Wednesday, 15 November 2017
Questions on Promised Legislation
What is the status of the commitment in the programme for Government to produce a national rare diseases plan? The situation is becoming critical for people with rare diseases as the Taoiseach will be aware in terms of children and adults with PKU, for example, who are awaiting ratification of the drug Kuvan, which can have a very significant impact for people with PKU. The negotiations have stalled. There is an absence of any overall strategic approach to orphan drugs and rare diseases in this country. Increasingly as certain drugs are being developed we are having this unhealthy stand-off involving those in pharmacoeconomics, who acknowledge that the regime for orphan drugs is not strong enough and needs to be changed, revised and reformed. Meanwhile many children could benefit.
I may be incorrect in this reply and I apologise in advance if I am. I think the national rare diseases plan was published two or three years ago. One of its recommendations was the establishment of a national rare diseases office. I recall that because I remember opening it as Minister for Health a number of years ago. Perhaps I am incorrect in that regard.
The programme for Government commits to the full implementation of A Vision for Change in a manner that recognises geographic accessibility. In my constituency of Louth, despite this commitment vulnerable people have wholly inadequate mental health services and parents have to travel very significant distances with their children. There is an excellent health services team in Ladywell but the building is not fit for purpose; it cannot house the services for the community needs.
Responses to parliamentary questions show that data on children's psychology waiting times are not available. Nor are data available to show how much of the HSE budget is spent on child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS. That means that those responsible for delivering these services for our youngsters do not know how long children are waiting to see a psychologist. They do not know how much funding is spent on CAMHS. How can a Government plan, resource and deliver the service that is deeply needed-----
The programme for Government commitment is to implement A Vision for Change and to improve mental health services in Ireland. That is a commitment we will honour. As the Deputy knows, the budget for mental health in 2018 will be €912 million. That will help to bring us further towards implementing A Vision for Change. That is an increase from €853 million this year, €822 million the previous year, €791 million in the year before that, and €711 million when the party I lead came to office. That is a 25% increase in a relatively short number of years.
Data anomalies and data collection are not matters for the programme for Government or legislation. I encourage the Deputy to raise that matter with the Minister for Health.
The latest ESRI report indicates that house prices could rise by 20% over the next three years. Meanwhile rent has also increased by 11% in the year to September, according to daft.ie. We all know that not enough homes are being built. However, we also need to ensure that the homes that are built are affordable for ordinary people to rent and buy. The State, obviously, has a very clear role to play in that. Some 700 publicly-owned sites have been identified and we need to get on with building affordable homes on those. When will the Government introduce the national affordable housing scheme?
The European Court of Auditors published a special report on rural development programming yesterday and it found that the process is very complex and vague and that not enough emphasis is being placed on achieving results. Is that not damning proof that there is no rural proofing of any legislation that has been passed? There has been great spin about rural development, massive reports have been published and there have been great expectations. However, no tangible results have been achieved. The report published yesterday is damning. Anyone living in rural Ireland or representing a rural constituency knows that. The programming is all aspirational in nature. We saw it with the Leader programme and the rural development programme. They have all been hijacked and abandoned. Funding is not getting to where it needs to go, namely, to the ordinary families, community groups and projects.
I have not seen the report to which the Deputy refers but the programme for Government commits us to implementing the Action PLan for Rural Development, which we are doing.
The Deputy will be aware that employment is up and unemployment is down in every county. The number of premises that have access to high-speed broadband has risen from half, when the Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance came to office-----
-----to two thirds now. It will be three quarters by the end of the year. Considerable investment is going into rural Ireland through programmes such as the town and village scheme, re-establishing the local improvement scheme to improve laneways and rural roads and many other initiatives.
No problem. The programme for Government contains a pledge to the effect that the Government would have full regard to any new evidence which emerged to establish the likely cause of the fire at the Stardust nightclub. The Stardust families are absolutely gutted and bewildered at the outcome of the McCartan report dealing with the review of the evidence that they brought forward and other evidence that came to light, which I understand the terms of reference did not allow the former judge, Mr. McCartan, to even consider, about possible scenarios for the ignition of the Stardust fire. Given the deep unhappiness and despair of the Stardust families regarding the outcome of this report, can the Minister commit, at the very least, that we will have a debate on that report in the Dáil in the very near future in order that we might assess it fully and be given the opportunity to raise issues that the families believe the report failed to resolve or of which it failed to take full cognisance?
I very much share the deep sense of loss that has been felt by the families and the community in north Dublin for a long period - in fact, 36 years - since one of the most horrific incidents in the history of our State occurred, namely, the Stardust fire. I acknowledge the publication last week of the third report on this tragedy, which was presented by me to Government and given to the families in advance. I understand a deep sense of frustration and disappointment on the part of the families. If it was to serve the families and the community in any positive way for the House to debate that report, I am sure the Business Committee would be pleased to accommodate that. I, as Minister, certainly would do so. I would be happy to meet the families but I acknowledge the service that has been undertaken by the former judge, Mr. McCartan. I acknowledge the importance of his report and, as Minister for Justice and Equality, I accept its recommendations.
Tá sin ceart go leor. Where is the health information Bill, which has been renamed the health information and patient Safety Bill? Almost two and half years ago, the Taoiseach, who was at that time the Minister for Health, was quoted as confirming that approval had been given in respect of the heads of the Bill and that it was specifically designed, among other things, to alleviate public concern about the safety and quality of some services provided in the private health sector and, in particular, to allow the private hospitals to come under the ambit of the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA. What progress has been made on that Bill?
I am advised that work is under way on the Bill but we do not have a date for publication yet. I do recall that some aspects of the patient safety package are in the Civil Liability (Amendment) Bill which we hope will come through both Houses this week. That includes periodic payment orders, so that if somebody has been damaged as a result of being harmed in the course of health care, instead of one lump sum payment they will receive a period of payments over the years that can be increased as needs be. It also includes provisions to protect open disclosure. It will be a very significant step forward if we can have that legislation through both Houses this week. The Deputy is correct to say that the regulation of private hospitals, which is long overdue, is provided for in this new Bill. I do not have a date for it yet but will certainly pursue the matter with the Minister for Health.
The programme for Government committed to a jobs action plan with regional targets. Yesterday at the behest of the Chair, the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation met in Waterford city. We heard from academics at WIT and senior representatives of Waterford City and County Council. We heard about shocking figures in respect of the IDA. While the south east represents 10.5% of the population, it only got 1% of the net jobs that were created last year. There were only nine site visits to Waterford and only two to Wexford. That was described by the council representatives as appalling. It was also said that unless the Government commits to providing the relevant funding for the North Quays project, of which I know the Taoiseach is aware and for which a potential €500 million investment is contingent on €90 million funding from the State, the project will not go ahead. Why is the south east the only region where the Government is not meeting its targets? What further action will the Government take to ensure it does meet its targets?
There has been a significant fall in unemployment in the south east and a significant increase in employment. There is of course much more to job creation than IDA jobs although I was pleased to be in Waterford not too long ago to announce the creation of extra jobs in the Bausch & Lomb facility there. I think probably a more detailed answer could be provided by the Tánaiste if the Deputy wishes to ask her a parliamentary question.
The Taoiseach must be aware that many farmers in heavy land have been hit very badly this fall. This is on the programme for Government in respect of protecting farmers and their incomes. As a result, cattle and the whole lot have been housed for over three months. Many farmers have calculated that they will be short 50% of the fodder they need to feed their animals through to the springtime when they go out on grass again. Thousands of farmers are in the GLAS scheme. I am asking the Taoiseach to ensure that they are paid their GLAS money on time. This did not happen last year. It will be the finish of them if they are not paid on time this year. That is what I am asking the Taoiseach and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to do.
I know there were significant delays in GLAS payments being made earlier this year, in fact, so certainly I will pass on the Deputy's concerns to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and will ask that he ensure that the payments are made as soon as possible.
On page 45 of the programme for Government there is a commitment to providing significant funding towards developing a national greenway network. In my county of Kerry, there is a disused railway line from Tralee to Fenit. There has been a walkway proposed for it for a number of years but there has been no progress whatsoever this year or last year. The south Kerry greenway from Glenbeigh down to Renard was announced amid great fanfare in 2014. Again there has been very little progress.
When will we see delivery of this commitment in County Kerry and across Ireland?
There has been significant investment in greenways in recent years, not least the Great Western Greenway in Mayo and the Deise Greenway between Dungarvan and Waterford city. I have yet to be on the latter but I am told it is fabulous and worth a visit. There is also the greenway on the Royal Canal which goes across several counties. I do not know to hand the progress with the ones in Kerry referred to by the Deputy. I will ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to reply to him directly.
The seafood and marine section of the programme for Government refers to fishermen's income. Due to the recent Storm Ophelia, fishermen along the south and west coast sustained serious losses where their pots were either destroyed or lost. One fisherman, among many in west Cork, lost 250 pots. At a cost €60 per pot, this is putting financial strain on fishermen and their families. Does the Government have any plans to put a compensation package in place for the fishermen affected?
There is no programme for Government commitment on this particular matter. I will ask the Minister for Agriculture, Marine and Food to provide the Deputy with a more detailed reply.
The programme for Government has various commitments under the education heading to allow students to reach their full potential. There is a serious issue with regard to resource hours and how they have been allocated, however. Two schools recently came to me which will need more resource hours in the 2017-18 school year, but they have been allocated the same resource hours as last year. This will put enormous pressure on the schools to help and accommodate the extra children who will need more resource hours. The way resource hours were allocated is totally inadequate. Due recognition must be taken of the number of children who need help with resource hours rather than a blanket number of hours being allocated.
The new resource allocation model involves 1,000 additional teachers being allocated to schools. It dispenses with the needs for diagnostic tests or labelling of children before they get access to the support of a resource teacher. It is a significant improvement. Schools have resources available for them to meet these educational needs.
If there was an exceptional intake in one year that was not reflected in previous years, there is a possibility of making a case to the National Council for Special Education, NCSE. The expectation is that schools have been accommodated with resources without the need for these diagnostic tests. They are in a position to meet the needs of the children from the profile of the school established in the past. By and large, this is working well. If the schools in question want to submit a case to the NCSE, it will be assessed.
Will the Taoiseach give an update on the Red Cross amendment Bill, which would allow for a new legal framework for the Irish Red Cross Society? I want to acknowledge the fantastic work done by the Irish Red Cross Society right across south-west Cork.
I share the Deputy's acknowledgement of the fabulous work done by the Irish Red Cross Society in Cork and across the country. Heads of the Bill are being prepared but we do not have a date for it as of yet.
This morning, we had a good briefing from David Hall from iCare Housing. One of the points made was that several banks are getting ready to sell tranches of distressed mortgages. This is partly due to pressure from the European Central Bank, ECB, which is asking the banks to clean up their balance sheets. The programme for Government has a clear commitment to setting up a dedicated court service to deal with these and impose solutions on the banks. Where are we at with this court being available to distressed mortgage holders to use?
This matter is under consideration. I will not be in a position to publish draft heads of a Bill this side of the end of the year. However, I am happy to communicate directly with the Deputy as to where we are with it.
The programme for Government has a commitment for the roll-out of the national broadband plan.
Will the Taoiseach update me on the contract negotiations in respect of this vital infrastructural project because many people in my constituency of Sligo Leitrim North, encompassing parts of south Donegal and north Roscommon, contact me on a weekly basis regarding their concerns in respect of broadband in the area.
On page 38 of the programme for Government, there is a commitment to roll out broadband to every home and business in the country. That is not happening. The increased provision referenced in the statistics quoted by the Minister and Department is due to private operators providing this much-needed service which all Members agree is no longer a luxury but, rather, a necessity for businesses, education, people who want to work from home and so on. As Deputy McLoughlin mentioned, the timeline for the national contract going to tender is critical. I have tabled parliamentary questions in that regard but the answers from the Department are non-committal. This is a real priority. If the Government is serious about taking the lead on this, it must get the national broadband plan rolled out and the contract put out to tender as a matter of urgency. That is not happening. Will the Taoiseach update the House on the matter?
The contract negotiations are commercially sensitive and confidential and I am not a party to them. The Minister, Deputy Naughten, has informed me that he anticipates the contract will be signed next year.
I agree with Deputy O'Rourke that broadband is not a luxury but, rather, is essential. It is the intention of the Government that Ireland will be the first country in the world in which every home and business has fibre broadband. Notwithstanding the delays in getting the contract signed, the private sector, in partnership with Government and local authorities, is providing more and more homes and premises with access to high speed broadband. Up to three quarters of all homes and businesses will have such access by the end of next year.
The affordable child care scheme was announced in budget 2018. There has been no ring-fencing of money thus far in 2018. When will legislation in respect of the affordable child care scheme come before the House?
It is intended to publish that legislation this session and bring it through the Houses next year. The main elements of the scheme have already been introduced, as the Deputy is aware, including the child care subsidy for all children aged between six months and three years.
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill proposes to provide for presumptive minimum sentences for repeat sexual offenders and to correct an anomaly in regard to penalties for incest. When is it expected to bring that important legislation before the House?
We have heard today about the Government's poor performance on climate change targets. I will not repeat the environmental and moral issues raised by Deputy Eamon Ryan. There is also a financial consideration. The Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment has established that fines for failure to reach those targets could be in the amount of €1 billion to €1.5 billion. What financial provision has been made in the Finance Bill or elsewhere for the fines that will inevitably accrue from the Government's failure to meet those targets, which it has again admitted this morning?
No provision has been made in either the Finance Bill or appropriation Bill because there will not be any fines next year. Any fines to be levied will be imposed from 2020 onwards.
As mentioned earlier, there is great emphasis in the programme for Government on A Vision for Change and care for the elderly and those with disabilities. In my constituency, that seems to be occurring through the privatisation of services. That is particularly evident in respect of the respite service in Sligo, where Solas House has been closed and we have been told that private providers will be using it. Patients have been moved out of St. John's Community Hospital, many of them into private nursing homes. In other cases, no service is being provided with the result that many people are left without any respite service and many are being brought, in absolute distress, to CAMHS. When will the Government realise the extent of this problem?
Will the Taoiseach do something to ensure that investment is put in place to provide services for people with disabilities, elder care and mental health services?
As referred to by Deputy Martin Kenny, we had a respite house built specifically to cater for the people in the Sligo-Leitrim region. That house has now been closed down. It was being used for decongregation. The people who were availing of the service must now travel to Monaghan. It is a 170 km round trip from Sligo or that general area to Monaghan and even that service is no longer available. The Minister needs to get something done about this problem. This is not just happening in our area; it is happening in every area of the country, as far as I can see.
Additional funding for elder care, people with disabilities, respite and decongregation will be provided in 2018. Any particular local issue would be best raised with the Minister for Health or the Minister of State with responsibility for disability services by parliamentary question.