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Dublin: 17 °C Thursday 22 August, 2019
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IT’S THE DAY after the night before and operation clean up is underway. Leaders’ Questions is likely to be dominated by talk of Storm Ophelia.

Leaders’ Questions has begun and Micheál Martin is paying tribute to those who tragically died yesterday during Storm Ophelia.

Martin pays tribute to the first responders, the local authorities, the media and above all, Met Eireann, who he says “nailed it”.

He asks that an evaluation of how Ireland responded take place now and a national audit take place by local authorities.

He says it is a reminder that the Atlantic is warming, and more storms will come.

Martin says we need to step up our climate change responsibilities.

He asks if the Taoiseach is interested in working with other parties to bring in legislation to punish those that disobey safety warnings

The lives of first responders were put at risk yesterday, he said.

Leo Varadkar said there were two incidents that almost cost the lives of emergency service workers.

He said Cabinet agreed to carry out a review of what happened yesterday and how we dealt with it.

He said he witnessed  the public service “at its very best” yesterday and Sunday.

He thanked all those that worked tirelessly yesterday, volunteers, defence forces and many others.

Varadkar paid tribute to those who tragically lost their lives yesterday and extended his sympathy to the grieving families.

Varadkar said extra funds will be made available to local authorities once assessments of the damage are undertaken.

He said thousands are without power and in some cases it could take up to ten days for power to be restored.

The Taoiseach said extra crews are coming in from Britain and France to help with reconnections.

School buses will run as normal tomorrow, he said and tankers are on the way to the some 80,000 customers that are without water today.

The Taoiseach said we need to prepare for future storms that come our way.

Mary Lou McDonald from Sinn Féin is up now and she is also paying tribute to those that died yesterday and also acknowledges emergency workers and communities that pulled together yesterday.

She now wants to talk about the changes to the State pension under Joan Burton of Labour when she was Tánaiste.

Now women are losing out on some €30 per week under the changes. It hit the headlines after Minister Paschal Donohoe was asked about it on the RTÉ radio about it.

Women are being ‘penalised for working’ since changes were brought in to the State Pension>

She said that Fianna Fáil  have a “brass neck” to start talking about it at their Ard Fheis, but she said she welcomes that they are late to the game.

She said they had it in their Budget and it will cost some €70 million  ”You are going to lose the vote on the motion tomorrow,” she said.

Leo Varadkar said Donohoe said the marriage bar was what he described as “bonkers” not the pension changes. He said it is complicated, and it took him a while to understand it as Minister for Social Protection. He said many journalists don’t seem to understand it either, he said, stating that some media reports yesterday failed to grasp the problems.

He said the change does not just impact women, but also some men.

If you are going to make a change, they shouldn’t be done in isolation, he says.

Varadkar says any changes need to be carefully considered so as not to throw up new anomalies and the full cost needs to be looked at.

He also wants to look at the impact of poverty too – adding that a lot of work has already been carried out by the department.

Mary Lou McDonald said the changes is costing women, and some men, up to €30 a week because of this change.

Fianna Fáil raised the issues at their Ard Fheis this weekend, with Sean Fleming stating that he wouldn’t understand how any member of the Dáil could vote against it.

McDonald asks when did Fianna Fáil raise the issue with the government?

It wasn’t raised by FF or SF or any other party, says Varadkar.

Shouts from the Fianna Fáil backbenches said that isn’t true. Varadkar says it may have been raised at other times, other than Budget submissions, or at meetings he wasn’t at.

Brendan Howlin extends his sympathies to the three people that lost their lives yesterday during Storm Ophelia.

He says over the past 48 hours the country has been served well by the Met Eireann and the emergency services. He says it was right decision to call a red alert, as was the decision to close the schools yesterday and tomorrow.

Howlin continues to say that the Taoiseach can be proud of his government today and how they acted.

The Labour leader asks if there should be a clear plan as to what should be done in the case of a red alert, stating that some employers were unclear about what to do and whether to close and tell their workers to stay at home.

He also raises the case for a national text alert system.

Varadkar thanks Howlin for his kind words, he says it doesn’t happen too often in the chamber. He says he was “enormously proud” of the public servants yesterday.

One of the first decisions made was that the schools should close, but acknowledges that it was unclear in the private sector as to what to do.

He says there was a warning not to do any unnecessary travel, but admits that some see travelling to work as necessary travel.

“We will have to develop a better understanding as to what it [a red alert] means not just in the public sector but also the private sector,” he said.

He thanked the media for getting the message out there to the public, which he says was very helpful.

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Howlin says employers need clear guidelines as to how to act in a red alert situation.

He says he is happy to commit to issuing guidelines to outline to the private sector what a red alert means and how employers should deal with employees in such a case.

This was the first time there was a red alert nationwide, the Taoiseach says. He says lessons will be learned from it and he will bring it to the emergency planning group.

Independent TD Michael Healy Rae is now talking about the closure of post offices.

He says he is a post master, and wants to know what is being done to prevent their closure.

“We must do more,” he says, stating that community banking can save the post offices.

If it closes it takes the heart and soul out of the community, he tells the House.

He says he needs the Taoiseach to do something.

Varadkar says the rate at which post offices are closing has slowed.

He says 721 under a Fianna Fáil government, but only 41 have closed under a Fine Gael government.

He says the modern day pensioner now wants to be paid into their bank accounts, stating that fewer people will be going to the post office to collect their payments.

If they want to survive they will have to change their business, says the Taoiseach. He says Communications Minister Denis Naughten is looking at this “revised business plan” at the moment.

Healy Rae says criticising Fianna Fáil is not the best way to solve this problem, adding that he knows Naughten’s heart is in the right place in terms of dealing with the issue.

“What we need is leadership from you,” he tells Varadkar, stating that he is “pleading” with the Taoiseach to show that he behind rural Ireland.

Varadkar says it is not just words, stating that this year, just one post office closed under Fine Gael, the Independent Alliance and independents in government, again highlighting that post offices were closing down in their hundreds  under Fianna Fáil.

He says only when new modern services are in community post offices will they survive and he is working to do that, he says.

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