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Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1003 No. 7
Unrevised

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Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl We have 34 Deputies offering for Questions on Promised Legislation. It is highly unlikely that we will even get to half of them. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald, please.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald The negative consequences of Brexit are now becoming readily apparent. So too is the need for the Irish protocol, which was hard won, and the necessity for those protections for the Good Friday Agreement, our all-Ireland economy and so on. Unfortunately, the misguided approach by the European Commission last Friday has now been seized on by a section of political unionism; ironically, by the same section of people who championed Brexit despite repeated warnings that Brexit would be bad and damaging for Ireland as a whole. Nonetheless, they now use this misstep by the European Commission as the basis to launch an attack on the protocol to attempt to undermine, to unravel and, they say, to have it removed. The united front that we created was successful and necessary in securing the protections for Ireland in the face of Brexit.

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

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I believe we now need calm, cool leadership and that same united front. I invite the Taoiseach to confirm that the Irish protocol and the protections for our island are permanent and firm, will not be unravelled and are not up for grabs.

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I accept and believe there is a need collectively all round for calm, cool leadership. Certainly, we responded quickly on Friday evening when the Commission made, in my view, a mistake in terms of dealing with the AstraZeneca vaccination supply issue via the protocol and Article 16. To be fair, as soon as I engaged with the President of the Commission she responded quickly and reversed the decision. To me, it was a demonstration of the goodwill of the Commission. There is a genuine desire on behalf of the Commission not in any way to undermine peace or create any difficulties. It was certainly not a hostile act.

That said, the British Government in its wisdom decided to pursue a relatively hard Brexit and to stay outside the customs union and the Single Market. This has necessitated a co-operation and trade agreement. Thankfully, that has been arrived at, and it means no tariffs and no quotas. However, there was always a necessity to create special provisions for Northern Ireland to underpin the Good Friday Agreement and to facilitate access for Northern Ireland industry farming, business and jobs to the Single Market in Europe as well as to the UK market. It is for the benefit of everyone. It does need some changes. We believe that working collectively between the UK Government, the Commission, ourselves and the Northern Ireland Executive we can moderate the impact of this in terms of basic issues that have been raised on all sides.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly I am returning to the issue of quarantine. Mandatory quarantine is necessary. Quarantine at home is a waste of time. The new variants are potentially lethal. That is the analysis coming through.

The Health Act 1947 actually gives the Minister quite an amount of power, if we read it. In May of last year, the Minister for Health, the Minister for Justice, the Attorney General and all other relevant Ministers agreed, as a result of a request from the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, to come together to discuss how to bring this about. What has happened? What actions have been taken for the past eight months on quarantine following that request and that group coming together? Will the Taoiseach confirm to the House, after eight months, that they were not doing nothing? I call on the Taoiseach to tell me they were not doing nothing. When, at the latest, we will have this legislation in front of the House? All of us will facilitate it next week for as long as we have to sit.

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The period in May was during the interregnum Government and the last Government as it dealt with the pandemic. As we know, through the summer months the numbers were low. Most of the representations in this House were with a view to relaxing restrictions and opening up. The overwhelming number of calls in the House were to do just that. Deputies were concerned about airports, airlines, employment and so on. Legislation will be introduced quickly and it will be brought into the House.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly Is that next week?

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin It will improve this and give greater capacity. I appreciate Deputy Kelly's offer to facilitate the speedy passage of this legislation through the House. In fairness, the Deputy has indicated that he will do so.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly Will it be next week?

Deputy Cian O'Callaghan: Information on Cian O'Callaghan Zoom on Cian O'Callaghan In the recent "RTÉ Investigates" programme on homelessness, Natalie told us about how she feels safer sleeping in a tent rather than in emergency homeless accommodation. Last week in the Dáil, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage told us that the national quality standards framework applies to all homeless accommodation, including private providers. On Friday at the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Mr. Brendan Kenny of Dublin City Council confirmed that this is not the case and the private providers are not having these national standards applied to them. Will the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage come to the Dáil and update the record on this? Will the Government move swiftly to ensure the national standards apply to all homeless accommodation, including that of private providers?

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Of course I will alert the Minister to the comments and the request of the Deputy. I wish to make the point that sustained action has been taken in respect of homelessness and the provision of emergency accommodation. The numbers are coming down. Obviously, we want them to come down further. Certainly, we want to create sustainable housing alternatives for people who are homeless in this country. That is our commitment and objective under the programme for Government.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Yesterday, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, announced the welcome decision - one for which People Before Profit has been campaigning for quite some time - to cease issuing new gas and oil exploration licences. Of course, it then emerges that the gas and oil companies are welcoming this because all the existing licences as well as ones such as Barryroe that are up for extension, renewal or adaptation will continue. This means we will have licences extending to 2034. In the face of a climate emergency, we are actually planning to facilitate the further extraction of fossil fuels with all the damage that does to our environment and future. Does the Taoiseach not believe that we should not only cease issuing new licences but that we should not renew, extend or in any way adapt existing licences to facilitate the extraction of fossil fuels?

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin On foot of recommendations from the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, the intention is to legislatively provide for no more new exploratory licences in respect of fossil fuel. That is a groundbreaking and significant decision, the first of its kind. I do not in any way question the credentials of the Minister when it comes to dealing with this issue in a comprehensive way. There are clearly legal challenges in respect of any existing licences that have been issued.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett The Minister can cancel them.

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin In Deputy Boyd Barrett's land, everything is simple and straightforward.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I want it to be effective.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The Taoiseach, without interruption.

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Without question this is a significant milestone in policy terms and a welcome one. Deputy Boyd Barrett should welcome it and not seek to undermine the Minister's objectives in this regard.

Deputy Matt Shanahan: Information on Matt Shanahan Zoom on Matt Shanahan We can all agree that we have a terrible vista at the moment in hospitals and nursing homes with cross infection in all our hospitals and a large number of our nursing homes. The Taoiseach is well aware that I brought antigen testing to NPHET last April. I am an advocate for these tests. Despite NPHET's resistance to them, they are being used informally in hospitals. I know of a respiratory consultant in Dublin who is using them to look after his own staff and his bed allocation. He has done over 50 antigen tests and they completely mimic the results of polymerase chain reaction, PCR, testing. At present in the nursing home establishments there is PCR testing one day per week for staff. That is now due to extend to one day per fortnight. This is totally inadequate. Will the Government look at bringing in antigen testing, rapid screen testing, biweekly into our nursing homes and hospitals for our hospital staff to try to reduce the infection load?


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