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Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation (Continued)

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1004 No. 4
Unrevised

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly] It would make more sense for them to continue to work for one day per week in some other facility. We could have a real issue with this. Like with the student nurses, why are we going out for this most important HR solution for vaccinations and not paying people a decent wage for the length of time it will take?

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I do not have any detail on the different pay rates being offered to people who will be working in the vaccination centres, but like I said, we will have a subcommittee on Covid this afternoon and I will take that up with the HSE then.

Deputy Jennifer Whitmore: Information on Jennifer  Whitmore Zoom on Jennifer  Whitmore I want to follow up on the question from Deputy Bríd Smith on the mother and baby homes commission. On the one hand, the Tánaiste said the Government knows there is a flaw in the system and that once these commissions hand over their reports they dissolve and the Government is left answering questions for them. On the other hand, the Tánaiste is saying he will not extend the commission. It is within the remit of the Government to change that legislation, to change the date and to extend that commission. The Social Democrats have drafted a Bill to that effect and we would love it if the Government would support it. Otherwise, the Government should bring in its own legislation and we will support that but it is important that it is done. Everyone acknowledges that, in October, the Government completely mishandled the legislation on the mother and baby homes issue. It is walking back into the exact same situation again in which survivors will be let down.

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I am not saying we will not extend it. I am saying that the Minister is giving that consideration. If we do extend it, we want to know that it will serve a purpose and help us solve the problem that has arisen around deleted audio recordings. We do not know if they are recoverable and an answer to that question would be helpful.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith There seems to be a push to get all the kids back to school and it is understandable that people want that. It was said in yesterday's Irish Independent that it has figures that show that the cohort of people next most susceptible to Covid during the third wave are young people, from ages 16 to 18, and so reopening the schools has huge implications. Has the Government ensured that the work was done to make our schools safe? I mention the size of the classrooms. Have we acquired more spaces so that children and young people can be spaced out further away from each other? Have we employed more teachers so that we can guarantee that the class sizes are smaller? Have we dealt with the question of ventilation in the classroom? We are told that 80% of our schools have poor ventilation and we have had nine months or, arguably, a whole year to do this work. How much of it has been done?

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar A lot of extra staff have been hired and a lot of resources have been provided to schools to adapt to Covid by purchasing screens, sanitisers and all of those things. A lot has been done in that regard. The advice we have from NPHET and our public health doctors and scientists is that schools are safe places but no place is 100% safe. Any place in which people are going to interact carries a certain risk. We have to bear in mind, however, the high risk of denying children and young adults their education, the opportunity to meet other young people and the opportunity to develop. We have to bear that in mind in any decisions that we make. The World Health Organization has been strong on that matter too. It strongly argues that the last thing that should be done is to close schools and the first places to be opened are schools because of the wider benefits of that.

Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick: Information on Peter Fitzpatrick Zoom on Peter Fitzpatrick I am looking for the Government to intervene on promised legislation. In the programme for Government, the Central Bank (Amendment) Bill 2018 is due for pre-legislative scrutiny in the autumn. Will the Tánaiste give an update on this Bill? The reason I am looking for this update is due to the fact that many of the main banks are reneging on loan approvals for PAYE workers whose employers avail of the Government's temporary wage subsidy scheme. It will be disgraceful if banks are allowed to get away with this. Many of these workers are in desperate need of a home for themselves, and in many cases, their families. They have done everything that was asked of them. They have saved for their deposits, paid their deposits, got their loan approvals in principle and it is just when they are ready to close that they are told by the banks that their loan approvals are no longer valid. I have spoken to people in Dundalk and there is a real anger about this. We all know the banks received help when they needed it and the taxpayers of this country are still paying a heavy price. I am asking the Tánaiste and his Government to intervene. I know the Tánaiste is meeting the Minister for Finance today-----

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I am told there is no date yet for that Bill but I will take up the matter with the Minister for Finance today when I speak to him. We need to be frank and honest with people. Banks have a responsibility to engage in prudent lending and they should only lend money to people or businesses where there is a reasonable confidence that they will be able to pay it back. The Deputy talked about the banks being helped out in the past and the reason they had to be helped out or bailed out in the past was because they lent a lot of money to a lot of people and businesses that could not pay it back. It is not in anyone's interest for us to have a repeat of that. Because people have lost their jobs and because so many people have seen their incomes fall, the truth is that there are people who might have been able to service a loan a year ago who might not be able to now or in a year's time. We need to be honest with people about these things.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath There are almost 30,000 families, homes, businesses and schools waiting for broadband in Tipperary, according to National Broadband Ireland, NBI. A recent response I got to a parliamentary question told me that there were 8,000 surveyed in Tipperary, which means that 21,000 were not surveyed. These people are trying to work, do business, get education, pursue leisure and do everything, so when will the roll-out of broadband be accelerated? The Tánaiste mentioned the banks and so on doing business online now, but the Government is not thinking about people in rural Ireland who cannot access broadband and who have no idea when they will be able to access it. We are talking about a four-year roll-out. When will it be accelerated for these people to be able to work from home like the Tánaiste says people can in Dublin? The Tánaiste is fortunate with that in his constituency but people in rural Ireland are entitled to fair play as well.

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Most people do their banking online and they do it on their phones, and one does not need broadband for that. If the Deputy asks around in his constituency and community, people will tell him they mainly do their banking on their phones. Leaving that aside, I will meet NBI in the coming weeks to discuss the acceleration of the national broadband plan. As the Deputy knows, this is a huge investment of €3 billion in rural Ireland. A contract was signed by the previous Government and was opposed by most other Members of this House. I am glad they no longer oppose it and that they want it to be accelerated. That is exactly what I will be talking to the company about. It involves 100,000 homes, farms and businesses being connected every year for the next six or seven years. If it can be speeded up, it will be speeded up. The political will and the money are there to do it but I understand this is a huge technical operation and it can only be done as quickly as it can be done.

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle I want to go back over the exchange the Tánaiste had on Ulster Bank during Leader's Questions and the difficulties that will happen tomorrow when NatWest announces its decision on Ulster Bank. It is vitally important that Ulster Bank is maintained to generate that third force within the banking industry in Ireland. The Minister for Finance is not an innocent bystander in this. We own a 75% stake in Permanent TSB so we can go in and say that we can take over the retail responsibilities of the bank and provide that third force. We should be putting that up to Ulster Bank or NatWest to make sure that is within their consideration, and that is vitally important. I would ask that the Tánaiste would ask the Minister for Finance to make sure that is done so that we can manage our own move away from the banking system.

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar As I said earlier on, the development of a third banking force that is able to compete with Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Banks, AIB, would be welcome. It is something the Government would support but any decision on Ulster Bank will be a commercial decision for NatWest. With anything we do in trying to put together a third or a new banking force, we would have to make sure that entity would be successful, viable, profitable and in a position to compete with Bank of Ireland and AIB. That would mean taking on the strong aspects. We would not want to set up a third banking force to fail. We would want to make sure we get it right.

Deputy Michael Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins Millions of euro is after being spent in Bandon on water and sewerage infrastructure but serious questions have to be asked of Irish Water as sewage is entering some properties on the New Road area in Bandon in recent weeks, especially over the past weekend.


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