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Political purgatory: What’s on the agenda as Ministers clear the decks before summer?

Publication of gender-based violence plan may herald beginning of busy few weeks

The Government will today sign off on long-awaited plans for a new Domestic, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence plan, a cornerstone strategy from Minister for Justice Helen McEntee. The €363 million strategy will see a doubling of sentences for assault, and a 100 per cent increase in refuge places will doubtless be welcomed by campaigners and organisations responding to domestic violence. The issue of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence became topical in the wake of the violent killing of Ashling Muphy earlier this year, leading to a public outcry and demands for action. Such inchoate demands, in the wake of shocking violence, can often slip down the political agenda, but here it seems concrete progress has been made.

The plan’s publication may herald the beginning of a busy few weeks of Cabinet meetings as the Government attempts to clear the decks before the summer break – the Dáil rises on July 14th. So, what else might spring from political purgatory? And what rows might it in turn spark?

The big one is climate action: the Greens are driving to get sectoral ceilings agreed and published before the summer break, and Eamon Ryan’s crew are firmly of the belief that all different sectors of the economy are going to have to hit the upper end of their target ranges. That suggests Agriculture will need to achieve nearly 30 per cent reductions in emissions. The briefing over the weekend suggested Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are angling for a figure closer to 22 per cent. This could be a significant flashpoint before the summer.

Meanwhile, Minister for Defence Simon Coveney was out in early May talking about how he would bring a memo to Government to “significantly increase the resourcing of defence and security in Ireland” in June. Today is the last Cabinet meeting of the month, and there is still no sign of the memo – which presumably would lay out the framework for an increased budgetary package which would have to guarantee improvements in both hardware for the Defence Forces and a retention package for soldiers and sailors.

And what about the decision on the State pension age? Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said initially that the Government would make its response to the pensions commission – which recommended the age should rise by three months each year from 2028 until it hits 67 – in March. Then it was April, then it was before the summer break. There is still time, but confronting this vexed political question, which was the cause of a major wobble during the 2020 general election campaign, will also prove a political stumbling block.

Then, of course, there is the publication of the Summer Economic Statement: this is definitely coming and in and of itself will not be fodder for rows – but it will set the stage for what will be the most challenging and delicately balanced budget of this Coalition so far.

Less contentious, but important milestones also loom: the submission of the report from the commission on tax and welfare to the Minister for Finance and the publication of the report on the future of the media are due before the recess, and the business case for the Metrolink project is due to go to Cabinet in July as well.

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Cabinet is at 9.30am in Dublin Castle, with the new sexual violence strategy topping a busy agenda. The Government is also set to consider new proposals from Minister for Education Norma Foley to fast-track the process for forcing schools to take in pupils with additional needs. This has become a contentious issue, with major pressure coming on to get it sorted before the possibility of children without school places becomes a damaging reality in the autumn.

Cabinet is also set to approve emergency legislation to deal with the fallout from convicted murderer Graham Dwyer’s successful appeal to the European Court of Justice on Garda access to mobile phone data. Ministers are also to consider plans from the Office of Public Works to procure 500 modular units for use by Ukrainian refugees. They are likely to be ready in 16-20 weeks.

Ministers will also consider plans to extend maternity leave entitlements to county and city councillors, which will see a temporary substitute put in place by a councillor taking their full 26-week maternity leave to attend council meetings and vote on their behalf. This arrangement can then be extended for a further 14 weeks’ unpaid leave.

It’s a full day for committees. The HSE is at the Oireachtas subcommittee on mental health at 11, at the same time as a discussion on sectoral emissions ceilings with officials from the departments of Transport, Agriculture and Environment at the environment committee. There’s a report launch on the abuse of officials in sport by the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts, Sport and Media at 2pm, and the housing committee will hear about inflationary costs in the construction industry at 3pm. At the same time, Helen McEntee is in front of the justice committee on the Garda Compensation Bill, and then the foreign affairs committee is engaging with its Ukrainian counterpart. The day is rounded out by a session at 7pm with the transport committee on the Greater Dublin Area transport strategy – that’s with top brass at the National Transport Authority.

The full committee schedule can be found here.

In the Dáil, action starts with Leaders’ Questions at 2pm. Taoiseach’s Questions is at 3.05pm, before the evening session where Sinn Féin will look to turn the cost of living screw on the Government with its motion on an emergency budget. Simon Coveney takes oral questions at 9.30pm in his defence brief.

The full Dáil schedule is here.

In the Seanad, the committee stage of the Institutional Burials Bill is at 2.45pm, followed by the second stage of the Higher Education Authority Bill 2022, and the report and final stages of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill.

Full schedule is here.