Dáil debates

Thursday, 29 September 2022

Financial Resolutions 2022 - Financial Resolution No. 6: General (Resumed)


1:45 pm

Photo of Duncan SmithDuncan Smith (Dublin Fingal, Labour) | Oireachtas source

I will focus during my six and a half minute contribution on health and transport. On health, I will focus on three areas that relate to the rights of workers in the health service on which this budget has either been silent or has failed to react appropriately. The first relates to recruitment and retention across all levels of care but in particular in our acute hospitals and across the grades of nursing, midwifery, healthcare assistants and others. We have a story to tell that starts off well when it comes to nursing in this country. We have around 1,800 new nursing graduates every year and immediately after graduating, approximately 96% of them stay to work in Ireland. However, that number quickly evaporates as the harshness of the conditions of working and living in Ireland, in terms of trying to afford housing, build a life and have a good standard of living, begins to bite. We are losing nurses at an unbelievable rate, as well as other grades across the health service. Approximately 6,000 health service employees will be recruited as part of this year's budget but we do not know where they will be recruited from. The vast majority of our nursing staff are now recruited from overseas. They are really well trained and are great workers but we are not able to retain them either because the same housing and cost of living issues impact them as much as they impact the graduates that come through our own education system. We are allowing really great trained staff, irrespective of where they were trained, to slip between our fingers. The staff in our health service are working their fingers to the bone. We applauded them during the pandemic and did everything we could to try to acknowledge them during the crisis. They are still working their fingers to the bone, covering shifts and trying to ensure that we have a health service that functions.

I received a reply to a parliamentary question today on pandemic recognition payments for healthcare staff who do not work in the HSE. Incredibly, the tendering process for a company to administer and process those payments only finished this week. An external company is being brought in to try to find all of the eligible healthcare staff in our hospices, nursing homes, section 39 organisations in the community, and in home help and home care agencies and process their payments. It is an absolute shambles. The chance of these workers getting their payment before Christmas, never mind as part of this budget, is diminishing ever further. That is a failure of the workers in our health service. We are also failing our section 39 workers who have been conducting a 14-years-and-counting campaign for pay restoration and pay increases. Such pay increases are long overdue but these workers remain outside any formal process and are not even being dealt with at arms' length. The trade unions that represent them are not getting a response from Ministers to their letters. These are the workers who work with the most vulnerable in our communities. They need help and support but they are not getting it from their own Government. This budget was silent on all of these issues. The recruitment and retention crisis in our health service is going to continue because it will not be resolved by this budget.

On transport, the Labour Party asked for a radical proposal, namely, a €9 monthly climate card. That would do one of two things, one of which is increase the number of people who would use public transport through vastly reducing the cost. As a follow-on, it would improve Ireland meeting its carbon targets, on which we are way behind. Transport is a key reason for that. The measures announced were continuations of what are good measures, in terms of the fare reductions that have already been put in place, but they are not the radical measures we need to encourage people into public transport or to meet our climate targets.

We have anomalies in those schemes. For example, there is a crazy situation on the north county line where towns like Balbriggan and Skerries are outside of the 90-minute fare, even though people within those towns can get to where they need to go, be that college or work, well within 90 minutes in the morning. However, commuters from Rush, Lusk, Donabate, Malahide and Portmarnock are included in that fare. Throughout the country, in particular in my constituency and constituencies around Dublin, there is a poor or, at times, non-existent service provided by privatised bus services. There is a major problem with the Go-Ahead Ireland service in north county Dublin, North Wicklow, and areas of Kildare. Buses are not turning up in the morning and people are missing work, are late for school or college and are missing hospital appointments which they have to reschedule. We need a transport system that works. When these contracts end, they cannot be renewed. We need a State-owned public transport system, such as Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, which is resourced properly, to run our transport services.

Another Tweet from a constituent of mine this morning thanked Go-Ahead Ireland bus services and said it was another taxi fare for them this morning. Taxi services, another area of our transport system that has been totally ignored over the past number of years, have to step into the breach.

The Labour Party supported a scrappage scheme for cars linked to electric or cargo bikes. They are expensive. A lot of people are driving old cars which are not efficient. They may have a second car in a family. People would be willing to scrap such cars if there was an incentive to buy an electric or cargo bike. We would like to see the Government revisit that.


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