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 Header Item Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions (Continued)
 Header Item Tribute to Brian McNamara
 Header Item Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1001 No. 2
Unrevised

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The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Denmark is a fabulous and well-run country and has great public services. However, it does have a significantly higher incidence of the virus than Ireland does now. We need to bear that in mind. Notwithstanding the numbers in recent days plateauing rather than continuing to fall, we are the third lowest now in Europe. Only Iceland and Finland have a lower incidence of the virus than we do. That is testimony to the work that Irish people and society have done in reducing the transmission of the virus.

I believe teachers have done a fabulous job. They have done an amazing job in my view in recent months in getting schools open, keeping them open and in dealing with cases and clusters as they arise. I pay tribute to them for doing this work in recent weeks and months. I have visited a couple of schools in recent weeks and it has been really impressive to see the way our teachers and boards of management have created a new normal environment for children in which to get their education. We owe them a real debt of gratitude.

Schools are safe places for teachers and children. In a pandemic nowhere is 100% safe - not even a person's home is 100% safe. Yet, as far as things go, schools are among the safest places in which to be during this pandemic. That applies to the staff as well as the students. We need to reassure people of that.

Deputy Smith has raised a particular matter around HSE advice. I would be happy to look into that further. I do not know the details. I would have thought that if someone is advised by a doctor to take health and safety leave or sick leave during pregnancy, that would be enough. Certainly, when I was practising as a general practitioner, if a pregnant woman came into my surgery and I believed it was appropriate for her to take health and safety leave or sick leave, I would certify it. I have never come across it being second-guessed by someone else. If Deputy Smith wants to pass on some more details about that to me, I would be happy to have it explored and to see what the situation is.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith I am happy to pass on the details. I did pass on information to the Tánaiste about the forgotten families. It was a week or two ago but I have heard nothing back. The Tánaiste said he would check it out, what is happening with these 500 children who cannot access online services from schools because they are not supposed to be at home according to the official policy of the HSE and the Department of Education. In fact, they are staying at home because they do not want to bring the virus back to vulnerable siblings or parents. That is a big issue. This alone indicates there is a problem in schools.

The example I have given the Tánaiste this morning indicates there is a problem with how Medmark is determining whether it is safe for teachers to go in. This probably stems from the HSE advice but there is no doubt that principals, teachers and parents throughout this country are concerned about contact tracing and whether what is determined as a close contact in the schools is being met sufficiently. I believe we have to look at it.

We have to look at the ratio of children to teachers as well. We have to look at the question of ventilation in our schools. I know of one school in Mayo where a representative for the union kicked up about the ventilation. Within days, those responsible put in the investment and they were able to improve it. That should be done in 80% of our schools. The question of sick leave for teachers has to be addressed.

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I have received what Deputy Smith sent me relating to the forgotten families. I am engaging with the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, to see if we can find a solution. I believe it is important for children who cannot attend school for health reasons to be provided for in some way, perhaps through an online access system or something like that. I did receive that and I am going to follow up on it with the Minister, Deputy Foley.

A great deal has been put in place to help schools manage the pandemic, not only all the extra funding and staffing but a dedicated telephone line that principals can use as well. It operates even at weekends. There are dedicated school teams in place to assist schools from a public health point of view. As well as that, there is fast-tracking of testing in some cases. I think a lot has been done to make our schools as safe as they possibly can be made during this pandemic. That should be acknowledged.

Deputy Smith makes a valid point on ventilation. We know that in this pandemic outdoors is safer than indoors and a well-ventilated environment is safer than a poorly ventilated environment. That is only common sense. I believe we will have to look at our public buildings and see what we can do to improve ventilation where possible. That might not always be possible, but where possible, we should try to do something.

Tribute to Brian McNamara

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Before proceeding to Questions on Promised Legislation, I think it is appropriate that the House would acknowledge the recent retirement of Brian McNamara, the Oireachtas chef. He has left us after 40 years of service in our restaurants. Members, staff and visitors have benefited from Brian's skills and dedication in the Oireachtas kitchen.

Brian came to us from the old Hibernian Hotel. After starting out in the Oireachtas kitchen as a pastry chef, he progressed to become a trained master butcher. That was in the days when sides of beef and lamb were delivered here.

Most of us at some point have enjoyed a sirloin steak expertly prepared by Brian. I can personally attest to having enjoyed maybe too many of those over several years. Brian has spent many long days and nights with his close-knit team in the kitchen, working to provide us all with breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in between.

The work of a chef is stressful and physically demanding in any environment, but Brian has given 40 years of his life to such a role within a uniquely challenging environment of extended sittings, unexpected sittings and visiting dignitaries. He has dealt with all of these with good humour and resilience, ensuring that, whatever is happening in the Dáil and Seanad Chambers, at least no one will ever go hungry. We wish him a long, enjoyable and happy retirement.

Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Many people have indicated but we will start with Deputy Pearse Doherty.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty Ba mhaith liom cur leis an méid a dúirt an Ceann Comhairle. Tá súil agam go mbeidh saol fada sásta ag Brian agus é ag éirí as an phost.

The Ceann Comhairle might clarify to the House the position in respect of the switching of ministerial questions and the appropriateness of doing that without consultation with Members of the Opposition. We are hearing that the Minister for Justice has now pushed back her questions to December. Again, this is another way in which the Government is trying to refuse and deny the Opposition from raising questions on this matter. Maybe that can be clarified.

I want to ask the Tánaiste about a big election issue, one that was dominant during the election in February, which is the absolute runaway train that is the national children's hospital. We know this was a major issue that dominated a lot of conversation in terms of out-of-control costs and delays relating to the building of the hospital. We know it was the most expensive hospital in the world. Now the position has deteriorated since and it will cost more. The most expensive hospital is getting more expensive. We have no idea when it will be built.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Time is up, Deputy.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty This goes back to the Tánaiste's time as Minister for Health, when he came up with this contract system that was signed off by the former Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Deputy, your time is up, please. You had one minute.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty What will the Government do to curtail the costs? When will we find out when this hospital will be built?

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I want to join the Ceann Comhairle in paying tribute to Brian and wishing him the very best in his retirement. It has been an unfortunate feature of the pandemic in recent months that we have been unable to experience the restaurant in the way we did before. He really did a great job and I hope he has a good retirement.

Deputy Doherty raised the matter of ministerial questions. I am informed that the questions schedule was changed because the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has an EU meeting and there was a swap between justice and agriculture questions. That was agreed by the Business Committee. That was a change made in the normal way.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty There are no questions on justice. This is all the more reason the Minister for Justice needs to come here to answer questions.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Please, Deputy. Let the Tánaiste respond.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty The Government has pushed back questions to the Minister for Justice. It is ridiculous. This is a serious matter.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I am well aware that it is serious.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty They are saying it is coincidence.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Deputy, you are consuming your colleagues' time.

Deputy Brendan Griffin: Information on Brendan Griffin Zoom on Brendan Griffin Deputy Doherty got an explanation for this before the Business Committee.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Please, Deputy Griffin, we do not need your intervention.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine could swap with any other Minister. This is about people in this House denying the Opposition a chance. They will not allow for a debate. The Minister has been scheduled to come in since way back in September.

Deputy Brendan Griffin: Information on Brendan Griffin Zoom on Brendan Griffin Deputy Doherty is misleading the public and the people he is supposed to represent.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Deputies, this is not edifying. Please behave like parliamentarians.

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The question on the children's hospital can only be answered by the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board. Everyone will know that the project is delayed. There are many reasons it is delayed. One of these is the delay caused by Covid-19. Then there are all the issues around the claims and disputes with the contractor.


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