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Appointment of Taoiseach and Nomination of Members of Government (Continued)

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 994 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly] The Taoiseach brings huge experience to the role given the length of time he has spent in different ministries. I am someone who very much admires the legislation he introduced in 2004 on the smoking ban. It changed a great deal of health and social issues in Ireland, it changed thinking and was very formative and ahead of its time. More of that thinking would be really appreciated in these difficult times. The Taoiseach also has a special interest in education. He, like myself and unlike his predecessor, comes from a public school background. Indeed, I think that we are in a minority as his predecessor, the leader of Sinn Féin, the leader of People Before Profit, and the leader of RISE all come from private schools. I am glad that the Taoiseach comes from the public school side. It is to be hoped it will bring an increased interest in education. That there are two Cabinet Ministers also shows a determination for the area, which I very much welcome.

I wish to acknowledge the outgoing Taoiseach and current Tánaiste whom I look forward to working with. He is someone I have worked quite closely with in the past. I have not often agreed with him, although I have on some occasions, but he is someone who has always been very direct and straight and easy to deal with. I wish him well in the challenges ahead of him. I wish all the new Ministers the best of luck in their portfolios, many of which I know very well and some that I, and my colleagues, do not. I can assure them we will get to know them very well in the coming months and years.

While Covid has caused this country extraordinary pain and suffering, politically it creates opportunities because it has been a disrupter, and I am asking the Taoiseach to use it. In health, why limit free GP care to under 12 years? Why not just introduce universal care? On Sláintecare, we need public beds quickly. We need to build hospitals, but in the interim, let us nationalise one of the private hospitals. We should radically introduce profound changes in education across primary and third level, something in which the Taoiseach has a profound interest. Why not fast-forward some of the ambitions around climate change that are labour intensive, pushing shovel-ready projects and employment. For jobs, stimulus must concentrate on key areas such as tourism. I have said before that this programme for Government is weak on workers' rights. I ask clearly, as it now comes under the Tánaiste's area of responsibility, that an immediate priority of the Government be an appeal to the Supreme Court of the recent decision on sectoral employment orders that protect tens of thousands of ordinary low-paid workers in many areas and sectors in this country. If it is necessary to introduce emergency legislation, let us do that. We will make it easier for the Government. My colleague, Deputy Nash, who inspired these orders through legislation, has already written a Bill. I ask the Government to please look at it.

There is speculation that the Taoiseach will appoint 20 Ministers of State. This would be his first mistake. I was a member of a Government during very difficult times when 15 Ministers of State were appointed. That was plenty. There were no ministerial advisers either. Taxpayers of Ireland would not appreciate such lavish and indulgent behaviour at this difficult time. I am sure that when the Taoiseach reflects, he will agree. The Taoiseach is rotating with the Tánaiste, the Minister for Finance is rotating with the Minister for Public Expenditure, and the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad is rotating too, but in addition the Attorney General will rotate. That is not good practice. To have an Attorney General rotate in the middle of a term of office because of political preference is not right and will not lead to good, consistent interpretation of legislation for the needs of Government or the Houses of the Oireachtas. I brought in rent freezes, which others said were unconstitutional, yet all of a sudden during the Covid crisis, they were constitutional and were introduced. We need consistency.

I have many questions around Departments but one is glaring. We have a new Government. I congratulate everyone and congratulate the Green Party in particular for being part of it. However, nowhere is there a mention of a Minster with responsibility for the environment. Who has the responsibilities for environment and planning? Who is responsible for all the wider areas of environment outside of climate change? Who, in particular, is responsible for the Environmental Protection Agency and all other planning reform?

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin It feels almost as though a wartime Government has just been assembled. We meet here because 1,700 people have lost their lives as a result of a virus that has hit our country. That should remind us all of our collective endeavour to beat this virus and return the country to some level of normality. Politics can be a harsh business, it can be quite personal at times, and in that environment the country needs to see politics working better. That is why it is disappointing to hear words such as "betrayal" and even "hatred" mentioned earlier today. My party tries not to trade in hatred or division but to oppose the elements of what Government does that we feel are wrong and support what it does that we feel is right.

I want the minds of Dáil Éireann to turn to the words of Thomas Johnson who, just over 100 years ago, wrote in the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil in 1919: "It shall be the first duty of the Government of the Republic to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter". We are in Dublin's north inner city. The great thing that has liberated those who have been disadvantaged in this country has been education, but what has enslaved them has been inequality and drugs. This Government proposes two citizens' assemblies, one on education and one on drugs. I and my party say that if the Government is genuine about radically overhauling the education system, if it is going to treat the 17.9% of Irish adults who are functionally illiterate as a scandal and realise the 30% of children who leave disadvantaged schools have basic reading problems, if it is to understand the difference between one three year old and another is a 66% differential in their oral language capacity, and if it wants to tackle all those issues in its education citizens' assembly, then we will work with the Government and support it because we believe that education is the great liberator. However, what has enslaved working-class communities is the drug issue, which goes right across the land. It is the issue of addiction and the criminalisation of those in addition. Let us treat the drugs crisis as a health issue and use the resources of the State to tackle the drug gangs and not those who suffer from what they do.

We will disagree on tax, the role of the State and its size, and on many other things, but if the Government's endeavour is to eradicate educational disadvantage and illiteracy, and to have a radical change in drug policy, then it will get agreement from the Labour Party on those areas. It is not about talking about betrayal or about hatred, it is about making politics work for people. There is so much that can be achieved in these Houses of the Oireachtas if we put aside the pre-written scripts and actually do something for the people who sent us here.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall I congratulate the Taoiseach. The idea of the Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, will take a bit of getting used to, but on a personal note I wish him well.

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