Thursday, 15 October 2020
Financial Resolutions 2020 - Financial Resolution No. 7: General (Resumed)
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the budget debate and I welcome the measures of the budget. There is a number of issues I would like to raise.
On the agricultural side, the long-promised food ombudsman was a commitment going back many years but we particularly zoned in on this over recent years to try and resolve issues in relation to food, especially what the food processor and producer get for their product and what is paid by the consumer for the end product. There has always been a major debate about it and the food ombudsman will bring clarity to that. It is important that we accept there is an issue there in relation to farming. Satire sometimes reflects what is happening in society and the cartoon in theIrish Farmers' Journaldepicted very well how the beef price is going up but not the price being paid to the primary producer. That caption alone shows what work needs to be done by the food ombudsman. I welcome that initiative and I welcome the initiative to ensure there is a targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, programme for 2021 and a number of other agricultural schemes that are there between the end of this year and the commencement of the new Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, programme in 2022.
In the Department of Education and Skills, the pupil-teacher ratio has long been debated by all sides of the House but it is a welcome development that we reduce that ratio this year. It is vitally important that we give as many resources as possible to the early years of education, particularly primary schools right across the board, because the international evidence and research has shown that when somebody is given a good start in education, it is the foundation from which he or she continues and goes forward. I welcome that initiative.
There is something we have to look at carefully as we go forward. There is a commitment to special needs assistants and there needs to be a discussion on that issue. The scheme has evolved over the past 20 years or so and there needs to be thought given to how we are going to implement that to make sure it is fit for purpose as we go into the next decade.
On disability, €100 million has been given to that area. I hope this will be directed to opening the day services, tackling the waiting lists for needs assessments and occupational and speech therapy, and ending the practice within the HSE currently so that people with huge training, such as occupational and speech therapists, are taken away from contact tracing and put back into the jobs that are needed in the disability sector.
Following the court decision in June on the primary medical certificates, it is vitally important we get clarification from the Department of Finance and the Department of Health to get that scheme up and running. There will be a backlog created in terms of this primary medical certificate and I have been arguing for years that there is a need to broaden the scope of the certificate. While it was brought in in good faith back in the day, it needs to be looked at in terms of the challenges in society at the moment and where it needs to be tailored. I will be talking to Government at all times to make sure there is clarity on that.
An extra €20 million was brought in for the section 39 organisations, which are predominantly providing services on behalf of the State. We need to have a proper discussion about them, especially on the health and education side but right across such organisations. A section was put into the Act that has allowed many organisations to be categorised under it, but it has always been the ammunition of Government to be able to say they are not State organisations but rather organisations providing services for the State by grant aid. We need to look at some of the organisations under section 39 that are providing State services exclusively and the insurance costs they have. We should be looking at bringing them under the State Claims Agency because there is only one underwriter providing insurance for those, particularly on the health side, and there have been rising costs over the years.
The Minister spoke about CLÁR, and the CLÁR funding needs to be expanded and brought forward. We also need to ensure there is CLÁR funding available going forward.
As the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, is here, I will speak on forestry and the wonderful initiative there, the NeighbourWood Scheme. There should be a real target in that scheme, and community groups as well as farmers and others should be targeted to make sure it brings a benefit to the whole community as we go forward. That needs to be looked at and enhanced.