Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 15 September 2022

Committee on Public Petitions

Consideration of Public Petitions Received

Photo of Martin BrowneMartin Browne (Tipperary, Sinn Fein)
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We have 12 petitions for consideration. Petition No. 2 of 2022, "Homelessness is a Cancer ... blocked-up houses are not a cure", is from Mr. Eamon Broughan. The committee recommends that the response on behalf of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage be sent to the petitioner for comment within 14 days; that the response on behalf of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage be sent to Kildare County Council for comment within 14 days; and that Kildare County Council be invited to appear before the Committee on Public Petitions to discuss this petition during the autumn session as part of the committee's work programme, should the time allow it. Is it agreed? Agreed.

Petition No. 6 of 2022, "Bye-By Elections in Ireland may comply with legislation however they do not comply with the Constitution.", is from Mr. John O’Malley. The committee recommends that the petitioner's latest response be forwarded to Mr. Graham Doyle, Secretary General at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage for his consideration. Is it agreed? Agreed.

Petition No. 13 of 2022, "Call for a public inquiry into Covid-19 residential care deaths.", is from Dr. Stephen O’Shaughnessy. The committee recommends that correspondence from the Department of Health be forwarded to the petitioner for comment within 14 days. Is it agreed? Agreed.

Petition No. 14 of 2022, “Raise the Defence Forces’ Upper Age Limit.”, is from Mr. Stephen Martin. The committee recommends that the response of 7 July 2022 from the Department be forwarded to the petitioner for further comment within 14 days.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Petition No. 22 of 2022 regarding an investigation to identify whether Irish citizens have been spied on illegally is from Mr. Carles Pujol. The committee recommends that the response from the Department of Justice be forwarded to the petitioner and that he be advised that the petition is now deemed closed. The response from the Department advises, among other things, that if the petitioner has any evidence to suggest that an Irish citizen has been the target of illegal spyware, he should inform An Garda Síochána. The committee highlights this to the petitioner. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Petition No. 26 of 2022 regarding carer's allowance is from Ms Margaret Keogh. The committee recommends that the correspondence of 6 July 2022 from the petitioner be sent to Mr. John McKeon, Secretary General of the Department of Social Protection and that the petition and associated correspondence be sent to the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, for consideration. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Petition No. 29 of 2022 regarding research into topical steroid withdrawal is from Ms Neave Tugwell. The committee recommends that the response from the Department of Health be forwarded to the petitioner for comment within 14 days. Is that agreed? Agreed?

Petition No. 33 regarding amendments to the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 is from Mr. Liam Doran. The committee recommends that the correspondence from Dr. Orlaigh Quinn, Secretary General of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, be forwarded to the petitioner and he be advised that, as the Department considers the current entitlement is sufficient and has no plans to extend the minimum break times laid out in the Organisation of Working Time Act, the petition is deemed closed. Is that agreed?

Petition No. 34 of 2022 regarding the erection of a First World War memorial stone in Clondalkin park to commemorate those from Clondalkin who died in that war is from Mr. Liam Doran. The committee recommends that the correspondence from Ms Lorna Maxwell of South Dublin County Council be forwarded to the petitioner for comment within 14 days. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Petition No. 36 of 2021 regarding reform of insurance for thatched cottages is from Ms Kate McNelis. This petition relates to the difficulties people have in getting insurance for residential and commercial thatched properties. The committee recommends that an email be sent to the Minister of State at the Department of Finance with responsibility for financial services, credit unions and insurance, Deputy Fleming, seeking a response to the petition and that the response from the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Noonan, be forwarded to the petitioner for reply within 14 days. The committee further recommends that the petitioner and up to two individuals supporting her petition be invited to a meeting of this committee to discuss her petition and that the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, be invited to a meeting to discuss the petition following his Department's publication of a study of the issues around insurance for thatch, which is expected in late September 2022. Is that agreed?

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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That is agreed. I would like it to be noted that the case managers have put a lot of work into this and other cases. It might seem that we are flying through our business but there is a lot involved here, a lot of reading and so on. I just want that to be noted.

Photo of Martin BrowneMartin Browne (Tipperary, Sinn Fein)
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I agree that the amount of work done by the secretariat in dealing with these petitions is astronomical. I thank the clerk, Ms Maggie Semple, and all of the staff of the secretariat for their efforts.

Petition No. 36 of 2022 regarding the reopening of emergency departments at Ennis, Nenagh and St. John's Hospital, Limerick, is from Ms. Noeleen Moran. The committee recommends that the response from University Limerick Hospitals Group be forwarded to the petitioner for comment within 14 days, that the petition and the correspondence from UL Hospitals Group be sent to the Minister for Health and that the HSE be advised of same. It further recommends that the petition and the response from UL Hospitals Group be referred to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health for consideration and that inquiries be made by the secretariat as to whether this matter is included in that committee's work programme. Is that agreed?

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein)
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It is agreed. I thank the Chairman for allowing me to attend this meeting. I agree with all of those recommendations but I have a further request. The emergency department at University Hospital Limerick, UHL, is consistently the most overcrowded in the State and is not fit for purpose. The report of a Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, inspection in March of this year was damning. The hospital was assessed under four distinct categories and the results were absolutely appalling. Of the four categories, UHL was found to be non-compliant in three and only partially compliant in the fourth. This review confirmed what most of us already knew, which is that the emergency department is not fit for purpose. It is too small and is understaffed. In 2021, there were 76,473 presentations at UHL where there are only 530 beds. By comparison, St. James's Hospital, which has 698 inpatient beds, had an attendance of 48,397. To bring UHL up to the average bed capacity across the State would require an additional 200 beds. I also understand, as per a recent response to a parliamentary question, that there are 68 non-consultant hospital doctor, NCHD, vacancies at UHL.

In that context, I ask the Chairman to include a recommendation that this committee invite the Minister for Health to a meeting to discuss the emergency department at University Hospital Limerick. The plan is to build a 96-bed unit on the site but it has been confirmed in response to a number of parliamentary questions that the unit will only have capacity for 48 beds. Today there were 45 people on trolleys and while that is an appalling number, it is actually one of the lowest figures this year. On more than 15 days this year, over 100 people were on trolleys in University Hospital Limerick. Statistics show, as verified by the petitioner, that those waiting over a certain number of hours in emergency departments are patients who require a hospital bed. The plan of the HSE and the management of UHL to deal with this issue is not sufficient. A response from the Minister is required and I ask the Chairman to invite him before this committee.

Photo of Martin BrowneMartin Browne (Tipperary, Sinn Fein)
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We will have to check whether the Joint Committee on Health has any plans to address this issue. If not, I am happy to accept Deputy Quinlivan's suggestion that we invite the Minister before this committee. It was only a matter of time before a petition such as this one came before this committee or the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health. I thank the petitioners for submitting it because it is a matter that must be investigated further, either by this committee or the health committee. There is no doubt that the region needs a comprehensive plan to deal with the severe capacity deficits in Limerick, Clare and north Tipperary. We will check with the health committee-----

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein)
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Does the Chairman want me to check whether the Joint Committee on Health is going to invite the Minister to appear before it to discuss this issue?

Photo of Martin BrowneMartin Browne (Tipperary, Sinn Fein)
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We need to find out if the health committee intends to deal with it. We do not want both committees dealing with the same issue at the same time. If the health committee is not going to deal with it, I will back the Deputy's call that we invite the Minister before us.

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein)
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As the Chairman of another committee, I understand the Chairman's desire to avoid duplication of work.

Photo of Martin BrowneMartin Browne (Tipperary, Sinn Fein)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Petition No. 37 regarding the introduction of a procedure for recalling Members of the European Parliament, MEPs, is from Mr. Maksym Ignatenko. The committee recommends that the petitioner be advised that the petition cannot be progressed because MEPs are protected by privilege, that the relevant information on privilege and the code of conduct for MEPs be forwarded to the petitioner for information and that he be advised that his petition is deemed closed. Is that agreed? Agreed.

That concludes our consideration of public petitions this afternoon. I invite members of the public to submit petitions through our online portal which is availableat www.petitions.oireachtas.ie. A petition may be addressed to the Houses of the Oireachtas on a matter of general public concern or interest or an issue of public policy.

Finally, I reiterate a point made by Deputy Buckley.

It looks as if we are flying through and nothing is being done. I assure the public that considerable work by the case manager, Maggie Semple, and her team that goes in behind the scenes, away from this committee room. As Chairperson, and on behalf of the committee, I thank you for all the work you are doing.

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the secretariat and all of the other members of the committee for the co-operation.

The joint committee adjourned at 3.20 p.m. sine die.