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Cabinet Committee Meetings (Continued)

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 984 No. 6

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  3 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar] On 17 June, the Government published the climate action plan, which aims to give Irish people a cleaner, safer and more sustainable future. This far-reaching plan sets out the actions across electricity, transport, heat, agriculture and other areas that we need to take to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, give us cleaner air and warmer homes, and create the jobs of the future. The plan has a strong focus on implementation, including actions with clear timelines and the steps needed to achieve each action, assigning clear lines of responsibility for delivery. Delivering on the plan will require a deep level of collaboration across Government, and the plan sets out governance arrangements, including the establishment of the climate action delivery board, overseen by my own Department, carbon-proofing of policies in general, the establishment of carbon budgets and a strengthened Climate Change Advisory Council, as well as greater accountability to the Oireachtas through the Joint Committee on Climate Action.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Can we have a detailed, published set of commitments in regard to capital spending for the rest of this year, next year and the year after? That is not a big ask. We are asking to see the capital plan in detail for the forthcoming period. Ironically, we are in a position, as a country, where, technically, we have a capital plan for 2040 but we do not have published capital commitments for the rest of this year and next year. How ridiculous a situation can we have?

I want to ask the Taoiseach about two specific areas in regard to our constituency. First, in general, for women in Dublin and the rest of Ireland, where stands the national maternity hospital? We know there have been dreadful cost overruns and planning failures in the execution of the national children's hospital, resulting in what any chief executive in any organisation would call a complete mess and a complete cost overrun. The Government has put its hands up and acknowledged that. What is the knock-on implication of the enormous cost overrun on the children's hospital for women in Ireland who expect to use the services of the national maternity hospital in a new hospital quite soon?

Second, the master of the Rotunda Hospital, Professor Fergal Malone, wrote a heartbreaking article recently about the pressures under which staff in the Rotunda Hospital, in the centre of Dublin, are working to try to deliver the best services for mothers and babies. As the Taoiseach knows, the Rotunda is meant to move to Blanchardstown. What has happened? We have no idea. The Rotunda itself has no idea what is happening. Is the Blanchardstown move still on? It makes excellent sense but where is the capital plan that would show what is likely to happen? I understand the Rotunda has resources to commit but the State would also need to commit to this.

With regard to another of our maternity hospitals, the Coombe hospital also wishes to see additional investment and, in the context of the children's hospital, the Government has promised a new maternity hospital in respect of the Coombe. Where is that? We have a growing population, which is something to celebrate, but our maternity services are not keeping pace with what is happening in terms of the on-the-ground development of new maternity services for this century for the women of Ireland.

Deputy Martin Kenny: Information on Martin Kenny Zoom on Martin Kenny In his statement, the Taoiseach referred to climate change and the climate change actions that are taking place. I want to specifically ask in regard to clean energy, which is one of the core issues. When will we see an end to the use of coal and gas in power stations? Is there a target for when that will happen and how will it happen? At the moment, we are importing coal from Colombia to burn it in Moneypoint, which is a ridiculous situation, even if there was no climate change aspect.

With regard to transport, we need to see additional money being placed in the hands of local authorities to upgrade roads, particularly in rural Ireland, and that needs to happen as quickly as possible. We also need to see infrastructure being built around our rail network, given the many problems, particularly for people coming from the west on the Sligo to Dublin rail line. I was talking to a man the other day who had decided not to drive and to take the train, but he said it was the last time he would take the train because he had to stand the whole way from Leitrim to Dublin. That is a problem we hear all the time from students and other people in the north west, namely, there are not enough trains or carriages and there is no space for passengers.

With regard to the western rail corridor, an issue I have raised previously, it is clear a time is coming when we have to look at the idea of electric rail as one of the solutions from a climate change perspective. This would enable us to move people who commute, for example, from Galway and other areas in the west and north west. It is logical, particularly in regard to the movement of freight.

There is the old chestnut which comes up all the time and which needs to be re-emphasised, and that is the issue of broadband. Whatever company decides it wants to do it, or whatever bid it wants to put in, I keep hearing that it is always next year or the year after. We need to see action on this as quickly as possible.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett There are many aspects to the scandal of the national children's hospital and the shocking financial mismanagement by this Government of this project, which is going to cost the people of this country €3 billion. As if that is not bad enough, I am not exaggerating when I say that when I tell people there is going to be a private section to the national children's hospital, they do not believe me - they do not actually believe it. They are absolutely scandalised by the thought that, having paid for this hospital, there will be two tiers of child healthcare. It is outrageous, especially from a Government that says it is against two-tier healthcare, that we are building a state-of-the-art hospital where two-tier healthcare for children is going to be institutionalised.

When I have asked about this, I have been told it is because the consultants' contracts are public-private contracts. I have a solution to this for the Taoiseach. Every paediatrician in the country is going to want to work in the national children's hospital. If they are not in there, to be honest, they are not at the races. Therefore, the Taoiseach has a simple opportunity to resolve this and to remove the two tiers in the hospital so it is single-tier, universal healthcare for our children. He should tell any paediatrician or consultant who wishes to work there that they will only work in that hospital on a public-only contract, which, by the way, is the only sort of contract the State should be giving out for consultants, in my opinion. Will the Taoiseach do that and at least eliminate this scandal in regard to the national children's hospital? It really is a shocker. There are still a lot of people who do not know this but when they hear it, they are utterly disgusted.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin When the national development plan was launched early last year, it had already been the subject of the most sustained pre-publicity in our history. The work for the plan was completed about six months before the Taoiseach took up office and, indeed, its details formed a core part of his leadership campaign. Over the following six months, extra years were added to the plan in order to allow more claims to be made, and millions were provided for a marketing campaign.

At the core of the national development plan was a promise that everything was costed and would be delivered within budget, and there would be full transparency. This was going to be assured by actions such as the regular oversight of the Cabinet committee on infrastructure and the real-time updating of information on costs and timescales. That has not happened and there has not been real-time information on costs and timescales. It now turns out some costs in the plan were little better than thinking of a number and hoping to be right. Massive overspending and excessive costs compared to the original estimates are clearly evident and basic information is being withheld. The Cabinet committee last met one month ago and the real-time provision of information stopped as soon as any overspend materialised.

The simple fact is the Government wants to continue advertising its original claims and does not want to acknowledge the impact of major overspending. There is a complete and irreconcilable gap between the reality on the ground and what has been claimed. The children's hospital is now well on its way to hitting the €2 billion mark, which the Taoiseach told us was a conspiracy theory, and the broadband plan is tracking to a €3 billion figure, which was also dismissed until it was exposed. The national development plan is simply not credible until these extra costs have been factored in.

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