on Jim Daly That assessment was independent of the HSE and me and will be independently evaluated by the College of Psychiatry in Ireland. If the assessment finds that the best place for these residents is not in Rosalie but in another unit, no politician - not the Taoiseach nor I as Minister of State - can override the clinical direction set by clinicians. We must respect it. I cannot allow these 12 residents to be used as political pawns in any power play.

Deputy Eugene Murphy: Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy That is an unfair statement.

Deputy Jim Daly: Information on Jim Daly Zoom on Jim Daly The very best and most appropriate care-----

Deputy Eugene Murphy: Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy The Minister of State visited the centre.

Deputy Jim Daly: Information on Jim Daly Zoom on Jim Daly -----for these people is paramount, and that is what I will protect for as long as I am in this position.

Deputy Eugene Murphy: Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy It was an unfair statement, and the Minister of State knows it.

Deputy Jim Daly: Information on Jim Daly Zoom on Jim Daly This is not a money-saving issue.

Deputy Eugene Murphy: Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy The Minister of State is not dealing honestly with the people in-----

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Deputy, please.

Deputy Jim Daly: Information on Jim Daly Zoom on Jim Daly May I conclude? Many people have to leave their homes to move to another setting where more appropriate care can be given to them as they get older. For my parents and many others' parents, that is a fact of life. It may also be a fact of life for these people, but it will only happen if their care needs will be improved.

Deputy Eugene Murphy: Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy It is an outstanding centre and should not be condemned.

Deputy John Curran: Information on John Curran Zoom on John Curran On page 80, the programme for Government commits to expanding the projects supported by drug task forces. I have raised this issue previously. A year ago, the Government launched the national drug strategy, which the House debated last week. Time and again, the Taoiseach, the Minister or the Government announce additional funding, but the problem is it is all one-off funding, not annual funding. Funding to drug task forces was cut in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and remains at 2014 levels. To achieve the efficiencies and build the capacity needed to deliver these projects, they must have annual, recurring, core funding rather than one-off funding. The Government adds up the money and says people are looking for more and more, but I am looking for a change in how this is done. Task forces need to have certainty for future projects, not one-off funding.

The Taoiseach mentioned that there would be €250,000 in additional funding this year for task forces dealing with alcohol-related issues. That will become €1 million next year. If they are to build capacity and effectively deliver their programmes, they need their core annual funding to be reinstated more than they need one-off funding.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I will ask the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, to give Deputy Curran a more comprehensive reply on this, but in principle I accept his analysis. It is much better to offer organisations multi-annual funding, probably on a three-year rolling basis, so that they can plan their programmes and not be waiting until November or December to find out what their budgets will be for the next year. What we have done with a number of other organisations is to have an element of core funding, which is done on a multi-annual basis, and in addition to that have funding for one-off projects or funding on a competitive basis, where people bid for funding.

Deputy John Brassil: Information on John Brassil Zoom on John Brassil In light of the media controversy in the US, is any legislation being considered to increase the television licence fee? Do the Taoiseach's views about the station colour the Government's views about RTÉ?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I did not pick up the second part. There is no legislation proposed to increase the licence fee. I am not sure if any party in this House is proposing there should be, but there is none at the moment.


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