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Dublin: 4 °C Monday 17 February, 2020
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THE TÁNAISTE FRANCES Fitzgerald is to take Leader’s Questions for the first time in the new Dáil term today.

The Taoiseach is taking in all that is on offer at the Ploughing Championships today. Donning the welly boots, he’s even tried a bit of ploughing himself today.

There he is now…

21/9/2017. National Ploughing Championships Source: Sam Boal

21/9/2017. National Ploughing Championships Source: Sam Boal

He even had a minute to have a quick chat with former minister (now European Agriculture Minister) Phil Hogan.

4819 Varadkar_90524036 Source: Sam Boal

First up in the Dáil today is Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher.

He says the health system is unable to cope with the demand, saying there were 440 people on trolleys yesterday.

“An extraordinary number for this time of year,” he says.

Kelleher says the government can’t continue to clap itself on the back for giving the HSE its biggest budget to date, stating that it is just not working.

“Our acute hospitals are in crisis,” he adds, stating that winter-proofing is going to be a failure.

Frances Fitzgerald says health is a priority for government. In order to reduce the long wait times for patients, the Minister for Health Simon Harris has asked that action plans be developed – pointing to the scoliosis action plan. (It should be noted that  the target set by the HSE in this action plan was missed earlier this month).

The Tánaiste said there is a winter action plan also set out. Each of the hospital groups have been planning for the winter to make sure they can tackle the “predictable peaks in pressure” that hospitals experience during the winter months.

Kelleher says if the trends continue there will be massive problems in December and January. “There is little being done,” he tells the Tánaiste.

He says the days where you could get a same-day appointment with your GP are “a thing of the past”.

winter

She said new primary centres have been opening around the country, though she said it is clear that some hospitals to have pressures on them.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald is up and she is taking a dig at Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael for their in-fighting about giving tax breaks.

She says there are fighting over a few “measly” Euro, stating that increasing spending on infrastructure and services is the only way to give a meaningful hike for the people.

“This is about trying to buy votes… you have it wrong again,” she says, adding that this is auction politics that the people won’t fall for.

The people are crying out for decent public services and children out of hotels and into homes, they want to be able to buy their own home, she adds.

Fitzgerald says the government will balance the books which will allow them to increase spending in the Budgets ahead.

We will also continue with tax reduction, she says, adding that people deserve support.

We will also help businesses and families plan for the future. “It will involve a 4.5% in the capital Budget next year,” she adds.

“That was a most unconvincing reply,” says McDonald.

She said a €1 or a €1.50 is insulting to working people, adding that it is irresponsible to say that tax cuts is the only way to reward working people.

Bit of a bargey now by Fianna Fáil’s Shane Cassells. Ceann Comhairle says he will be given a yellow card if he isn’t careful.

Fitzgerald mentions Fine Gael will abide by terms of Confidence and Supply Agreement. Fianna Fáil will be interested in that.

Howlin says he heard that the new Garda Commissioner might be getting a salary of up to €300,000 and he wants her to think about this.

If the commissioner’s salary is increased it will have a ripple effect on the civil service.

He says those in the judiciary might ask for an increase for the head of the Supreme Court and so on.

Have the government abandoned in a structured method in setting out the levels of top level pay in the civil service, he asks.

Fitzgerald said a process is underway to find the best candidate for that job. She said not decision has been made in relation to the figure of €300k.

She says there is flexibility there to give higher payments, but said it would be dealt with in a “careful” way. She said clearly there are recruitment difficulties due to competition.

Structured mechanisms are important, says the Tánaiste.

“Clearly we have to accept there are difficulties in terms of filling some of those very senior management posts…  it is a real issue out there,” she says.

“We will consider it very carefully.” Government favours a structured pay in relation to top levels, but adds:

“On occasion it may lead to decisions in very specific circumstance where pay may have to be reconsidered.”

Richard Boyd Barrett is raising the news today that a homeless man reportedly living in a tent in Bray has died.

RTÉ News reports that the 41-year-old was sleeping rough in a tent at the old Bray courthouse on Boghall road.

He is calling the right to housing should be put in the Constitution. Last night the Solidarity-PBP Private Member’s Bill, calling for this, was referred to the Finance Committee.

Boyd Barrett asks Fitzgerald to reconsider this decision, stating that charities like Peter McVerry are calling for this, adding that the Constitutional Convention made similar recommendations.

He accused the government of not even knowing what committee to refer the Bill to. “It is shameful,” he says.

“Will you reconsider this decision, human beings living in this state have the right to housing,” he says.

“I don’t have the information on the individual,” she says, adding that the thoughts and sympathies are with that person and their family.

“Absolutely tragic circumstances,” she says.

The Tánaiste said a range of actions were outlined last night during the debate on the Right to Housing Bill, adding that it would be considered by the finance committee.

Boyd Barrett asks why that committee and questioned Leo Varadkar’s response to the Bill last night that he does not believe that people should “be housed for free”.

“What is he talking about?” asks Boyd Barrett, “no one is housed for free”.

That is all for Leaders’ Questions today, join us back here next week.

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