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 Header Item Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements (Continued)
 Header Item Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
 Header Item Public Service Pay Commission Reports

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 980 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett] People Before Profit has long advocated for that approach. It is long overdue that we move in that direction because criminalisation has not worked. As shown in Portugal, decriminalisation and wrap around support policies can make a difference in dealing with this problem. Did the Taoiseach discuss that model and does he think it needs to be considered for this country because the way we have dealt with it up to now in terms of criminalisation has not worked?

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald In the end game of the Brexit saga a critical issue will be the stance of the Taoiseach and the Government in respect of what is acceptable as a final outcome. I did not understand the point Deputy Micheál Martin was trying to make in regard to the backstop. I am assuming he was not suggesting or encouraging that the Government might resile from the content of the backstop. If he was, I want to pour cold water on it. It is essential at this juncture that the Government does not blink and that it is not distracted or unnerved on any level. The backstop is the absolute bare minimum. Whereas legal assurances and words of comfort are one thing and might be entertained, nothing that in any way compromises what are the absolute bottom line requirements as per the current Irish protocol should be entertained for a second. There needs to be clarity around that. For what it is worth, I also think that the Taoiseach as Head of Government deserves and should expect the support of the Oireachtas in adopting and maintaining that stance.

The Taoiseach said he has not seen the form of reassurances that the British side might want. Has he had any indication as to what they will be putting on the table? I am sure, through his contacts, formal and informal, he must have some notion of how they are proposing to come at this.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher I will allow the Taoiseach five minutes to respond.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. The informal meeting in Lisbon with Prime Minister, António Costa, was exactly that. We got to know each other a little over the years and I was there on a personal visit. I told him I was there and he invited me over to his residence for a glass of wine and a chat. I brought the ambassador with me and he brought one of his officials with him. That was about the size of it. I do not think there is any need for conspiracy theories on this one.

We did not have a chance to discuss hospital construction. I imagine construction costs are lower in Portugal. I imagine labour costs are lower as well and professional fees are less. I do not know if material costs are lower but they may well be. Generally, Governments and Government agencies examine capital programmes in other countries and try to learn from what they do well and what they do badly and vice versa. A lot of people examine our programmes too. By and large for the past ten years we have been successful in delivering a capital programme on time and on budget. This is true for the massive Irish Water investment programme, the school programme, which is really big, the primary care centres, the €300 million Luas cross-city project and the €500 million projects such as the M17 and M18 and Enniscorthy-New Ross. The vast majority of projects have come in broadly on time and on budget in the past ten years, the children's hospital being the notable exception.

There are examples of how it has gone wrong in other countries. Karolinksa hospital in Sweden will probably cost somewhere around €6 billion by the time it is finished. It is easily the most expensive hospital project in the world. We all know the problems that have arisen in Australia as well in terms of the parliamentary inquiries into the cost of the new hospital in Perth and the problems that have arisen in Adelaide. Those of us who are interested in aviation will know about Brandenburg Airport, a new airport for Berlin completed five years and not yet open. There is a lot to be learned from what other countries get right and what they get wrong. Unfortunately, big capital projects go wrong in all countries. We need to ensure, particularly when it comes to the new children's hospital, that we do not run into the problems around commissioning that other countries have had. We need to prepare now for that. I have seen examples of other children's hospitals built, which it took three years to commission when construction had finished. We cannot allow that to happen in Ireland. We need to plan for that now.

In terms of the Brexit negotiations, briefings are, of course, available to Opposition Leaders. We are happy to provide them. The position as of today is that we have no texts or draft texts to consider or get legal advice on. I am not entirely sure what MPs are looking at in London but we have no legal texts or draft legal texts to consider, to propose amendments to or to seek legal advice on. What happens a lot in London, as Deputies will be aware, is internal negotiations.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The UK Attorney General has been to Dublin and met our Attorney General. That is not internal negotiations.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar They may be exchanging legal texts among themselves and getting advice from each other's lawyers but that does not mean that they have any status in terms of the real negotiations that are going on in Brussels.

In terms of drugs policy, we did not talk about it but I am aware of the decriminalisation model that was pursued in Portugal. The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, under the Chairmanship of the now Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Stanton, did an interesting report on the issue. There is no doubt in my mind that the Portuguese model has been successful in terms of harm reduction and not imposing criminal convictions on people for minor possession, thus keeping people who were found to be in possession of minor amounts of narcotics out of the criminal justice system and dealing with them in the health system, thereby ensuring that these people, who are mainly young people, do not get a criminal conviction which then causes problems for them for the rest of their lives in terms of getting employment, visas and so on. That seems to me to be a humane approach, although it is evident that drugs and narcotics are very available in Lisbon. They are sold openly on the streets and squares. People will probably tell me that is true of Dublin too but they seem to be more available there than they are in our cities so we would have to bear that in mind as part of any model that we may wish to consider. The issue of decriminalisation is being examined by a group headed up by Mr. Justice Garrett Sheehan and I look forward to seeing the report when it is done.

Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Deputy Michael McGrath has permission to take Question No. 39 in the absence of Deputy Cowen.

Public Service Pay Commission Reports

 39. Deputy Barry Cowen Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe when the Public Service Pay Commission will report on recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10568/19]

Deputy Michael McGrath: Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath This question relates to the work of the Public Service Pay Commission on the issue of recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces. The purpose of it is to get an update from the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, on the status of that work. As the Minister will be aware there is a recruitment and retention crisis across the Defence Forces which I know is an issue of concern across the board. I look forward to the Minister's update.

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