Thursday, 18 February 2021
Covid-19 (Drug and Alcohol Services, and Homelessness): Statements
Alan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
I have only a few minutes but I want to ask a few questions as part of this. There is a great deal to cover. It is impossible to cover it, ask questions and get answers in five minutes but we will do our best.
In relation to homelessness, I know all of the organisations well and I am very much taken by some of the progress that has been made in the provision of wraparound services, particularly joined up with the approach from the HSE. I welcome much of what has been done. What lessons have been learnt in the past year that we can take on board in dealing with homelessness as we hopefully will come out of this pandemic in a year's time, and can we keep them?
My second question relates to drug and alcohol services. We are all aware that there are limitations in providing services online and not being able to meet. Being able to socialise and meet is part of this whole issue and Alcohol Anonymous, AA, and Narcotics Anonymous have been challenged as regards their meetings. What improvements can we make for them? Zoom does not work. What else are we looking at as we come through this because such services are unlikely to be face-to-face for some time?
A big issue for me is gambling. I certainly do not have enough time to deal with it. I have been raising this in the Dáil for years. The most dangerous development in gambling has been the smart phone. There are pop-up bets, free bets and advertising. My colleagues, Senator Wall and Deputy Ó Ríordáin, launched a Bill yesterday to ban advertising, not sponsorship, of gambling. This is not only a Department of Justice issue. This is a public health issue. During the pandemic, I can guarantee we will see a crisis due to gambling because people are spending so much time isolated, on their own or in family settings. It is so deadly dangerous. It needs to be fully regulated and advertising needs to be dealt with. Will the Minister of State support Senator Wall's Bill? The Senator does not care, as long as we get it through, how it gets through. The Senator is open to any form of changes and amendments. Trust me, societally, we all have to deal with this. Will the Minister of State please help?
My final two questions are for the Minister of State, Deputy Butler. Rural isolation is a significant issue. I spoke to a woman on my way up in the car this morning. She talked about how lonely she felt. I hear this every day. What are we doing to help those who are very isolated, be they in urban or rural areas, in particular those who do not see anyone from one end of the week to the other? In recent weeks, I have taken the time to ring people who I believed were lonely. What measures are we taking? I am glad that we have An Post. I am glad that we have local shops that are making deliveries. That is all these people see. When I told the lady this morning that I was going to mention her - not by name - to the Minister of State, she told me to ask the Minister of State to get on to RTÉ and ask it to at least rerun episodes of "Glenroe", "Bracken", "The Riordans" and "Strumpet City". It was not the worst idea in the world. They were what she was into.
I have a specific question relating to Jigsaw in my constituency. We had the ridiculous situation this week of Deputy Lowry announcing the wrong location for the service. I had known where it would be for a long time, as had the Minister of State's colleague, Deputy Cahill. Forget about all that rubbish, though. When will Jigsaw be open? There have been various statements about staff being recruited and the service being open in the next couple of weeks, but other staff have stated that they will not be recruited and in place before April. When will it actually be open and up and running? A number of previous dates have not been met.
It might buy the Ministers of State some time if they send me something in writing.