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

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 am not familiar with the rapid one-hour PCR test but I will certainly check it out and follow up on it. It is not a secret that there are differences of opinion with regard to lateral flow rapid antigen testing and rapid antigen testing in general. In the main, public health doctors are not enthusiastic about it but scientists generally are. That has been an issue all along. The report published by Professor Ferguson, the chief scientific adviser, has been endorsed by Government. We are now seeing a lot of antigen testing in many workplaces around Ireland and in outbreak scenarios. It is also being piloted in schools and colleges. We will see more of that in the coming months. The Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, is working on a plan to get our college campuses back open in September and October. The students and the staff will be vaccinated by then and antigen testing may help to enable them to have a more normal on-campus experience in September and October, which is what we all want. My Department is taking the lead in respect of antigen testing in the workplace. We are currently updating the workplace safety protocols relating to Covid. These will include a section on antigen testing.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath There is a significant issue with regard to theory tests, driving lessons and driving tests being unavailable. This is causing large backlogs in many sectors of industry. This is very important for young people who wish to train as paramedics and nurses and who want to drive to college. They want to get their lessons, get on the road and play their part in the recovery of our economy. Something has to be done because the backlog and is enormous and the delays relating to it are lengthy. I salute the driving instructors but people cannot get appointments for theory tests or driving tests. We must deal with this. There is a massive backlog and a great deal of frustration. People need to get driving in order to support the economy and their families. Will the Tánaiste please do something with regard to lifting restrictions in this area in order to deal with this situation?

To correct the record, the Tánaiste stated that no group had opposed any of the draconian measures the Government has brought through. The Rural Independent Group and I brought forward a motion which opposed some of these measures. Will the Tánaiste correct the record?

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I am happy to correct the record in that regard. What I meant to say was that the laws in question were passed by this Oireachtas. I did not suggest that everybody voted for them. I understand that in only one case was an attempt made to rescind a statutory instrument. That attempt was defeated in a democratic vote of this House.

On the issue the Deputy raised, I concur with him. Young people particularly those in rural Ireland but also those in urban areas, need to get on the road. There are particular issues with regard to driving lessons and driving tests that we are trying to sort out. We are also looking at the possibility of doing theory tests online. That is being worked on at the moment and I hope to have some positive news in that regard if not today, then in the next few days.

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle I congratulate the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and her husband on the birth of their baby boy. I wish them all the best.

This afternoon, there is to be a briefing by the Saolta University Health Care Group on the implementation of the recommendations of the review of gynaecological services in Letterkenny published last August. This briefing comes following a recent announcement that the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, is to carry out a review of governance arrangements for gynaecological services at Letterkenny University Hospital. This review is timely. We can all agree that gynaecological services need to be improved and the waiting times for diagnosis, treatment and consultation reduced.

I also note the excellent recommendations given by the Citizens' Assembly last weekend on the issue of gender equality. Among its many recommendations were that maternity leave should be introduced for all elected representatives, that lone parents should get the same total period of parental leave as couples, that childcare should be publicly funded, that we should move towards a living wage instead of a minimum wage by 2025 and that we should have a right to collective bargaining. What actions will the Government be taking in the next year in respect of these recommendations?

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I very much welcome the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly and I thank its members for the work they have done. They have produced a really excellent report, as did the Constitutional Convention and previous citizens' assemblies such as that which considered the eighth amendment. Government will consider these recommendations and the Oireachtas will also want to do so. We will be able to issue a reasoned response once we have done that. It is fair to say that Government will agree with and want to pursue many, and perhaps the vast majority, of the recommendations but, as is always the case with citizens' assemblies, this assembly has looked at a particular set of matters in a discrete way while we all know, from our experience in politics, that, whether we like it or not, there are limitations. We have limited financial resources, human resources and legislative time. It is never possible to do everything we would like to at the one time but we can do a lot of things over time.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly There are 16 Deputies listed to speak so I ask for Members' co-operation. We will begin with Deputy Carroll MacNeill.

Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill: Information on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill Zoom on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill We have heard the fantastic news today that the Minister, Deputy McEntee, has had a baby boy. Huge congratulations to Helen and Paul. It is powerful proof for young women watching that they can hold high office and still be supported in having a baby. However, as the Tánaiste said, we have more to do. As Deputy McEntee has said, that was a temporary sticking plaster. I hope today can be a springboard moment and that the Government will now commit to a plan to introduce the necessary permanent arrangements to support women in politics, all the way from councillors to Cabinet members. I hope Government will show real ambition in this regard. For example, it might do so as a little welcome back gift before the Minister returns from maternity leave. The elements of it are coming together. I published a Bill on remote voting for Deputies and Senators. That Bill was supported by the women's caucus and is being advanced with the Taoiseach. The Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, is dealing with maternity leave for councillors. This is very needed, even in my own area where two councillors have had babies since being elected. Will the Tánaiste commit to showing ambition in respect of developing a suite of measures to get this sorted?

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the Deputy for her work on this topic. Anybody who has looked into the matter will understand the complexity of it all. Something being complex is not, however, an excuse not to act. It is our intention to put in place more permanent and durable solutions as opposed to the sticking-plaster version put in place for the Minister and for councillors around the country. One thing we need to bear in mind, which often does not come across in public debates, is that, while it is absolutely wrong that women politicians do not have maternity leave as a right, that is not necessarily for the reasons people think. Officeholders, politicians and judges are not employees. We have no employment rights. We have to look at these issues in the round.

Deputy Cathal Crowe: Information on Cathal Crowe Zoom on Cathal Crowe I join with others in congratulating the Minister, Deputy McEntee, on her wonderful news this morning.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to ending direct provision. I am delighted that it was announced just a few weeks ago that this will happen by 2024. It cannot happen soon enough. I grew up in Meelick, County Clare, which is the location of one of Ireland's oldest direct provision centres, and I have got to know and befriended many families there over the years. This system cannot be wound down soon enough. Eyes in the community are now turning to what will happen to that site afterwards. It has been some form of direct provision centre or refugee facility right back to the 1950s and 1960s. There are a number of local sports clubs such as Meelick GAA Club, Parkville Football Club, Ballynanty Rovers and Thomond Rugby Football Club. The site is right on the boundary between the north of Limerick city and the south Clare area. It is a colossal landbank located near Limerick Institute of Technology and the new northern distributor road. I hope Government has a vision for this site which will give a new purpose that many people across different age groups can enjoy for many years to come.

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I am not sure if there are any specific plans for the Meelick site but I will let the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, know that the Deputy has raised the matter and has some suggestions as to how it could be put into use for the benefit of the community. I am sure he will want to consider them. It is the Government's policy to phase out direct provision and it has committed to doing so but we are realistic that it will take quite some time. We have a housing shortage in this country and there is a real difficulty with capacity in the construction centre which is an issue in building not only the houses we need, but also the public infrastructure we need. There are real limitations in that regard. There is going to be a difficulty.

Deputy Matt Carthy: Information on Matt Carthy Zoom on Matt Carthy I wish to be associated with the kind regards being sent to the Minister, Deputy McEntee, on the birth of her son.

This week, we learned from RTÉ that a seven-year-old girl with autism has been informed that she will have to wait until 2026 for an appointment with school-age support services. Such a timeframe is, unfortunately, not unique, although it is atypical for the HSE to be so blunt. I am aware of dozens of families in my constituency whose children are waiting years for assessments of need, autism services, child development supports, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and psychology services.

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