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 Header Item Questions on Promised Legislation (Continued)
 Header Item Topical Issue Matters
 Header Item Business of Dáil
 Header Item Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)
 Header Item Cabinet Committee Meetings

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 968 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Kevin O'Keeffe: Information on Kevin O'Keeffe Zoom on Kevin O'Keeffe] Mitchelstown has the potential to grow. At present-----

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher That is fine, but what is the question?

Deputy Kevin O'Keeffe: Information on Kevin O'Keeffe Zoom on Kevin O'Keeffe The question is can we get Irish Water to fast-track the upgrade of the wastewater facilities in Mitchelstown.

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy Last week, I announced a €1.7 billion investment in Irish Water for the next three or four years, primarily in respect of wastewater services. What we have in the new housing delivery unit in the Department is a way to co-ordinate to ensure key sites ready to be built upon have the necessary services going into them. It is also an ambition we have under Project Ireland 2040 and one of the new pieces of administration we are putting in will ensure things can be aligned. If the Deputy wants to pass me a detailed note on this I will see where it sits in the actual scheme of Irish Water's priorities over the next three years.

Topical Issue Matters

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher I wish to advise the House of the following matters in respect of which notice has been given under Standing Order 29A and the name of the Member in each case: (1) Deputy James Browne - to discuss improvements in the regulation of community-based mental health care services; (2) Deputy Mary Butler - to discuss the unique south-eastern model in residential care homes; (3) Deputy Seamus Healy - the need to review the psychiatric service bed capacity in County Tipperary; (4) Deputies Marc MacSharry, Eamon Scanlon and Tony McLoughlin - to discuss the withdrawal of tourist boat access to Inishmurray island, County Sligo; (5) Deputy Niamh Smyth - to discuss investment in the accident and emergency department at Cavan General Hospital; (6) Deputy Frank O'Rourke - to discuss delivery of key services for children and young adults with disabilities in Kildare North; (7) Deputy Dessie Ellis - to discuss the need for a primary care centre in Finglas, Dublin 11; (8) Deputy Pearse Doherty - to discuss resourcing of diabetes care services in the north west; (9) Deputy John Lahart - to discuss the non-payment of residential management fees and the associated difficulties; (10) Deputy Danny Healy-Rae - to discuss the issue of flooding on the R551 road at Ballyheigue, County Kerry; (11) Deputies David Cullinane, Martin Kenny and Brian Stanley - to discuss the Brexit negotiations and the backstop arrangement; (12) Deputy Pat Buckley - to discuss the expansion of the rent pressure zone scheme; (13) Deputy Joan Burton - to discuss the removal of a mural at the Project Arts Centre in Dublin; (14) Deputy Jim O'Callaghan - the need to improve road safety for cyclists in Dublin; (15) Deputy Eamon Ryan - to discuss the future of the RTÉ symphony orchestra; (16) Deputy Declan Breathnach - to discuss the closure of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection local office in Dunleer, County Louth; (17) Deputy Gino Kenny - to discuss the proposal for a cannabis access programme; (18) Deputy Mick Wallace - to discuss the 2016 route profitability figures in Irish Rail; (19) Deputy Mattie McGrath - the need to address the transfer of patients from St. Patrick's hospital in Cashel to South Tipperary General Hospital; (20) Deputy John Brady - to discuss the delay in providing the necessary funding for essential safety works on the N81; (21) Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett - the ongoing dispute in Irish Life; (22) Deputy Anne Rabbitte - to ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to address the matters raised in the "Prime Time" report broadcast on 24 April 2018 in respect of foster care services; and if she will make a statement on the matter; and (23) Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire - to ask the Minister for Education and Skills to discuss the announcement of new schools in the Cork area.

The matters raised by Deputies James Browne, Declan Breathnach, David Cullinane, Martin Kenny and Brian Stanley, and Joan Burton have been selected for discussion.

Business of Dáil

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin I want to raise a point of order because I want to give an opportunity to the Taoiseach. Yesterday, I raised a question on Leaders' Questions and the Taoiseach may have inadvertently misled the Dáil. He said, when I raised the issue of voluntary contributions in schools:

Voluntary contributions are permissible provided it is made absolutely clear to parents that there is no question of any compulsion to pay, that in making a contribution they are doing so under their own volition and that they are not under pressure to do so ... This is all outlined in Circular 0065/2010, which clarifies what charges can be requested from parents.

I checked the circular. It refers only to former fee-paying secondary schools that have now converted to free education schemes. The circular does not address the bulk of secondary schools and none of the primary schools. For clarity, if the impression was given that there is some rule to prohibit it, there is no such rule and I know the Taoiseach would like to make that clear.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The Deputy has quoted from a circular. Does the Taoiseach wish to respond briefly?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I shall have to check that out. The note I have refers to Circular 0065/2010 but I will check if it is correct. If it is incorrect, I will be happy to correct the record.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The Taoiseach will have an opportunity to do so.

Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)

Cabinet Committee Meetings

 1. Deputy Brendan Howlin Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar when Cabinet committee C, European Union, including Brexit, last met; and when it will next meet. [16661/18]

 2. 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 when Cabinet committee C, European Union, including Brexit, last met; and when it is scheduled to meet again. [17609/18]

 3. Deputy Micheál Martin Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar when Cabinet committee C, European Union, including Brexit, last met. [17679/18]

 4. Deputy Joan Burton Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar when Cabinet committee C, European Union, including Brexit, will next meet. [17811/18]

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.

Cabinet committee C supports the Government in its consideration of European Union matters, including the ongoing Brexit negotiations and their implications for Ireland. Given their significance, these matters are also regularly discussed at full meetings of the Cabinet. In addition, I regularly meet Ministers, on an individual basis or in groups, in order to focus on particular issues, including those relating to the EU. In particular, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, the Minister of State at his Department, Deputy McEntee, and I meet senior officials on a regular basis to discuss European affairs and the Brexit negotiations.

Preparation for Brexit at official level, both in relation to the negotiations and in preparing for the potential consequences of the UK's withdrawal from the EU, is intensive, with interdepartmental and senior official groups meeting regularly.

Preparing for and dealing with Brexit in a way that delivers the best possible outcome for the country remains a top priority for the Government.

Cabinet committee C last met on 13 February. The date for the next meeting has not yet been confirmed but it will occur before the June European Council summit.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. The Brexit stakeholders forum meets periodically is of very great use and is an important innovation to continue. I want to ask the Taoiseach about what I discern to be a slight difference of opinion between himself and the Tánaiste on the timetabling of critical decisions. The Tánaiste has repeatedly made it clear that June really is critical, in terms of the European Council, for a clear decision to be made on the Irish Border situation. The Taoiseach seems to be giving a view that we actually have until October. Legally, that is correct. However, there is a very strong view across the House that if we do not have a clear decision by June then we will have an awful lot less leverage in October when the final settlement issues are being addressed. I would like clarity on this. What will the Irish Government do if no progress on the Irish Border issue is available and clear by the June Council meeting?

The customs union is now the real issue. Obviously, the British Government has lost votes on this matter in the House of Lords. It will face a critical vote after the local elections in Britain in early May. I have said it is important for us to keep as much pressure as we can for the customs union arrangement between the United Kingdom and the European Union to be kept in place because the issues of importance for us are not only North-South in nature, they also have an east-west dimension. I do not want a hard border in the ports of Rosslare or Dublin no more than I want a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The UK Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis, was before the Brexit committee of the House of Commons this morning. He answered again, in respect of the Border, that most of the technology exists today to solve all of these issues. Nobody believes that. This is the line, as if there is some technological magical solution for having separate customs arrangements in the North of Ireland and the Republic. I am interested in the Taoiseach's views on this matter.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald Nobody believes Mr. Davis's assertion because it is not true. It is the stuff of "Alice in Wonderland" and I really wish the British would desist from positing these non-starters. It is clearly part of their strategy to play for time in the hope that either Europe or the Government in Dublin will blink and they will get away with pushing the Irish question indefinitely down the pipe. That cannot be allowed to happen.

  Will the Taoiseach comment on a report in yesterday's edition of The Times in which a document purporting to be an internal EU memo raises very serious questions about the efficacy of the backstop agreement reached last December? As we all know, this backstop represents the absolute minimum requirement in respect of Ireland and if it has flaws or potential flaws then we need to be conversant with them and we need to sort them out. I am concerned that something that was initially described as a cast-iron guarantee moved to a gentleman's agreement and then to a political promise, and now, if this report is right, some are questioning its viability. The Tánaiste is right to say that June is the deadline. That is the red letter time. I would like to hear the Taoiseach reiterate and clarify this matter. I would like him to tell us what he proposes to do to ensure the June deadline does not slip and that we do not allow matters to roll into the summertime and then into the autumn, because that would put us in an impossible position. Not only would our leverage be lessened, we could find ourselves without any leverage at all.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Before I put my specific question, I want to point out that it is now the Taoiseach's customary practice to completely ignore difficult questions by using up all of his time to answer less challenging ones. Yesterday, I asked very direct and relevant questions on exaggerated claims for the strategic communications unit and the admission of the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, that he does not understand homelessness figures. However, the Taoiseach did not even reference, let alone answer, those questions. This is a pattern that was repeated in previous sessions. We are used to a Taoiseach trying to avoid hard questions but it is a new approach simply to refuse to engage at all. I hope the Taoiseach will review this particular strategy.

With regard to Europe, significant confusion has been caused by the Taoiseach's statement at the European Council that he was okay with the final text concerning a backstop waiting until October. The Tánaiste has been trying to row this back since then and is insisting that any failure to reach a deal in June would be an enormous threat.


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