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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 Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy] One cannot ask people to have faith and trust in anything less. The programme for a partnership Government talks of greater openness, improved accountability and delivery of more effective public participation but the challenge of the new Cabinet as it sits here this evening is not to spend time finding nice lines about accountability and restoring trust in politics, lines that work in manifesto documents, but to make actions speak louder than words. The newish Cabinet assembled here tonight will be judged on its actions rather than its words. I wish people well in their new positions but now that the phony war is over, we need to start seeing some real actions on some key issues such as, for example, housing.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall At the outset, I congratulate the Ministers of State, Deputies Eoghan Murphy and Regina Doherty, on their elevation to Cabinet and I wish them well in their new roles. Apart from that, I have to share the points made by other speakers suggesting that the reshuffle that has taken place has been quite uninspiring. In some of the areas where reform is most needed there is not too much sign that it will happen. There has been much comment on remarks the Taoiseach and the outgoing Taoiseach have made in respect of child poverty. The reality is that one in nine children now live in consistent poverty. Since 2008, that figure has doubled. The Taoiseach, during the period of the last Government, and his predecessors in government, Fianna Fáil, contributed very significantly to that doubling. That is a shameful record by any standard. Words ring very hollow. We can only judge the Taoiseach by his actions, not by his fine words on a day like today. There is no doubt but that the impact of austerity fell disproportionately on children. That has created huge problems and the loss of childhood for many thousands of children.

The Taoiseach spoke about giving the Minister, Deputy Zappone, a priority job to do, which was to tackle the area of child poverty. That is all very well but is he prepared to give her the requisite funding? The initiatives taken in the past in respect of area-based childhood programmes have been starved of funding. Their funding is only guaranteed for another few months. The Taoiseach needs to put his money where his mouth is if he is serious about tackling the scandal of child poverty. Is he prepared to provide the kind of funding needed for those areas most affected by poverty, in order to provide the kind of investment that is required in family support services, infant mental health services, general child health services, education and child care?

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I am sorry. There are few enough Ministers here.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher I have no control over-----

Deputy Paschal Donohoe: Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe We are listening to the Deputy.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall Wait now, the Deputies cannot do two things.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald For God's sake, we are listening to every word the Deputy says.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall They are in a little huddle whispering to each other. At least pay people the courtesy-----

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I am adding some of the facts the Deputy has not acknowledged, such as child poverty decreasing in 2015.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall The Deputies should pay people the courtesy of listening.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar It increased when Deputy Shortall was in government.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall The fact of the matter is that child poverty doubled between 2008 and last year. The fact of the matter is that the Government introduced five regressive budgets, which widened the gap between rich and poor. Let us find out what the Taoiseach is actually about. Let him leave aside the fine words today. He is very much untested. Is he serious about doing something meaningful in respect of the poverty, exclusion and inequality that exists in our society or is he using empty phrases? We do not know where he stands on key issues. We do not know whether he has any vision for the country. We do know that he cannot promise tax breaks and promise to tackle the problem of poverty and inequality. The two things just do not add up. Will the Taoiseach come out clearly and let us know what it is he is actually going to do? Is he going to serve the few or the many?

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan I have to echo the earlier comments of Deputy Danny Healy-Rae. We are with him in a whole new rural-green alliance. We were right. We were proud to vote for the Deputy's motion and proud that our two votes counted. He is also right that we will not be silenced. I was very disappointed to hear the Taoiseach echoing Fianna Fáil and that he is seeking to silence the smaller parties in this new Dáil. He will not find us so easy to silence. I mentioned Deputy Healy-Rae because the key point I want to make relates to the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, who has been nominated as a Minister. Unfortunately, he has just left but I am sure he will be listening-----

Deputy Michael Creed: Information on Michael Creed Zoom on Michael Creed Has Deputy Ryan found God?

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan No, it is just that rural development is something we need to get right. My mother comes from a town Deputy Creed knows well. All points from there to Gougane Barra and in between are as important to us as anywhere in south Dublin. Rural development is key to what the Government needs to get right. I am concerned at the nature of the change in that regard. I very much welcome the arrival of the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy - that phrase has a nice ring to it - into his position. I would have thought that he would have a key role in terms of rural development. My understanding the direction being taken with the national planning framework, as it was devised by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, was that the question would be put back to rural Ireland, as well as towns and cities across the country, as to how they were going to develop as part of a new national plan. My understanding was that was the key planning change from the original strategic plan we were going to carry out.

My concern is that I am not too sure how we will do that when there are now several Ministers responsible, namely, a Minister for Community and Rural Affairs, a Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, who has a role and a Minister for Culture, who also has a critical role. I am not too sure that dividing that Department into two is the right thing; in fact I think it is the wrong thing. It makes the culture Ministry too small and that cultural element will be missing from rural development. I do not see it working. Given that the creation of a new Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and a new Minister for Community and Rural Affairs is the key - and really only - change from the previous Cabinet, this is not an insignificant issue. I am interested to see how that will work but it has to work. It has to connect to what we will do in the national capital plan review and the national climate dialogue.

The reason I mentioned a rural-green alliance is because that is the nature of what is needed. Regarding what I said earlier about us making this leap and taking this whole climate change issue seriously, I say to the Minister, Deputy Creed, that farmers are the front line. I had a meeting with Teagasc and 250 of the top farmers last week. We absolutely saw eye to eye. We recognised that they are the front-line key scientists and they have to be the people tackling climate change. This is a rural development issue as much as anything else. I simply do not see in the Cabinet reconstruction how that is going to work. Perhaps it will. If I am proven wrong and the incoming Minister, Deputy Ring, works with the incoming Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and with the Minister, Deputy Creed, then I will step back and say "fair play, you have done it". I have concerns, however. I am not sure what is the strategic thinking behind those new Departments. I am not sure what the culture Ministry is doing out on its own or what the rural development Ministry is doing, if it is not doing Deputy Eoghan Murphy's new job, which is this whole planning issue about how we develop and particularly how we develop towns. Rural development is not just about farming. It is about Boyle, County Roscommon, Macroom, County Cork and Charleville and every other town.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan It is not all west of the Shannon either.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan No, it is the exact same in Leinster but that is our problem. How do we revive our 19th century market towns as part of rural development? That is a planning issue. How will the new Minister, Deputy Ring, manage that? It is okay in Westport, which is working because it is a tourist boom town, but there are not many Westports out there. How do the towns which are not Westports make it? I would love to see how that will be resolved between the new Ministers, Deputies Ring and Murphy. That is one of the key questions I have.

I will make one last point, if I may. We have too many "super junior" Ministers of State. Teams of 15 or so make sense. There is something in the human condition that means we work well when we are around a table of 15. Once 20 is reached, which is where we are at now, cohesion is lost. It is almost akin to a UK Cabinet. One of the problems with the UK is that it has a Cabinet with 25 or 30 people in the room. It does not work as a team. There are too many super-junior Ministers. I am sorry, it must be a very difficult decision and a hard call when some people have to lose jobs but there are too many people around the Cabinet table.

In terms of new politics there are three things we have to do: we must establish a universal health system, we must get climate right, and we have to decide how third level education will be funded. I cannot understand how the Minister for Education and Skills is not responsible for answering that key question in conjunction with the House. It gives me a certain lack of confidence that we will be able to answer that question in the remaining time that we have. They are some of the concerns. I wish all of the officeholders well. I wish the Government well. However, Deputy Danny Healy-Rae and I are going to be all over this rural development issue. We will work together on it because there is common cause.

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