Tag Archives: Leaders’ Questions

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin; Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during Leaders’ Questions

This afternoon.

In the Dáil, during Leaders’ Questions.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin raised what he called “the shifting sands” in relation to the composition of the consortium which will be responsible for delivering the Government’s National Broadband Plan.

In particular he drew attention to the relationship between Granahan McCourt, owned by US billionaire David McCourt; Tetrad Corporation; and McCourt Global, which is owned by David McCourt’s billionaire brother Frank McCourt.

In doing so, he claimed the Government hasn’t been fully transparent about the financial guarantees from different entities which will underpin the project.

Mr Martin’s comments followed Justine McCarthy, in The Sunday Times, reporting at the weekend that McCourt Global were denying that they had involvement in the broadband plan, despite the Minister for Communications Richard Bruton saying they did last week.

Prior to last weekend’s report, Ms McCarthy previously reported that Frank McCourt was also at a dinner meeting that the former Minister for Communications Denis Naughten held with David McCourt in New York in July 2018.

Last Sunday Mr McCarthy reported:

“After repeated attempts to contact him [former Minister for Communications Denis Naughten] last week, Naughten said on Friday that he would reply by email to questions about his interactions with Frank McCourt. He has not done so.”

Mr Varadkar told Mr Martin today that he was “weaving one of his many conspiracy theories”.

Mr Martin started out by saying that last week Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen was told there were three investors involved the plan – Granahan McCourt, Tetrad Corporation and McCourt Global.

He said just last evening, Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley was told both Tetrad Corporation and McCourt Global had reiterated their support to final tender.

But he said, last night, in a further written reply, it emerged there will only be two investors – Tetrad Corporation and Granahan McCourt.

He added:

“And we’re also told, Deputy Dooley was, that Tetrad provided a commitment in relation to the equity only required for the project. In other words, they will contractualise a legal underpinning of €175million from the lead bidder – a far cry from the €2.4billion Taoiseach that you gave the impression in the House some time ago that they would be putting in.

There is no legal lein from what we can see on that at all.”

Mr Martin went on to raise the dinner meeting between the then Minister for Communications Denis Naughten and US business man David McCourt in July 2018 in New York, and the minutes of the same.

Mr Martin said:

Taoiseach, in hindsight, I would put it to you that that meeting held on 16th of July, 2018 in New York, between former minister [for communications Denis] Naughten and David MCourt, Frank McCourt was actually quite significant.

“It was a month before the deadline for guarantees of financial underpinning and the consortium had to be submitted. The deadline was August 15th.

“Four serious issues were discussed in relation to the project. We know that there was a need for a permanent Irish-based leadership position, the importance of the 15th of August 2018 deadline and the need for the necessary financing to be in place at the time. This deadline will be met, the minutes say.

“‘The need for any changes in the make-up of the consortium to be avoided or, if necessary, to be kept to a minimum’. ‘The importance of this issue is understood by the consortium which has been advised by Arthur Cox that as long as the consortium’s lead bidder remains unchanged, such changes should not necessitate any delay’.

“Now we now of course know that there was a change in the lead bidder actually from Enet to GMC [Granahan McCourt]. There was a change in the lead bidder and there was a change in the consortium. And there was a change in those who were financially underpinning the project.

And there’s been an impression since Taoiseach that McCourt Global have been in this from the very beginning. McCourt Global are saying they weren’t involved in this, in any shape or form. And Frank McCourt was at that meeting, Taoiseach.

Minister Naughten had to resign, he’s been less than forthcoming. He’s gone silent, he’s not available to comment on this. And I’m putting it to you Taoiseach that it’s extremely important that you would talk to the former minister and get him to give a comprehensive, transparent statement in terms of all of these meetings.

“You might confirm to me, Taoiseach, did Peter Smyth [who reviewed the plan’s process last year and found meetings Naughten had with McCourt didn’t influence the process], during his inquiries speak to Frank McCourt?

“Where will the ultimate liability fall if the plan fails? Or if Granaham McCourt Dublin Limited folded – would it fall on Tetrad Corporation to provide the equity on the National Broadband Plan?”

In response, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said there was nothing new in what Mr Martin said and that it was well known that the consortium had changed for many months.

He added:

I wasn’t at that dinner [in New York]. No current member of Government was at that dinner. Minister Naughten was, I can’t answer questions on his behalf but I am confident that all of this was covered in the independent report done on this matter carried out by Peter Smyth some months ago and that’s published and in the public domain.”

He added:

In relation to the financial guarantees, National Broadband Ireland will make available €220million in equity and working capital upfront. This will be legally required by the contract which is being finalised. There is no upfront contribution from the taxpayer. The taxpayer only contributes after the fibre is deployed, homes are passed and subsequently connected.

“The total cost of the project is between €5billion and €6billion, including VAT and contingencies with roughly half coming from the State in the form of the Exchequer subsidy and the other half from the investor and commercial revenues.”

In terms of the upfront contribution – €175million comes from Tetrad Corporation and the rest from Granahan McCourt Dublin Ireland Limited. The funding commitments will be contractualised in advance of the contract award…”

Mr Varadkar went on to say:

I understand the department has now corrected the record and clarified any confusion in relation to McCourt Global’s role. It’s role, as I outlined to the Dail last week, is one of two entities relied on for pre-qualification.

“They provided a letter of support. At final tender the equity commitments were provided by Tetrad and I’m sure Minister Bruton will be happy to clarify any further issues or to answer any further questions in this regard.”

Mr Martin said Mr Varadkar’s respond was unsatisfactory and that the information had been “dragged” from him.

He also said that, as for Mr Varadkar’s assertion that the record was corrected, this only emerged last night in PQ replies.

He added:

You can’t go on being as detached as you are. A former minister responsible for this project and this tender met with the preferred bidder on a number or occasions.

“And we were led to believe they were all innocent dinners – ‘ah sure, we’re just having a personal lunch’. They were not, come off it, Taoiseach.

“You can’t stand up here as Taoiseach of the country and say ‘no one in the current Government is involved’. For God’s sake, he was a former minister with you. You still depend on him for support.

Frank McCourt, of Global McCourt [sic], was at that dinner and they weren’t there talking about the weather.”

“…You pretended you saw no evil until all the other dinners emerged and then Denis Naughten fell on his sword. Denis Naughten, the former minister, has an obligation to talk to the House and tell us everything that took place in relation to this.”

“Gobal McCourt [sic] have now disappeared. Global McCourt [sic] have now disappeared minister, and you’re department was telling The Sunday Times two weeks ago that, your department was telling The Sunday Times two weeks ago that Global McCourt [sic] were the financial underpinners of this project in two series of articles.

“You’re confusing the [inaudible] deliberately in my view, at this stage. What are you hiding in relation to the relationships between GMC and Tetrad and Global..”

Mr Varadkar went on to say:

The fact that Deputy Naughten attended those dinners is old news. It’s been in the public domain for many months, we knew that last year. Deputy Naughten resigned from Government over six months ago and we used the interim period to make sure that this bid was sound and that it was the right one to go forward with. And an independent report was done by Peter Smyth, as the independent auditor, dealing with all these matters.”

“Deputy, deputy, deputy, calm down, deputy you need to calm down…

“Ceann Comhairle, the deputy really needs to calm down here. The Government has been very transparent on this matter.

What’s happening here is, once again, once again, Deputy Martin is weaving one of his many conspiracy theories.”

Mr Martin replied that when the controversy arose over Mr Naughten’s dinner meetings, Mr Varadkar also accused Mr Martin of creating a conspiracy theory.

“Twenty-four hours later, he resigned,” he added.

US giant McCourt Global denies backing David McCourt’s national broadband bid (Justine McCarthy, The Sunday Times, May 19, 2019)

From top: Fianna Fail leader Mícheál Martin; Taoiseach Leo Varadkar; FFl TD Stephen Donnelly at an Oireachtas health committee meeting this morning; a tweet from Health Minister Simon Harris on April 28 last, offering women free repeat smears 

This afternoon.

In the Dáil during Leaders’ Questions.

Fianna Fáil leader Mícheál Martin raised the submission made by the former clinical director of CervicalCheck Gráinne Flannelly to the Oireachtas health committee – revealed this morning – in which she said she warned the Department of Health against offering free out-of-cycle smear tests to concerned women following the Vicky Phelan case last April.

As the Minister for Health Simon Harris previously stated he didn’t receive any warnings against the decision to offer the extra tests, Ms Flannelly’s submission has led some to claim Mr Harris misled the Dáil.

Fianna Fail TD Stephen Donnelly told the health committee this morning:

“What she [Gráinne Flannelly] says directly contradicts the minister’s position.

“And what she says suggests that the minister has, in fact, misled the Dail.”

Minister Harris has since said today:

I never received any contrary advice in relation to the provision of free repeat smear tests.

“It is clear that after the decision was made that some in the CervicalCheck programme did express some concerns about the operationalising of it.”

According to Ms Flannelly she was told of the move to offer the tests at lunchtime on April 28, 2018 – while Minister Harris announced the move at 5.13pm that evening on Twitter.

During Leaders’ Questions Mr Martin told Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that Ms Flannelly’s claim “flatly contradicts” that of Minister Harris.

He asked the Taoiseach if he’ll ask the minister to address the Dáil and explain the full sequence of events. He also said the minister’s response to the matter “lacked character”.

Mr Varadkar told Mr Martin that the minister has previously answered questions on the subject and would be happy to do so again.

He then said:

“I think your approach here and your attack here also lacks character. Remember what you said about these people, what you said about the senior people in CervicalCheck on the 1st of May [last year].

“You said that they were cold and calculating. You suggested that they may have been involved in illegality and you suggested that they could have been involved in a conspiracy.

“So perhaps you should reflect on that and if you now hold the views you hold today, you may wish to correct the record and withdraw those remarks that you made about those senior clinicians and senior people in CervicalCheck back on the first of May.

“The reality was that the situation at the time was that there were a lot of women who were really concerned about the accuracy of their smear tests. They were attending their GPs, looking for a repeat smear test.

“They were contacting the helpline looking for a repeat test, there were some doctors calling for repeat smear tests to be allowed. When it was done, patient advocates were calling for it too.

“When it was done, it was welcomed by the Opposition and it was agreed by the IMO. So this wasn’t just a decision made by the Minister for Health. And it was also made with agreement for the Chief Medical Officer.”

Ms Flannelly says she warned that the offer of extra tests would ‘fundamentally undermine the screening programme’. She resigned on the same day the offer was announced.

Last month, Mr Harris told the Dáil that before the decision was made to offer these extra tests, neither he nor his officials received advice against the move.

It’s since emerged almost 80,000 women are now waiting up to 33 weeks for results of their smear tests when the normal waiting time is five to six weeks.

Earlier: Compare And Contrast

From top: Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary; Tánaiste Simon Coveney

This afternoon.

In the Dáil, during Leaders’ Questions.

Fianna Fail’s deputy leader Dara Calleary raised the latest homelessness figures with the Tánaiste Simon Coveney.

During his contribution, Mr Calleary mentioned an interview the Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy’s gave RTÉ’s Morning Ireland this morning in which Mr Murphy accused journalist Bryan Dobson of speaking from an “ideological” position when the broadcaster asked the politician about the Government’s record on housing and homelessness.

Mr Calleary asked Mr Coveney to “finally ‘fess up” and admit the Government’s housing plan Rebuilding Ireland – launched when Mr Coveney was Minister for Housing in 2016 – is not working.

Mr Coveney said nobody is denying the facts and the figures of homelessness in Ireland, and the emotion attached to the same, before going on to cite Rebuilding Ireland figures.

He then said:

“The truth is, deputy, we are listening to others in this house and, indeed, experts outside it. Rebuilding Ireland was always a policy initiative that would change, depending on where the pressures and demands were coming from and that is what it’s doing.

“But if you look at the number of people that we are taking out of homeless right now, it’s a higher figure than ever before.

“If you look at the number of social houses that are being delivered, it’s higher than at any point in the last decade.

The truth is there are more families and individuals coming into homelessness now than I think anyone in this house predicted.”

Mr Calleary told Mr Coveney his response was the same response he gave in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Mr Coveney said there is work to be done but the Government has “changed the housing market in Ireland” with rent pressure zones and increasing the powers of the Residential Tenancies Board.

He also said Rebuilding Ireland was a five-year housing plan and the Government is only three years into it.

Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty also raised the homelessness figures and also raised Minister Murphy’s interview on Morning Ireland.

He called on the Government to support a bill proposed by Sinn Fein TD Eoin O’Broin – aimed at preventing buy-to-let landlords from evicting tenants.

Mr Coveney said:

The truth is that this State is not the only one facing this challenge. Last year, almost 20,000 households approached housing bodies in Northern Ireland because they consider themselves homeless… and solutions have to be found there as well as here. This is a challenge that many countries are facing.”

Mr Coveney also insisted Mr O Broin’s bill will not work “legally or in practical terms”.

Watch back here

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during Leaders’ Questions this afternoon

Watch Dáil proceedings live here

This afternoon.

Earlier…

This afternoon.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney took Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil ahead of British Prime Minister Theresa May taking her Brexit withdrawal deal back to parliament, almost two months after it suffered the largest ever House of Commons defeat…

Meanwhile…

In the last 30 minutes…

The DUP has released a statement, saying:

“The Prime Minister set out a clear objective for legally binding change which would command a majority in the House of Commmons in line with the Brady amendment.

“We recognise that the Prime Minister has made limited progress in her discussions with the European Union. However, in our view, sufficient progress has not been achieved at this time.

“Having carefully considered the published material as well as measuring what has been achieved against our own fundamentalists, namely the impact of the backstop on the constitutional and economic integrity of the Union of the United Kingdom, it is clear that the risks remain that the UK would be unable to lawfully exit the backstop were it to be activated.

“The Attorney General’s legal advice is clear in his last paragraph: ‘The legal risk remains unchanged that if through no such demonstrable failure of either part, but simply because of intractable differences, that situation does arise, the United Kingdom would have, at least while the fundamental circumstances remained the same, no international lawful means of exiting the protocol’s arrangements, save by arrangement’.

“We want to see a deal with works for every part of the United Kingdom. We will support the right deal with respects the referendum result and Northern Ireland’s place as an integral part of the United Kingdom.

“The European Union has been intransigent. It is possible to reach a sensible deal which worlds for the United Kingdom and the European Union but it will require all sides to be reasonable and in deal-making mode.”

Documents don’t change Withdrawal Agreement (RTE)

Watch Dáil proceedings live here

UPDATE:

UPDATE:

Brexit: Something has changed but is it enough? (BBC)

Brexit: Blow to Theresa May’s deal as British AG Cox says legal risk remains (The Irish Times)

Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger (top) speaking in the Dáil last month

This afternoon.

At 2pm.

Leaders’ Questions will get under way at the Dáil.

Dublin West Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger has said she will be raising issues which women have contacted her about in relation to accessing abortion services.

Watch Dáil proceedings live here

Previously: “Her Words To Me Were:’This Is Not What I Voted For'”

UPDATE:

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin; Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

This afternoon.

During Leaders’ Questions which were answered by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar…

Fianna Fáil Micheál Martin raised the nurses’ strike and claimed there was “absence of substantive and meaningful engagement from the Government’s side” in terms of resolving the issues.

It followed the issuing of a press release by the Government last night in which Minister for Health Simon Harris and Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said they were willing to engage in talks “on the range of workplace-related issues other than pay to try to resolve the dispute”.

Mr Martin added:

“I put it to you Taoiseach that last night’s initiative, at the 11th hour, of the proposals that emanated from Minister [Paschal] Donohoe and Minister [Simon] Harris have only served to compound the problem, make it worse and escalate it.

“Because it concerns staff shortages, undergrad education, future nursing needs and so on. But it was sent out via press release, without any engagement with the INMO or the other unions.

The INMO has said and director described it as ‘the most cynical move I’ve seen in a long time’ and the unions have rejected it as Government spin. And that it was massively disrespectful to the nurses and to patients.

“Now, Taoiseach, I would put it to you that we cannot solve, you  cannot solve industrial relation disputes by such cynical PR manoeuvres. That kind of ‘optics are more important that substance’ approach won’t cut it when it comes to an industrial dispute of this gravity and scale.

“What is required Taoiseach are meaningful steps to be taken. Substance must replace spin in relation to the resolution of this dispute.”

Mr Martin went on to suggest that well-known mediator Kieran Mulvey should be engaged to help with resolving the matters.

During his response, Mr Varadkar said:

I appreciate that the nursing union felt that the offer to engage in further talks at the WRC was discourteous as they heard it through a press release rather than through a letter or direct contact.

“And we’ll make sure that doesn’t recur.

At the same time though, we shouldn’t forget that tens of thousands of people found out through the media that their respite was being cancelled this week too. That their day care was being cancelled too. So I think we need to bear that in mind as well.”

Watch Dáil proceedings live here

From top: Minister for Children Katherine Zappone; Independents 4 Change TD Clare Daly; Ms Daly speaking in the Dáil earlier today

This afternoon.

In the Dáil, during Leaders’ Questions.

Independents 4 Change TD Clare Daly voiced her frustration over the manner in which scandals are handled in Ireland.

Ms Daly was speaking in light of the Cabinet yesterday approving a request from the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation for an extension of a year before publishing its final report.

Yesterday: ‘Geophysical Survey’ Of Burial Ground At Sean Ross Abbey To Begin Tomorrow

From top: Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

This afternoon.

In the Dáil, during Leaders’ Questions.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin raised the recent death of Orla Church – who was the 21st women to die in relation to the CervicalCheck smear test scandal.

Mr Martin said, it was his understanding that, some free repeat smear tests conducted in the wake of the scandal have been rendered invalid because the tests expired due to delays caused by a backlog.

The provision of these free repeat smear tests ended on December 31, 2018.

Mr Varadkar confirmed some tests have expired.

Mr Martin raised an article in The Journal on January 9 which showed that the Minister for Health Simon Harris had been advised against providing free repeat smear tests, as it would cause delays and damage the “efficacy of the programme”.

Mr Martin also pressed Mr Varadkar to explain when the Minister for Health Simon Harris informed Mr Varadkar of this situation.

From their exchange in the Dáil…

Micheál Martin: “On average, CervicalCheck tests about 230,000 smears annually. The Minister’s decision last April added an extra 90,000 to 100,000 to that volume. The Minister was warned repeatedly over a long period that this was wrong yet he proceeded without any additional resources being provided. The additional volume of tests as a result of the decision has created an unacceptable and enormous backlogs and women have been waiting for up to six months for the results of their tests.

“There is a further problem. I understand that the delay has impacted on the quality and efficacy of the tests and has rendered a significant number invalid.”

“… I asked the Minister, Deputy Harris, a specific question on this issue on 15 January. I asked for the rationale of announcing the repeat cervical smears against expert advice and why he did not make that public at the time. He avoided answering that part of the question and I have officially complained about this under Standing Orders. The Minister has withheld information from the Dáil and the public on developments in the CervicalCheck programme that are clearly in the public interest.”

“….Was the Taoiseach made aware of the serious developments by the Minister, particularly regarding the validity of a significant number of tests that had been rendered null and void because of the delay? Normally, the virus would be tested for within ten days, yet people are facing six-month delays. This was discovered last year but not revealed by the Minister or anyone. In essence, that information has been withheld. That is why the service was discontinued, Taoiseach. The minister’s decision was against expert advice that warned him, repeatedly, that this would damage the entire programme.

“It is my understanding and it is my information that the programme is in jeopardy because of all of this. And further there’s significant decisions and communications would have to occur because of this. I asked were you made aware of this by the minister?

“Would you please answer that question.

“I asked as to the rational behind the minister’s decision – against repeated expert advice and that this was not clinically warranted and it would damage the efficacy of the entire programme.

“Taoiseach if we’ve learned any lessons about this, the withholding of information, the secrecy and denial that was part of the first phase of this scandal is being repeated yet again.

“In terms of the lack of upfront, honest responses to parliamentary questions and the ducking and the diving and the papering over the cracks and the covering up that goes on then subsequently.

“So we’re now all led to believe that it just evolved that the decision was closed down in December. It didn’t just evolve. It was a discovery made, Taoiseach – that tests were invalid because the expiry date ran out because of the backlog and the delay. That has consequences Taoiseach in terms of many women involved.

“And we need, I would ask you Taoiseach will you ensure that the minster comes before this House and makes a comprehensive and transparent statement in relation to what I have asked today?”

Leo Varadkar: “Thanks Deputy. The rationale behind the decision by Minister [for Health Simon] Harris to offer free out-of-cycle smear tests back in May or June was to respond back to the anxiety by many women that their smear test may have been misread and it was done in good faith, in good faith, for good reasons.

It was never intended to be a permanent offering, it was only ever intended to last for a few months and those free tests cease to be available at the end of December this year [sic].

I was made aware of a backlog a few weeks ago and Minister Harris informed me a few weeks ago. I’ll answer your question if you’ll allow me to.

I was made aware by Minister Harris a few weeks ago that there was a backlog and this was creating problems and, as a result of that, some tests had expired and would have to be repeated. And the minister, for that reason, worked with, is working with the HSE to deal with that and to make sure that additional capacity is found in order to catch up on the backlog.

“I’m sure the minister will be happy to come before the House and make a statement on it.”

When Mr Martin pressed Mr Varadkar to state when he was specifically informed of the matter by Mr Harris, Mr Varadkar repeated it was “a couple of weeks ago, I don’t remember the exact date”.

Mr Varadkar said he didn’t want to mislead the Dáil and repeated that he couldn’t remember the exact date he was informed.

Previously: “I Don’t Believe I’m Being Told The Truth”

Watch Dáil proceedings live here

UPDATE:

This afternoon.

In the Dáil, during Leaders’ Questions.

Following on from MPs in London voting down the UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal 432 to 202…

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said:

“This is a problem that began in Westminster, with the referendum on Brexit. We found a solution – the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated over months and months, agreed by 28 governments.

“And now Westminster has rejected that solution. So the problem lies in Westminster. And I welcome the fact the Prime Minister has said that she’s now going to engage with senior politicians from all parties to see if they can come together with a way forward, with a Brexit that commands a majority in the House of Commons.

“But whatever they come up with must be acceptable to us in Ireland the European Union as a whole.”

Watch Dáil proceedings live here

Earlier: Standstill

UPDATE: