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Dublin: 10 °C Monday 25 March, 2019
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GOOD AFTERNOON.

Leo Varadkar is in Brussels to talk Brexit (and other matters) so Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald was in the chair for today’s Leaders’ Questions.

It was a wide-ranging session – covering everything from cardiac services and fire safety standards to Brexit and the classic rock stylings of The Who (by way of a reference from Mattie McGrath).

Here’s what happened…

Billy Kelleher of Fianna Fáil is up first.

He raises the issue of the death of Thomas Power. The 40-year-old died in an ambulance transfer from Waterford to Cork, after experiencing pains in his chest on Sunday.

His family has said he would still be alive had the cath lab been open at University Hospital Waterford when he sought help.

There has been a long-running campaign for increased cardiac services at the hospital, and for increased hours of operation for the existing lab.

The campaign for a second cath lab at Waterford was the focus of a major political dispute last year. Local TD John Halligan – a junior minister – has long campaigned for increased cardiac services at the hospital, and the Independent Alliance member’s demands put his membership of the government in doubt.

Kelleher calls for a full clinical review of the death of Thomas Power. He calls for increased cardiac services at Waterford.

f1 Source: Oireachtas

Frances Fitzgerald begins by expressing her condolences to the family.

She says she has spoken to the Minister for Health. A clinical review will of course take place, she says. Any lessons learned will be taken on board.

The Tánaiste then reiterates the findings of a review of cardiac services at the hospital, commissioned last year.

A consultant cardiologist commissioned to conduct an independent review of cardiac services at UHW found last year that there was no need for a second cath lab. He did, however, recommend investment in the existing cardiac services.

The HSE is now seeking tenders for a mobile cath lab at Waterford. The mobile lab was announced in January.

Pearse Doherty of Sinn Féin is on his feet now.

He’s raising Brexit. It’s the one year anniversary of last year’s vote in the UK this week.

He maintains the government is unprepared for Brexit.

Doherty says Leo Varadkar needs to talk tough on the border – accuses the Taoiseach (who is in Brussels today) of being “overawed” by Downing Street, when he visited this week.

The government needs to “get real” on Brexit. Only a fraction of Irish companies has a plan for the transition, says the Sinn Féin Donegal TD.

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Doherty has a raft of questions – amongst them, what is the government doing to prepare business for Brexit?

Fitzgerald reckons Doherty is mischaracterising the government’s approach.

We’ve been very proactive, she says.

“We all recognise the seriousness of the challenges ahead.”

Every minister in all our actions this week is absolutely clear about the engagement we have with business, says the Tánaiste.

One year on from the Brexit vote, the Irish issues are very well placed as negotiations start.

Maintaining the terms of the Good Friday Agreement is paramount, she insists.

This report is getting mentioned in the debate…

The first three years of a ‘hard Brexit’ could cost the Irish exchequer up to €500 million, according to new projections by the ESRI released today. 

In its latest economic commentary, the Economic and Social Research Institute has said that the government’s fiscal space will be severely dented by Brexit.

Simply put, fiscal space is the amount of money the government can afford to spend over and above what it is already spending on public services.

The ESRI says Ireland’s economic output would be greatly affected by a so-called ‘hard Brexit’ and that it would hit fiscal space by up to €500 million over three years.

The term ‘hard Brexit’ is used as a shorthand for a British exit from the EU that would see it make a clean break from EU institutions like the customs union.

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Richard Boyd-Barrett of Solidarity-People Before Profit has the next question.

He says there were warnings from residents that the Grenfell Tower disaster in London was a tragedy waiting to happen.

The question for us is – could Grenfell happen here, says Boyd-Barrett.

We’ve had a raft of warnings from experts that our fire safety standards are not up to scratch, he says.

What is the government going to do about this?

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The Minister for Housing has started a review of fire safety at multi-storey social housing, Fitzgerald says.

The Grenfell tragedy has raised awareness of standards in the UK and in other countries, she says.

I have no doubt if there are extra precautions needed, steps will be taken, she says.

Boyd-Barrett says it would be appropriate to hold a minute’s silence in light of the Grenfell tragedy.

He insists not enough is being done about fire safety at our buildings.

Fitzgerald agrees “safety must be our first concern”. She goes on to read out a list of steps being taken by the new housing minister to review standards.

Here’s what Murphy has been doing – from a press release sent by his department last week…

  • Minister Murphy met with Dublin’s Chief Fire Officer earlier today (16 June) to discuss fire safety and life safety issues in light of the London tragedy. He intends to continue this dialogue over the coming days and weeks with all Chief Fire Officers across the country.
  • He also requested that the management board of the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management (NDFEM) convene and assess the readiness of the fire authorities to respond to emergencies.
  • Each local authority has been requested, as a matter of urgency, to review their multi-storey social housing units to ensure that all early warning systems, including alarm and detection systems and means of escape including corridors, stairways and emergency exits are fully functional and in place. Life safety must be our first concern.
  • In terms of raising awareness across landlords, including landlords of households in receipt of social housing supports and rental assistance, the Residential Tenancies Board have been asked to notify all landlords of their responsibilities and obligations as landlords in terms of ensuring that their properties fully comply with fire safety requirements. The Minister will continue to liaise with the RTB on this specific matter.
  • Finally, in order to remind builders, assigned certifiers, designers and owners of their obligations in relation to compliance with the Building Regulations, I have requested that a notification be issued to all registered users (approx. 52,000) through the Building Control Management System (BCMS).

Separately, Minister Murphy has been speaking at an event in Dublin today about the government’s target of getting homeless families out of hotels.

Our reporter Cormac Fitzgerald was there. The story will be published shortly.

Mattie McGrath, the independent from Tipperary, raises the issue of hospital facilities in his constituency.

He’s quoting The Who, as he asks a question to the Tánaiste.

Apparently it’s not the first time he’s mentioned the band this week…

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” is the gist of his message today (we’re not sure what songs he referenced in recent days).

Fitzgerald insists the Minister for Health is responding to the concerns he’s raised.

That was a strange ending to today’s Leaders’ Questions.

We’ll play out with this request for the independent representative from Tipperary…

Source: TheWhoVEVO/YouTube

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