Thursday, 9 October 2014
The children's referendum was passed on 10 November 2012 and the Government said at the time that this would be a once in a generation opportunity to put things right in terms of supports for children, particularly vulnerable children, and ensuring they had adequate facilities in place. When John Saunders published the Mental Health Commission annual report for 2013 some months ago, he stated that in relation to younger service users, there is still a most unsatisfactory situation whereby children are being admitted to adult units where there were 91 child admissions to such units in 2013.
The difficulty is that families throughout our country are under huge pressure because of unemployment, homelessness, pressures in general society, cyberbullying, drug addiction, and the many other problems they face. The founder of Save our Sons and Daughters has said that children are at a higher risk of suicide and are becoming more vulnerable because there is a serious lack of experts employed, and there is only a handful of adolescent beds in our hospitals. There are only 48 beds available to young children who suffer from mental health issues.
It is a very serious position to be in that in 2014, two years after the children's referendum, adolescents with psychiatric problems who may have self-harmed or attempted suicide are still being admitted to adult units, which is wholly inappropriate. In view of the budget next week, will there be a commitment to ensure that we honour the pledge we made solemnly as a people to the children of this country to ensure we have proper funding in place for the most vulnerable children in our communities?
I cannot indicate that to the Deputy but I will say that there are extensive and intensive ongoing discussions between the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Finance and the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, and the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch.
On the area of mental health funding, as is well known, the funding provided over the period of this Government and also the policy developments, some of which the Deputy mentioned, have been widely welcomed by different groups dealing with mental health issues.
The Deputy specifically mentioned adolescent and child mental health services, and also the issue of suicide potential in regard to young people. A new framework document for suicide prevention for the period 2015 to 2018 is being developed. That will build on the current strategy, which as I said has been widely praised by people involved in the area as being one of the best outlines of how to proceed in regard to a very important area of people's overall health and well-being. It will build on the current strategy, and the objective is to have the strategy and the framework in place and completed by the end of this year. Obviously, budget 2015 and the discussions of both the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, and the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, will then determine the specific allocation of resources.
The Deputy's question concentrated heavily on the number of beds. The objective with regard to young people would be to have them treated and assisted in a community health environment. That is generally reckoned to be the best way of approaching difficulties young people experience. The Deputy is aware that the number of community health centres is at 37. I do not know if he has had the opportunity to visit many of the new community health centres but the provision of community-based mental health services is a vital element in the development of these new centres.
We do not want to be overly political on this issue. It was more or less embraced by the Irish people in the context of the children's referendum. They spoke loudly that they wanted supports put in place. It was not just about children's rights at the time; it was also about resources. People were clear that a commitment had to be made not only to fulfil the rights obligation, but that resources would be put in place.
By any stretch of the imagination, the commitment of the Tánaiste's Government has not been great in the area of mental health. Some €35 million was ring-fenced but only €20 million of that was spent. We are still waiting for the recruitment processes outlined in that programme to be completed. The number of career guidance counsellors in schools was cut in previous budgets. We talk about commitment to the area of young people's mental health but the bottom line is that the money has not been put in place. The resources have not been put in place. In terms of an admission by this Government, €35 million was ring-fenced for mental health in the programme for Government and only €20 million of that was spent. We are still going through the recruitment process that should have been completed last year. In the meantime, Save our Sons and Daughters, and other advocacy groups which advocate on behalf of the most vulnerable, are saying clearly that young people who have mental health issues have nowhere to go to seek treatment and support and are being admitted to adult psychiatric units, which is unacceptable according to everybody involved in the treatment of adolescents with mental health issues.
While I do not expect the Tánaiste to outline the budget, even though she was good at outlining parts of previous budgets, we want a commitment from the Government that the commitments in the programme for Government with regard to mental health, recruitment and places for adolescents suffering from mental health issues will be fulfilled.
With regard to what has happened in terms of mental health services and the development of policy, any fair person would say, as do many of the experts in the field, that we now have and have evolved a set of world-class standards on the way to proceed on which there has been widespread agreement, whether among the groups and organisations the Deputy referred to or among the experts.
The critical point is that we do not want any adolescents or children in facilities designed or used by adults. A new protocol has been put in place whereby a bed count is done because the beds are there, just as they are through the local community-based health services.
Two issues arise in that regard. First, we only want to use in-bed facilities, particularly when dealing with vulnerable adolescents, as an absolute last resort. I know from personal experience, and I am sure the Deputy knows also, that if we can provide those services in the community, that is the best way to proceed. There is now a bed count to ensure that if the type of young person the Deputy is talking about has an acute need of a bed for a short period, those beds are now available. We have a protocol in place to ensure that young people in the situation the Deputy mentioned get those beds. That is the commitment on which the Government is delivering, and it is important, but the Deputy should not devalue the community-based health services. If he has not already done so he should visit some of the new community-based health centres to see the services provided in regard to the mental health services area for adults and children.
Like other Deputies, every day I get phone calls from families at their wits' end. As they calculate their water charge bill, they are trying to come to terms with the scale of pain the Tánaiste's Government is inflicting on them. Some people will pay this charge but they will do so resentfully. Others will refuse to pay, but a huge number of families simply cannot pay. They do not have the money. Some are families on social welfare; others are working families on low wages.
They have no disposable income at the end of the month. Now the Government expects them to pay hundreds of euro a year for the basic necessity of water. The Government is threatening these families, saying their water supply will be cut off if they cannot meet this bill. The Government seems prepared to deny these families the ability to wash their children or their sick parents, to clean or to cook. Why are the Tánaiste and the Labour Party threatening families who cannot afford to pay this charge?
Why, in the document it published yesterday, is Sinn Féin threatening the very same families who may inherit a modest family home worth between €250,000 and €300,000, with €48,000, another mortgage, which they will have to take out in order to inherit their family home? Will Sinn Féin please get real on the kind of pain it has outlined for ordinary hard-working families yesterday in its document? I have repeatedly said, and am happy to say again, that the Commissioner for Energy Regulation has set out an 8% reduction, €180 million, to be achieved by Irish Water in its cost base before the end of 2016.
Sinn Féin proposes in its document that Irish Water be converted into a new quango called a non-commercial semi-State. It will not be able to raise funds for the absolutely vital infrastructure the families the Deputy talks about will need. They will need it to get rid of lead pipes and boil notices, for water quality. I know this is not a Sinn Féin priority but they will need it to invest in industry coming into this country so that their children can have jobs. According to the Sinn Féin document, it wants their children to be on social welfare.
We have set out a structure in which families will have to pay over the next two years, at a maximum, the assessed charges. In addition, in the budget there will be, for family households, which are by and large the most vulnerable households, a water services support payment of €100 per annum. That will go a significant way towards meeting and defraying the cost of water charges for many of the families about which the Deputy is understandably concerned.
If one travels 100 miles north, one finds that Sinn Féin has no problem with families paying an average, to include water, admittedly, of €950 on modest two and three bedroom houses in estates very similar to the estates here.
The Deputy’s arguments do not add up. Sinn Féin cannot cripple Irish Water by preventing it from raising funds on the international market to address the severe deficiencies and environmental and health issues arising from the way water has been dealt with in this country. Instead it will push those costs onto the taxpayer. It will cost the taxpayer approximately €500 million to do what Sinn Féin proposes in its document.
As we know from the difficult years after the bank and construction industry collapsed, everybody in this society, on low and high incomes, will have to pay the costs of the outline of the new Irish Water quango non-commercial State company for which Sinn Féin has flown the flag.
Once again and unsurprisingly, the Tánaiste refused to answer a very simple question. She comes in here week after week and abuses Leaders’ Questions and refuses to give straight answers. Maybe she is incapable of giving a straight answer.
He produced the envelope and said "This is the end of me". Why is the Government threatening people like this man and so many others that if they do not meet this bill, it will cut off their water supply?
The Tánaiste threatens and harangues them and will not answer the straight question here in the Dáil Chamber. Shame on the Tánaiste. She ought to be ashamed of taking that position in government, as should her colleagues on the Labour Party benches.
In respect of the gentleman Deputy McDonald mentioned, I do not know what age he is; she might indicate that. He has been out of work for a while and obviously wants to try to improve his situation. Could the Deputy please ask him to contact the local Intreo office if he is in Cabra or Finglas? We will help him.
The Deputy should not shake her head at the idea that somebody would go back to education, to work or community employment. The last I heard, Sinn Féin by and large supports community employment.
If the Deputy wants to improve his situation, the first thing to do, depending on the age of the gentleman, is to try to help as a society to get that man, who probably lost his job through no fault of his own, back to work.
The second point is the big Sinn Féin lie. It prepared the propaganda and has worked this one out. Nobody’s water supply is going to be cut off because the law does not allow Irish Water to cut off people’s water.
The law in Ireland does not allow the man’s water to be cut off. The Deputy said the man is financially challenged. I accept that. I absolutely accept that the poor man probably lost his job through no fault of his own. Sinn Féin as a party, and Deputy McDonald as a public representative, would get a lot of profit for that man and his family, if he has one, or for him alone, by helping him back into education or into community employment-----
Can the Deputy not help him get back into education, or back to work? Why would she not do that? Sinn Féin is anti people getting work, or advancing. That is the problem.
Would Members allow the person asking the question the courtesy of silence please and allow the person responding the courtesy of silence? Would they try to keep their mouths shut for a few minutes?
I want to raise the protests against the installation of water meters which are taking place in big estates across the city and country.
I want to state that contrary to what the Taoiseach said when I raised this issue last week, it is not the case that these protests are being organised by outsiders. It is not a case of the usual suspects to whom the Taoiseach referred. These protests are taking place spontaneously. Local residents, including children, are demonstrating their objections to the water charges. I want to raise the question of the right to engage in peaceful protest, as guaranteed under Article 40 of the Constitution, which refers to "the right of the citizens to assemble peaceably and without arms". These protests were taking place peacefully until someone somewhere decided to change the approach that was being taken. As a result, peaceful protests are being forcibly broken up by large numbers of gardaí. People have been manhandled, pushed, pulled and shoved, in an aggressive manner in some cases. There have been numerous arrests. I will give an example. Nineteen gardaí were brought in to protect Irish Water workers at a very small estate of 27 houses off Clanbrassil Street in my constituency.
One resident was taken to hospital yesterday with an ankle injury. Twenty-six gardaí were taken from stations across Dublin to get involved in what was happening in Clare Hall. The focus has switched today to St. Donagh's Road in Donaghmede, where over 100 residents have come out to protest. There is a large Garda presence and two arrests have been made. Is this not a strange use of limited Garda resources? Does it not raise questions about political policing? Is it right that the police force is being mobilised to break up popular resistance to an unjust tax? These protests are going to spread. It is not sustainable for the Garda to have such numbers policing these protests, which last all day. Any suggestion that these peaceful protests can be crushed by the use of large numbers of gardaí is fanciful. I assure the Tánaiste that the Government will see the real extent of the opposition to these water charges, and the anger that exists now that they have been imposed in addition to the property tax, on Saturday when tens or maybe hundreds of thousands of people will demonstrate in favour of the right to water. Would it not be better for the Government to accept the reality now by scrapping the water charges? A motion condemning the heavy-handed tactics that are being used to try to suppress these protestors was passed by Dublin City Council this week. The Lord Mayor of Dublin has indicated that he wants to meet the Garda Commissioner because he is unhappy with the actions of a small number of gardaí. Will the Tánaiste consider intervening to defend the right to peaceful protest?
I have to say in response to the Deputy's long prepared statement that I have received many complaints from people who find themselves intimidated by those who are taking over their estates and deciding what their attitude to Irish Water should be. I understand there is a range of views on Irish Water in this country. It might come as news to the Deputy that many people want the very bad situation that has existed in relation to investment in our water services to be changed and turned around. One of the problems is that people in the country are on boil water notices because the water infrastructure is totally deficient. A vigorous and expensive investment programme is needed to remove the lead pipes in significant parts of our urban areas, which need to be removed for the sake of older people and children. High-quality water is needed in the greater Dublin region, in particular, so it can continue to attract a huge amount of construction and investment in jobs. Then it can be done not just in Dublin, but also right around the country. They are the arguments in favour of why we, as a country, should have made a huge investment in water infrastructure in the past.
I am not saying they did not mean well. As a consequence of the completely disjointed approach that was taken at that time, investment is needed so that we can make progress as a country. From a health point of view, we must ensure safer water is made available to children and older people, in particular. We must ensure water is treated properly and with due regard to people's health and the need for investment in jobs and employment. I would like to say something about these protestors. The matter has been before the courts. I will not comment on how the courts deal with issues as they arise.
I have seen the gardaí in a number of situations in which they have acted with extraordinary patience, firmness and courtesy to people who have been giving them an extremely difficult and hard time. I think the gardaí have responded with complete professionalism. I do not want to comment on the issues that are before the courts. Approximately 1,000 men have jobs working in Irish Water and for Irish Water.
It has been a habit of those on the Government benches. The Tánaiste repeated what has been said on a number of occasions in the Dáil this week. I put it to her that people are coming out of their houses in extraordinary numbers. I have never seen a spontaneous reaction like it in my life. Irish Water came into Crumlin each morning for 15 days. The residents came out of their homes to stand over the shores. The workmen sat in their vans all day and got paid for doing so. They moved out of Crumlin after 15 days without a single water meter being installed.
The same thing happened in Drimnagh over a five-day period. As these men get paid regardless of whether the water meters are installed, the argument used by the Tánaiste is absolutely false. She is trying to throw the issue in another way by raising dust in people's eyes. Ordinary people - women, children and men who are absolutely opposed to the installation of water meters - are protesting peacefully in our communities. Will the Tánaiste agree with me that people have a right to say "No" and that this should result in those installing the meters moving on to the next place where people are happy to have water meters? Will she condemn the tactics of a small number of gardaí who are stepping out of control and creating chaos in our communities?
All the material from the protests, particularly anything that looks controversial, is immediately posted on Facebook, YouTube and everything else. I have a look at it from time to time.
I would like to know whether Deputy Collins can show us anything from all the filming that is going on that supports her suggestion that gardaí are behaving improperly. I do not think the extensive filming that has been going on shows that. It is certainly the case that there is a great deal of confrontation on all the films. The Deputy does not appear to accept that some of these matters have been before the courts. In that case, the gardaí may have a duty in the context of court orders. I do not intend to comment on that because the courts have their job to do. I think that nowadays, the Deputy pays her bin charges to a privatised refuse company.
Please, this sort of rowdyism does not appeal to anyone. Deputies should come to my office to hear the complaints. The same individuals are involved everyday. Please, we are in a democratically elected Chamber. People are entitled to their views and to express them properly without being shouted down.
I just have one final sentence to say, and it is this: if the Deputy has evidence in respect of the matters that she is raising she should bring it to the Garda because the Garda clearly operates in this country as a very professional force. The Deputy should also bear in mind, notwithstanding what she said earlier, that a lot of people do not like some of the people - not all of them - who have arrived in estates to organise, arrange and create blockades. They would like those people to leave their estates.
Are they going to say that when there is a large organised protest? Not particularly for reasons that the Deputy and I understand, but privately that is what they are telling people.
The last point is this: if the Deputy encourages people to run up large water debts as she encouraged people to do on previous occasions in respect of other public charges, she knows as I do that the consequence for a lot of ordinary families is that they will become mired in very difficult debt situations.