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

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1006 No. 3

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The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I will, with the help of the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, look into the issue the Deputy raised of people who are on the pandemic unemployment payment moving to a lower payment, maternity benefit, and we will see whether we can do anything on it.

I had the privilege to be Taoiseach for three years and Minister for Social Protection for one year, and this is exactly the space I moved us into. I restored treatment benefit, dental and optical, for people who have paid PRSI, extended social insurance benefits, such as treatment benefit, to the self-employed and farmers. I brought in paternity benefit, extended jobseeker's benefit and invalidity pension for the first time to the self-employed and increased the minimum wage by 25%. I think I have a good record, in the brief time I had to do those things, and hope to do more in this role and any future role I may hold in government. These things need to be worked out and legislated for, and also to be funded.

Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

Deputy Louise O'Reilly: Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly We in Sinn Féin have been constantly raising with the Tánaiste and the Government the issue of sky-high, extortionate rents being paid by workers and families. The average rent in Dublin is now €1,745 a month, while the average across the State is in excess of €1,200. These rents are absolutely eye-watering, as is the €1 billion the State will pay to private landlords this year. Renters are paying nearly every cent they have just to keep a roof over their heads. They are effectively locked out of home ownership. How on earth can anybody save for a deposit when they have to pay €1,745 out of their wages every month? It is nothing but a vicious cycle.

Incredibly, the Government still refuses to intervene to cut rents and to prevent further increases. It needs to do the right thing. It needs to cut rents by putting one month's rent back into the pockets of renters through a tax refund and to legislate urgently to stop further rent hikes for the next three years. Will it do that?

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Rents are too high in Ireland and in Dublin especially. I do not think anyone would dispute that statement. We have brought in rent controls to limit the extent to which rents can be increased, through the rent pressure zones. The problem of rents being too high is not going to be solved by tax credits or rent controls, which people can get around through subletting and do in other cities very regularly. It can be dealt with only by supply. We need much more social housing, which will free up properties for people to rent. We also need more cost rental, more private builds and more housing of all sorts. That is why I appeal, in particular, to Sinn Féin and the parties of the left to stop opposing new housing in this city and throughout Ireland-----

Deputy Louise O'Reilly: Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly Answer the question and do not try to deflect.

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar There is no solution to this without building more homes and more apartments of all types.

Deputy Louise O'Reilly: Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly This does not reflect well on the Government.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly I raised with the Taoiseach yesterday the issue of access to maternity services for the partners of those giving birth. The Tánaiste might confirm whether we will be getting news on this today because I have been raising the issue in the House for seven months.

Another issue I have been raising here for seven months - we were sitting in Leinster House when I first raised it, in October - is that of antigen testing. It is connected with access to maternity services because, for the reopening of businesses and services the Government is hoping to announce later, antigen testing has to have a role. Is the Government going to follow the UK's lead, where seven free antigen tests are being given to everyone? As regards reopening businesses and society, antigen testing has a very significant role to play. We have had promises in the past and I am sick and tired of raising it here.

I would appreciate a positive response to both issues.

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The matter of visits to maternity hospitals is under consideration, although I do not know whether there will be an announcement on it today. A strong case is being made for partners to be able to attend antenatal appointments and that is currently under consideration. The change in vaccine guidance is helpful. The national immunisation advisory committee, NIAC, has now advised that pregnant women should receive the vaccine. It will be made available to them and I think that will help the situation.

On antigen testing, there are no plans at the moment to provide free tests to members of the public but antigen testing is now being used much more frequently throughout the country. It was used to test everyone recently at Intel following the outbreak there and will be used more extensively in schools, colleges and workplaces. I expect that the revised protocol on safe working, which my Department is developing in consultation with unions and employers, will have a specific section on antigen testing in workplaces.

Deputy Gary Gannon: Information on Gary Gannon Zoom on Gary Gannon We have heard time and again that nobody is safe until everybody is safe, in the context of vaccine justice and equity. Tomorrow, the World Trade Organization, WTO, meets to discuss the potential waiver of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, TRIPS. The Tánaiste is our Minister with responsibility for trade. I asked the Taoiseach this question at several points yesterday and did not get an answer. What is the Government's position on the TRIPS waiver?

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar One thing we all need to acknowledge, when it comes to the miracle that is the development of these vaccines, is that they were developed by private enterprise and with the help of Government funding-----

Deputy Gary Gannon: Information on Gary Gannon Zoom on Gary Gannon Public money.

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar -----and with the private and public sectors working together and we need to acknowledge that. Were it not for private enterprise, it is possible these vaccines would not have been developed.

As it happens, none of the vaccines are made in Ireland and the intellectual property does not sit in Ireland, so our position on that has to be seen in that context. There are discussions on a waiver request. They will continue at the TRIPS council meeting tomorrow but I am informed that no decision will be made at the meeting and discussions will be ongoing for some time. The EU is open to trying to reach an agreement with all members of the WTO on how to achieve the shared goal of providing timely and secure access to safe and affordable vaccines and medicines for all. We are welcoming the proposal of the WTO Director-General, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who is exploring a third way to expand access to vaccines through a licensing system.

Deputy Mick Barry: Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry Five hundred ESB network technicians are on strike today. They are striking over plans to outsource their jobs to private contractors and are making a stand against creeping privatisation. The company refuses to recognise their union, the Independent Workers Union, or to meet it at the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, to try to sort out the differences. Instead, it is threatening to take legal action against the union. To be clear, this is the union of choice for nearly half of the workforce. The company's stance is tantamount to an attempt at union-busting.

Before the dispute escalates next Tuesday and Wednesday, will the Tánaiste call on the ESB to step back from the brink by withdrawing the threat of legal action and agreeing to talk to the chosen representatives of these workers?

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Network technicians at ESB Networks who are members of the Independent Workers Union are engaged in industrial action, including work-to-rule and work stoppages. Industrial relations within ESB Networks are a matter for the company, and while any industrial action is regrettable, the impact of this particular action is expected to be limited. The action has been taken by network technicians at ESB Networks who are members of the Independent Workers Union. This union is not affiliated to either the ESB group of unions or the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, and workers who are members of those unions are not involved in the action.

Deputy Michael Lowry: Information on Michael Lowry Zoom on Michael Lowry As we progress our vaccine roll-out and move towards the reopening of society, we must avail of every option to get business and industry fully operational as safely as possible. I have consistently raised with the Tánaiste the urgent necessity to utilise rapid antigen testing. We now also have available new technology, namely, a rapid PCR test that gives an accurate result within one hour. I do not understand the reluctance to follow the worldwide example of using rapid testing to detect Covid. Professor Mark Ferguson, who chaired the Government's rapid testing group, outlined that tests are easy to perform and generate rapid results. They detect both symptomatic and asymptomatic carriers. They can provide a means for the construction industry, hospitality and retail to move forward towards a faster and sustainable reopening. Why have the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, and the HSE dithered on this issue? What is the Government's current stance on introducing rapid testing in both the public and private sectors?

Last Updated: 07/05/2021 10:12:44 First Page Previous Page Page of 77 Next Page Last Page