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 Header Item Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions (Continued)
 Header Item An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1003 No. 7

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin] It is anticipated that an application for technological university designation will be submitted, under the Act of 2018, by the consortium to the Minister, Deputy Harris, for a decision no later than 28 April 2021. The consortium will then be subject to peer review and the various processes. The consortium is anticipating technological university establishment by 1 January 2022. That is something we should collectively go after for the benefit of Waterford and the south east as regards higher education participation.

No decision has been made on the headquarters for the new university. I have had this discussion perviously. The most important aspect of this is the critical mass of the technological institute itself. As I said, the Government is committed to expanding the footprint of the existing institute in Waterford and that will happen. All Deputies have been consistent and constructive in pursuing this objective, which is an important objective which we should not undermine in any way because that would be to the detriment of Waterford.

Deputy Matt Shanahan: Information on Matt Shanahan Zoom on Matt Shanahan I do not understand why the question of the Technological University of the South-East, TUSE, headquarters is at issue. WIT took in €21 million in research last year while Carlow IT took in about €1.2 million. Delaying a discussion on that matter has made this a very difficult and fraught process and it should not have to be that way. We should recognise where the competencies lie.

It is always different for Waterford as regards any political delivery. We have seen it with the catheterisation laboratory build, which is now going on for more than four years and will take another 56 days for the final tender approval. We would have another hospital built in a different part of the country in the same time. The build time for the proposed elective hospital in Cork, from build to commissioning, is less than three years while we are in a four-year process to deliver a cath lab. We have the same issues about funding for UHW and additionality. Eight consultant posts that were announced have not even been approved by the Consultant Applications Advisory Committee yet. Regarding SFI funding into the Higher Education Authority, €70 million was given last year to higher education but nothing was given to WIT. A programme I brought to the Government for €2.8 million for an X-ray scanner, which was submitted in 2017, is still not approved. Some €193 million was announced yesterday for technology headquarters but again, nothing was given to WIT because we are being browbeaten into a process. I promise the Taoiseach that Waterford will not accept that.

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin My understanding is that that second hospital in Cork was announced about five or six years ago and was included in some reconfiguration report. It took some time even for a working committee to be established to consider it. I can tell the Deputy one thing: the cath lab will be built before any movement is made on that hospital.

The real point here is that for years people have campaigned for WIT to evolve into a technological university. That has happened across the country, with the three ITs getting together in Dublin and Cork and Tralee institutes of technology getting together as well. I appeal to the Deputy. There is no necessity to create division here, given that we are on the cusp of WIT becoming a technological university with Carlow IT. That is for the benefit of everybody in the south east but particularly the people of Waterford. It would be wrong now to create division around this.

As someone who has been involved in education for most of my life, both politically and otherwise, I know that what goes on in the campus is the key. That is the central issue here. The Deputy has raised the matter of the headquarters. That is an issue but it is not the core of a university. Waterford Institute of Technology has grown significantly in the last decade and more and will continue to grow but we need to move the language to one of self-confidence and asserting strengths. That will continue to be the case and the Government is committed to expanding its physical footprint into the future. That brings obvious realities with it in terms of more students and staff but, critically, there will also be a greater impact in research and other areas.

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The House has agreed that for the duration of the Covid-19 emergency only, the rapporteur's report on the Order of Business shall not be read out but shall be taken as read. There are two proposals to be considered by the House today arising from this week's business. Is the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business agreed to?

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig Mac Lochlainn Zoom on Pádraig Mac Lochlainn It is not agreed.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett As the Ceann Comhairle knows, for the last number of weeks we have expressed our opposition to the failure of the Government at the Business Committee to honour a commitment it made to ensure the Covid emergency and the response to it are a standing issue on a severely curtailed Dáil agenda. The Government has refused to honour that commitment, which I understood had been agreed at the Business Committee. Given the dire situation we are facing in ICUs and nursing homes, the huge debate about the Government's failure to properly implement mandatory quarantine and the debate about zero Covid, the very least we deserve is a proper debate on these matters this week in the Dáil. It should be a standing issue on the agenda every week, given the health emergency we face.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall I do not agree with the Order of Business. It is unbelievable that in the midst of a pandemic that is worsening in many aspects, there is no time allocated to discuss the Government's response to Covid. An announcement was made last week and no time was allowed to debate it whatsoever. There are umpteen aspects to this, including the fact that we are probably facing a public health doctors' strike very shortly because of the Government's failure to address the valid concerns those essential workers have. It is shocking that we could have public health doctors striking in the midst of a pandemic. The Taoiseach must allow the time. We have to have engagement on this and there are so many aspects to it that adequate time must be provided.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig Mac Lochlainn Zoom on Pádraig Mac Lochlainn We are in unprecedented times. The Dáil is unique in the world in sitting in an alternative Parliament. We have halved the sitting hours every week and the Opposition has co-operated and accepted this very reluctantly. We have a solemn responsibility to represent the people who voted for us. We have a solemn responsibility in a democracy to hold the Government to account. The very reason we are in this unprecedented situation is because of a public health crisis. We need to ask questions every week. The Minister for Health is on every news and radio channel. He needs to be in this Parliament on a weekly basis being accountable to us as democratically elected representatives. We understood it was agreed that that would be a standing slot for that and it is not on the Order of Business this week. The Opposition absolutely cannot agree to the schedule and at this late hour we appeal again to put aside a slot so we can hold the Government to account and do our job.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Our group is unhappy with the Order of Business too but coming onto this floor every week and wasting time on Questions on Promised Legislation is very unfair to Deputies as well. I ask the Taoiseach to ask the Chief Whip, Deputy Chambers, to be more flexible and understanding at the Business Committee, to try to get things sorted out like we used to and not to have time-wasting on the floor of the Chamber. We could be here for two weeks and the Taoiseach would not answer any questions anyway so it makes no difference but we need more time to discuss these issues.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl There are two Deputies offering from the Independent Group but we can only have one contributor. I call Deputy Pringle.

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle It is vitally important that the Dáil is what representatives are accountable to. That is where the discussions should be taking place, not on TV3 or RTÉ or anywhere else. People should be accountable here in the Parliament and let everyone see what they are actually saying in the Parliament. That is vitally important. The Dáil is on restricted time as things stand because we are trying to facilitate a national crisis but that does not mean the Government has carte blanche to go ahead and do whatever it wants without accountability.

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Throughout my political life I have been a very strong supporter of Parliament and accountability in Parliament, whether in opposition or in government.

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