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 Header Item Government Communications (Continued)
 Header Item Economic Policy

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1008 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin] There is a campaign against this, that and the other. I do not get any sense of coherence as to how we create jobs in this society. Deputy Paul Murphy's position is very anti-enterprise and anti the creation of real jobs in our society and economy.

Economic Policy

 5. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin if he will report on the work of the national reform programme. [28373/21]

 6. Deputy Paul Murphy Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin if he will report on the work of the national reform programme. [28375/21]

 7. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin if he will report on the work of the national reform programme. [25953/21]

 8. Deputy Alan Kelly Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin if he will report on the work of the national reform programme. [27892/21]

 9. Deputy Mick Barry Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin if he will report on the work of the national reform programme. [29773/21]

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 9, inclusive, together.

The national reform programme is an important element of the European semester, the annual cycle of economic and fiscal policy co-ordination which takes place among EU member states. As part of the semester, each member state prepares and submits a national reform programme to the European Commission each April. This provides an overview of reforms and policy actions, including in response to country-specific recommendations. Preparation of the national reform programme is co-ordinated by the Department of the Taoiseach with input from relevant Departments and agencies.

For 2021, in line with guidance from the European Commission, Ireland's national reform programme has been integrated into our national recovery and resilience plan. The national recovery and resilience plan is required to access funding under the EU's recovery and resilience facility. Ireland is expected to receive €915 million in grants in 2021 and 2022, with a further set of grants to be allocated in 2023. A draft of Ireland's national recovery and resilience plan was submitted to the Commission by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on 28 May 2021. The key aspects were also included in the Government's economic recovery plan published earlier this week.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I am on the Committee on Budgetary Oversight, which deals with a lot of these and with reports and commentaries on the Irish economic situation. It is an interesting fact that groups like the IMF, which we do not associate with left-wing ideology, have said a number of things. One is that income supports should not be pulled too early. Despite that, the Government has given an arbitrary date to pull income supports from people whose income and livelihood have been devastated by Covid and the pandemic measures the Government has taken.

I repeat the point about the musicians. There is no clear timeframe for musicians and the Government will cut their PUP. They are eating, as one reported to me last night, bread and jam for dinner. There is a problem. They say the onerous character of the eligibility criteria for MEBAS means the majority of musicians will not qualify.

Another thing various bodies commenting on the Irish post-Covid period have said is that we have to really invest in education and retraining. I have repeatedly raised the question with the Taoiseach of psychologists and the fact they have to work unpaid on placement and face shocking fees, such that it is almost impossible for people from a working-class or modest-income background to get a doctorate in psychology. Can we do something to reduce the burden of fees and stop the situation where they have to work for nothing on placement across the health service?

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy This national reform programme talks about climate action but, like so much else from the Government, the talk and the actions do not add up. At the same time as the fine talk, the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, has given the green light to Irish Cement to start burning a million tyres a year in its cement kiln in Limerick city. How on earth in this day and age can it be acceptable for big business to burn tyres in the city, right beside a school, a public park and people’s homes? There are major climate implications and serious health risks, especially if something goes wrong, as has happened repeatedly in the past in this factory. This plan should be resisted. Limerick Against Pollution has done great work campaigning against this over the years and the people of Limerick should not accept this. Together with the climate movement, they should organise protests and civil disobedience to stop these tyre-burning plans and protect our planet.

It also incidentally highlights a severe lack of accountability of the EPA, which has, for example, special exemptions from lawsuits despite many recommendations that it should not have such. Will the Taoiseach intervene and ensure this dangerous project does not go ahead and that there is a proper review of how it was given permission in the first place?

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald Ireland’s national reform programme is to be integrated into the Government’s national recovery and resilience plan. The aim, as I understand it, is to mitigate the economic and social impact of Covid and make our economy and society more sustainable, resilient and better prepared for the challenges ahead. On that basis, what provision does the national reform programme intend to make for tackling poverty or committing to the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights?

Yesterday the Taoiseach was asked to report on his recent engagements with the social partners and we could summarise the Taoiseach's update as underwhelming. Despite establishing a social dialogue unit in his Department, it appears its only engagements have been with the Labour Employer Economic Forum. In its submission to the national reform programme last year, Social Justice Ireland recommended an implementation mechanism for the European Pillar of Social Rights be established involving social and civil society partners. Has the Taoiseach considered tasking his new unit with this work? Crucially, Social Justice Ireland called for this implementation of the pillar to be progressed in ways that are legally binding, aiming for equal opportunities and access to the labour market, fair working conditions and social protection and inclusion. When we look at the current and historic barriers to equality of opportunity for people with disabilities, carers, young people from areas of disadvantage or the Traveller community, it is clear we need brand new thinking and new approaches in tackling inequality.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly I will make three points. First, yesterday we got the national recovery and resilience plan. The Government will have to reconsider what it is doing in relation to PUP, particularly for those in the arts and entertainment industry and a number of others sectors which will not survive if the Government continues with this cut. I think the Taoiseach knows that. It is also an opportunity to reform the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, and make it more substantial. Transforming EWSS into a short-term work scheme would ensure we have a support system in place for future downturns. Yesterday was not the first time we have heard about plans to link unemployment payments to past work PAYE and PRSI contributions. This is a standard model in many EU countries. However, will there be PRSI increases or changes in the budget to fund this? It is a valid question.

Second, the general scheme of the local property tax was published today. There is not one mention of the equalisation fund. What is the Government's stance on that fund? There are 20 local authorities depending on €133 million. I presume it is staying and it is standard. Are there any changes the Taoiseach needs to notify us of?

My final point is slightly off-topic but concerns reform. I understand it is to be announced that the leaving certificate results will come out on 3 September. That gives colleges and students no time. Some colleges are back a couple of days later. Is it accurate that the leaving certificate results will be out on 3 September? How are colleges and universities meant to deal with Covid issues and this issue as regards orientation and students getting accommodation if the results only come out then?

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin On the points made by Deputy Boyd Barrett, we are not pulling supports early; we are extending them. Notwithstanding the fact Deputies thought we would be ending them at the end of June, we are not. We are extending the pandemic unemployment payment until September and, with reductions, from September right out to February. By then we will have reopened our economy and society. We will be getting people back to work and giving supports to people to get back to work and create new jobs.

The EWSS alone supports 315,000 workers and it is being extended to the end of the year. The Covid restriction support scheme, CRSS, has also been enhanced in terms of the restart payment of three weeks at a double rate. That is significant. A new business resumption support scheme is being introduced. Commercial rates are being waived for another three months. The reduced 9% VAT rate will be kept going until September 2022.

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