The Taoiseach answered questions in a feisty affair.
IT WAS HIGH NOON in the Dáil today, with the Taoiseach facing another round of Leaders’ Questions
He had a feisty exchange with Gerry Adams on the status of the North after Brexit, and faced questions on garda reform and services for children with disabilities.
The Ceann Comhairle says the opening prayer, and away we go.
The Fianna Fáil leader Michéal Martin is up first.
Parents of children with special needs face too many barriers to accessing services, he says.
640 children are waiting over a year for their first OT assessment, Martin says, and Kerry and Cork are among the areas worst affected.
“It’s a shocking indictment of what’s going on,” Martin says.
Parents go without respite for up to two to three years, according to the Fianna Fáil leader.
“There’s a medieval bureaucratic system around accessing aids for these children,” he says.
“The barriers have to be taken down.”
The Taoiseach says that the government have adopted the findings of the Eamon Stack report.
The HSE is currently reconfiguring existing therapy resources, Kenny says.
Implementation of new programmes will have a positive effect, but there are clearly challenges with respite services, he says.
The situation is not “as satisfactory as one would wish,” according to Kenny.
Martin says that the bottom line is that “this simply is not working”.
He says long waits for assessment, and an inability to access services for disabilities, are seen across the country.
“The situation is out of control,” Martin.
He calls for urgent intervention to resolve this comprehensively.
The full implementation of the progressive disability services programme will come by the end of this year, according to Kenny
Funding has been committed to help reduce these long waiting lists in a number of areas, the Taoiseach adds.
Gerry Adams up next, and he’s talking about the Good Friday Agreement.
“The biggest threat to this agreement is presented by Brexit. And I’m sure we can agree on that at least.”
He says Kenny’s approach to Brexit is a monumental failure.
There is a need for a designated status for the North in Europe.
He says a person’s right to an Irish passport in the North, which would make them part of the EU, is at odds with getting taken out of the EU.
He contrasts the veto that Spain sought for Gibraltar with the government’s approach.
“Have you ever told the British government to respect the vote in the North to stay in the EU?”
“You and I differ on a number of issues here,” Kenny tells Adams.
You have a specific responsibility to put an executive in place in Northern Ireland, he adds.
“What I want to see in the final documents is the language of the Good Friday Agreement, which would allow a vote for a United Ireland at a later date.
“I hope that your party sees to it that, irrespective of political disagreements with DUP, you put an executive in place.”
He says that Gibraltar is a completely different case to Northern Ireland.
“I have said to the Prime Minister that the people in Northern Ireland have a very definite point of view.”
“I wont take lectures from you on my responsibilities,” Adams responds.
“You clearly didn’t tell the British government” to accept the vote in the North, the Sinn Féin leader says.
The only way to stop a hard economic border is to have special status for the North in the EU, Adams says.
He accuses Kenny of not understanding his position in relation to the Good Friday Agreement.
“Will you commit to looking for an amendment. Yes or no?”
“I hope the results in the North haven’t gone to your head that you think you know everything about everything,” Kenny retorts.
He reiterates that the Spanish position on Gibraltar is entirely different to the case in the North.
“We won’t have a return to a hard border,” Kenny says.
We’ve negotiated to this point in looking after our priorities, he adds.
“I will not take any lectures from you, deputy Adams”.
Labour leader Brendan Howlin is next. He’s talking about An Garda Síochana.
He says he will support garda reforms if they are sufficient and are independent.
“It’s important the review gets underway”.
He says he hasn’t seen any appetite to implement existing reforms that have been put forward in recent times.
Commitment to reform at management level in the gardaí is “limited”, Howlin says.
He wants the expansion of the powers of the Policing Authority.
Howlin asks Kenny to agree that the change to the powers of the Policing Authority is needed.
He wants an urgent update on what reforms the gardaí have implemented to date, what they have ignored, and a timeline for each implementation.
Kenny says that the government hasn’t signed off on the reform proposals yet, as he has just received the Fennelly Commission report.
He has given it to the Attorney General, and will publish it as soon as is possible.
“It would be wrong of me to sign off on all these issues, without taking into account the potential impact of recommendations made in the Fennelly report”.
When he receives authorisation to publish the report, everyone will have an opportunity to read it, and he expects that it will come this week.
The Tánaiste doesn’t know what’s in the Fennelly report yet, he says.
Howlin accepts that the terms of reference for the review need to be updated based on the Fennelly report.
But, he says he’s asking about the “groundbreaking, truly reforming” Inspectorate reports.
“Can we have a published timeline on when they’ll be implemented?”
He asks how we can have confidence on in the garda commissioner given the view from the majority of the house, and the majority of the people.
Kenny says the Tánaiste will handle the implementation of these reforms, but doesn’t have a timeline for them at this moment.
“I retain confidence in the commissioner” to see the change is brought through, the Taoiseach says.
Seamus Healy raises the issue of the tracker mortgage scandal.
17,000 mortgages have been affected so far, he says.
This has the potential to be a €500 million scandal, the Independent TD says.
“We know of 15 people evicted, but this is only the tip of the iceberg.”
The governor of the central bank said that this is a central, systemic issue, Healy says.
He could not rule out the idea of collusion between some lenders, Healy adds.
“Will legal and professional financial advice be given to families affected?” he asks.
He also asks if the banks will be prosecuted for fraud.
Nobody wants to see people lose their homes, Kenny says.
The various suite of options put forward by government has reduced the level of evictions, according to the Taoiseach.
The legal ramifications of the tracker mortgage scandal is something that will be followed through, he says.
He adds that people are entitled to representation, and the government makes a range of mediation facilities available.
We’re talking here about illegality by the banks, Healy responds.
There’s no guarantee that existing regulations will be implemented by the financial elites, he says.
It is the government’s task to investigate and prosecute cases of fraud, the TD adds.
Will you order an immediate investigation, he asks.
“It’s not for me to order criminal investigations,” Kenny says.
Where illegal activity has taken place, this will be investigated, he concludes.
So, that’s it for today’s Leaders’ Questions.
Some tougher questioning for the Taoiseach today on garda reform and Brexit, with the latter involving a feisty exchange between Kenny and Gerry Adams.
Thanks for joining us!