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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)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar] It is also the foundation of a successful and modern economy. Given the importance of education in a society where there is genuine equality of opportunity, I am appointing Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor as Minister of State with responsibility for higher education, attending Cabinet. We need to drive this sector forward, give it autonomy and resource it adequately.

Deputy Regina Doherty will take my place at the Department of Social Protection which, in line with other countries, will gain the labour affairs and labour law responsibilities of the former Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, thus becoming the Department of Employment and Social Protection. Her key responsibilities will include ensuring budget packages are progressive and reduce income inequality, advancing the social insurance reforms now under way, the new deal for the self-employed and providing access to an occupational pension for all employees.

No country has a perfect health service. However, Ireland is an outlier among wealthy countries when it comes to patient charges and patient access. Surely a country and political system that managed to weather the worst recession in a generation, rescue the banking system and bring an end to a conflict that lasted centuries should be able to get this matter right. I am determined that we should do so. The all-party Sláinte Care report provides good guidance. I task the Minister, Deputy Simon Harris, with preparing a detailed response to that report, including proposed measures and timelines. I am also asking him to complete passage of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill through the Houses as soon as possible. He will also be responsible for bringing forward legislation to allow for a referendum on the eighth amendment in 2018.

The Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, remains at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. He will drive the implementation of the transport improvements provided for in the new capital plan, protect our tourism from the risks of Brexit, and work to secure the Rugby World Cup for Ireland in 2023.

Deputy Eoghan Murphy will join the Cabinet as Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. Rebuilding Ireland is working but it may not be enough and so I am tasking him to review it within three months and to consider what additional measures may be required, including consideration of a greater quantum of social housing build, a vacant home tax and measures to encourage landlords to remain in or enter the rental market. He will also take on responsibility for Ireland 2040 and further reform of local government and electoral reform.

The Minister, Deputy Katherine Zappone, remains at the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. Her principal responsibility will be the successful introduction and implementation of the affordable child care scheme and the associated legislation, and also leading the Government's response to reducing child poverty.

I am appointing Deputy Michael Ring to head up a newly reformed Department of Community and Rural Affairs. His role will be to support local communities in all parts of Ireland, urban and rural, and to ensure economic recovery and investment is accelerated in rural areas, market towns and villages which have not experienced economic recovery to the same extent as our cities.

I have long believed that Ireland should have a dedicated Department of Culture, as other countries do. I have been enormously impressed with the Decade of Commemorations so far and with Creative Ireland. I want the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, to continue her excellent work in this area. I want there to be new emphasis and importance attached to the promotion of arts, culture and heritage in Ireland, matched with an appropriate budget. It is our creativity that makes Irish men and Irish women different and we need to foster it. I am assigning responsibility for the Department of Culture and responsibility for Gaeilge, Gaeltacht and the Islands to the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, in addition to his duties as Chief Whip. I am tasking him with the role of promoting the learning and use of Irish in all parts of Ireland and to be a voice at the Cabinet table for our first national language.

The Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, will remain at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. I am determined that the Government should show new ambition when it comes to tackling climate change by setting out a roadmap to a low-carbon economy. Climate will be the first item to be discussed at our first full-day strategic Cabinet meeting in a few weeks. The Minister, Deputy Naughten, will also drive the implementation of the national broadband plan until every premises has access to high-speed broadband.

The Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, remains in his post as a Minister at my Department and as Minister for Defence. I will delegate all functions relating to defence to him, including the Office for Emergency Planning.

The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, remains Minister with responsibility for disabilities across several Departments. As a Government, we are renewing our commitment to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities this year and to improving services available to people with disabilities, especially respite care and emergency residential places.

This will be a Government of purpose. It will be a genuine partnership Government that works to improve the lives of all our citizens and all parts of our country.

I commend the Government to the House.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I dtosach báire, déanaim comhghairdeas leis na hAirí nua atá ceaptha anseo tráthnóna. Is lá ceiliúrtha agus den bhfíorthábhacht é dóibh siúd atá ceaptha agus dá muintireacha. Guím gach rath orthu leis na dualgais a bheidh orthu as seo amach. Is é an rud is tábhachtaí agus is práinní ná béim a leagan ar pholasaithe substaintiúla agus iad a chur i bhfeidhm ar mhaithe le saoránaigh na tíre. Caithfidh an Rialtas an conradh atá againn leis a chomhlíonadh go huile agus go hiomlán. Is léir do chách go bhfuil géarchéim úafásach fós ann i gcúrsaí tithíochta agus sláinte agus go bhfuil easpa muiníne as ár gcóras dlí agus cirt. Ní mór dúinn na fadhbanna práinneacha seo a réiteach go héifeachtach.

To be nominated to serve as a member of Government is a great honour. It carries with it great responsibilities. Each person nominated by the Taoiseach today to continue in government, or to join it for the first time, has the right to be proud of his or her achievement. I offer my congratulations to each of them, their families and the large body of supporters that stand behind them.

This Government is being nominated at a profoundly challenging time for our country, Europe and the wider world. Many of these challenges have grown over the past year because of the policy of drift and inaction which was to be found in almost every Department. In no area has the past year seen sustained progress in setting out or implementing substantial reform, policy or service development. All those appointed will be members of a Cabinet which has run out of excuses and must now start to have an impact. They will be measured not on glossy brochures and launches but on the hard substance of whether they are delivering. The public has long since stopped listening to the spin and is angry with the policy of repeated denial of the existence of problems or false claims of progress based on misleading statistics.

To those who have been left off the list, I am sure that for the time being they are satisfied with reassurances that they will be considered for a position as Minister of State. Given the number of promises that appear to have been handed out during the leadership race it will be interesting to hear what will be told to the five Fine Gael Deputies not on the list and left without a portfolio. The use of the superior junior Minister, conceived many years ago to facilitate former Deputy Pat Rabbitte, is beginning to be abused in that there are now four super junior Ministries. This seems to be an avenue of convenience for taoisigh to resolve very difficult choices.

Deputy John Halligan: Information on John Halligan Zoom on John Halligan Deputy Martin might need it himself.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin It is at best unfortunate that so many of today's appointments have been done on the basis of internal party concerns rather than on the basis of the most suitable person for the position. If this is to be a transformative, radicalising and modernising Administration, this is a poor start. Certain of the assignments appear unlinked either to past performance or interest. The prominence which is being given to party organisation and electoral preparation is highly unusual and the various minor realignments which have been made go nowhere near meeting the hype which has preceded them.

The Good Friday Agreement represents one of the greatest achievements of constitutional republicanism. It secured the agreement to end an illegitimate campaign, take the gun out of politics, establish agreed institutions and move forward on the fundamental objective of a lasting reconciliation on our island. Key elements of this progress are today under threat. Years of a dysfunctional duopoly, underlying sectarianism and neglect from Dublin and London have caused immense damage. The decision of the Tory Government to rely on the DUP cannot be allowed to threaten or undermine the core dynamic underpinning peace.

While we would certainly have had differences with Deputy Charles Flanagan in terms of the urgency and ambition of his approach to Northern Ireland, he is the only Member of Government to show any interest in this area in the past six years. The decision to remove him from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade undermines the claim that this is a Government whose members and portfolios have been defined by ability.

The issue of Brexit is such that the challenges are changing every day. The terms of reference for the EU-side of the negotiations are very general and a non-specific start to what will be complex and detailed negotiations. A number of Ministries have responsibilities which are profoundly impacted by Brexit, including enterprise, social protection, education, agriculture and health. There is a need for the Government to set out concrete proposals to limit the long-term damage of Brexit.

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