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 Header Item Cabinet Committee Meetings (Continued)
 Header Item National Economic and Social Council

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 991 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin] Deputy Micheál Martin referred to cutting back the roads budget and re-profiling it. In the interest of clarity, I was referring to a Green Party motion that Fianna Fáil voted for-----

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I said re-profile the whole plan.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar -----which called for the reprofiling of funds away from roads to public transport, even though Project Ireland 2040 already favours public transport over roads at a 2:1 ratio. It is on the record of the Dáil that Fianna Fáil did vote for that motion. Deputy Eamon Ryan has raised it on Leader's Questions and is concerned that Fianna Fáil backtracked so quickly on a motion that it voted for. Perhaps it did not understand the motion.

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy The Taoiseach is gas.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I think it is part of an increasingly anti-rural agenda by the Fianna Fáil party, opposing the national broadband plan, advocating that we cut back the roads budget-----

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Is this the Taoiseach's stand-up comedy routine?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar -----and going down a road that will end in the banning of the burning of turf and wood in rural areas-----

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy The Taoiseach is turning into Deputy Danny Healy-Rae.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar -----which Fianna Fáil seems to want to support, even though it does not seem to realise it.

I do, of course, understand why it is doing this. The party wants the Greens to put it in office after the next general election. I totally understand the strategy behind that but Fianna Fáil cannot have two faces. It cannot cosy up to the Greens in Dublin and pretend to be the party of rural Ireland when its members are not in Dublin. I am glad that we have been able to expose the party on that.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Taoiseach is very worried about the Greens. I wonder why.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Updating the profile for Project Ireland 2040 is done twice a year at the time of the budget and the summer economic statement. There is an online tracker, which I accept is not up to date, but we will-----

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin It is not up to date.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I just said that.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin It has not been up to date for ages.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar We will update it.

Deputy Howlin asked about the new national maternity hospital. It is our policy that the hospital will be publicly owned and that the land it is on will be in public control. It is important to acknowledge that the National Maternity Hospital, not too far from here, is a good hospital and already has a Catholic ethos. The chairman of the board is the Archbishop of Dublin. He does not attend but its Catholic ethos has not prevented it performing terminations and providing fertility treatment. We should not get involved in unnecessary church bashing when it is not fair and I do not think it is fair on this occasion. Work is being done on the St. Vincent's site. A new pharmacy is being built and works are happening on the car park. Those works have to be done before the new national maternity hospital is built. It is intended that it shall go to tender in 2020. The Minister for Health is ambitious that we can get it started in 2020. At the very least we can get it to tender next year.

On the railway line to Maynooth, I will not irritate Deputy Burton by listing all the achievements of Fine Gael and Labour in the five years that we served together in government. I will mention only those done by Fine Gael, the Independent Alliance and the Independents in the past three and a half years in respect of this railway line. First, we have on order new carriages for a number of railway lines. They are coming from Japan and will be in service by 2021 and will increase by 34% the capacity on the Maynooth, Drogheda------

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton In 2021, which is two years away.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar -----and Kildare lines. It is now 2019, so 2021 is just under two years away. They are on order. If they could come any faster, they would but no Government can make carriages come from Japan any faster, unfortunately, so it would not be any different if the Deputy was in government.

I will have to double check but I think the new locomotives are on order as well and they will by hybrids - electric and diesel. That will allow us to shift on a phased basis from diesel to electric on that line. We have also approved €100 million in funding for the national train control centre at Heuston Station and that will allow us to organise the slots better and get more trains in and out of Heuston and Connolly, which are pinch points.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher We are eating into the time.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar That is a big project. It is being done in phases.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I asked the Taoiseach about electrification. Is that scrapped?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher We have to allocate the time.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar No, it is not but I cannot answer when I am constantly interrupted. I will send the Deputy a briefing because she is misinformed.

National Economic and Social Council

 6. Deputy Micheál Martin Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he will report on the work of his Department with the National Economic and Social Council. [49132/19]

 7. Deputy Brendan Howlin Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he will report on the work of his Department with the National Economic and Social Council. [50154/19]

 8. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he will report on the work of his Department with the National Economic and Social Council. [50202/19]

 9. Deputy Joan Burton Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he will report on the work of his Department with the National Economic and Social Council. [51527/19]

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 9, inclusive, together.

The National Economic and Social Council, NESC, is an independent statutory agency operating under the aegis of my Department. The council analyses and reports on strategic policy matters relevant to Ireland's economic, social, environmental and sustainable development. The NESC is a valuable forum where economic, social and environmental issues can be discussed between a variety of actors and Departments. The council's work focuses on the strategic and long-term view and its current work programme comprises four themes: Ireland's transition to a low-carbon and digital future; reforms to the social welfare system; land use, land value and urban development; and climate change.

Future Jobs Ireland 2019 also includes a request for NESC to develop policy recommendations for the operation of transition teams to manage the impact of economic transition on vulnerable workers and sectors. The project will provide a forward look at the economy in the context of a transition to a low carbon and more digital future.

I present council reports to Government prior to their publication, or prior to laying them before the Houses, as in the case of the annual reports. Council reports published in 2019 include Transport-Orientated Development: Assessing the Opportunity for Ireland and Climate Change Policy: Getting the Process Right.

I appoint members to the council under the National Economic and Social Development Office Act 2006 and the NESC (Alteration of Composition) Order 2010 - SI 603 of 2010. Each of the following sectors nominates three representatives to the council: business and employer interests, ICTU, farming and agricultural interests, community and voluntary sector, and the environmental sector.

A further six members are public servants, mainly Secretaries General, and must include a representative of my Department and the Department of Finance. The Secretary General of my Department, Mr. Martin Fraser, is the chair of the council and an assistant secretary of my Department, Ms Liz Canavan, is the deputy chair. There are also seven independent members on the council. This composition means that it plays an important and unique role in bringing different perspectives from civil society together with Government. This helps NESC to analyse the challenges facing society and to develop a shared understanding among its members of how to tackle these challenges. Since becoming Taoiseach, I have made 12 appointments to the council in line with the legislation and the guidelines on appointments to State boards. The council is funded through my Department's Vote and my Department also has governance responsibilities regarding the council.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin In the past couple of years, NESC has focused much of its work on climate change and sustainability. This has been welcome and constructive work. This was acknowledged earlier this year when the Government launched its much delayed climate plan. For the past two months, I have been trying and failing to get the Taoiseach to summon up his reputation for straight talking, which used to be promoted by his supporters, to answer some basic questions about the targets in the climate plan. At its launch, and during the extended period of partial briefing and marketing that surrounded its appearance, it was claimed by the Government that the plan was specific, ambitious and credible in setting out exactly how Ireland can reach its emissions targets. One of these targets is that, within ten years, Ireland will have 1 million electric vehicles on the road. It has been estimated that to hit the Government's target every car sold from January onwards for the next ten years will have to be electric. This is obviously nonsense. The cars are not available, the charging network is not available and there is no policy in place capable of delivering even a fraction of the target of a one hundredfold increase in sales starting in three weeks. Can the Taoiseach tell us how exactly he believes the target for electric vehicles will be met? We need precision, not the general stuff that he has been going on with for the past few months. What measures in the recent budget will deliver the proposed dramatic turnaround in the immediate future? When will we see an update on progress towards achieving the targets in the plan?

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin According to the latest census figures, there 79 black spots across electoral divisions in Ireland. These are areas where the average unemployment rate is above 30%, with those between the ages of 25 and 34 the largest segment of those without a job. Those who are jobless most frequently cite the construction sector as their previous occupation. In short, a large pool of potential construction workers are being left behind. This is a time we need a massive housebuilding programme, and a massive investment in retrofitting the existing housing stock to deal with climate change. The Central Bank stated that we need 34,000 homes per year and the Society of St. Vincent De Paul report on energy poverty launched yesterday highlighted the fact that a massive retrofitting project is urgently needed.


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