Wednesday, 18 April 2018
Questions on Promised Legislation
I have a question about the Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill. As the Taoiseach knows, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Michael Creed, laid a statutory instrument before the House on Easter Monday to allow penalty points to be applied to fishing vessel owners who engaged in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. While we all agree with having a proper and fair regime in that regard, given the fate of previous statutory instruments that were proved to be unconstitutional, the Minister indicated that he would not do this by statutory instrument but rather by primary legislation and that he would consult other parties on it. He has not consulted other parties. My party has a particular difficulty with the statutory instrument. My question is why is the Government introducing a statutory instrument. The statutory instrument and the appeals process are unfair. Will the Government revert to its original position that it would introduce primary legislation to govern this issue, as it would allow for proper transparency and fairness for all concerned?
Will the Taoiseach clarify when business will be reordered to allow for statements and questions to the Minister? I understand from media reports that he has finally agreed to implement the Ombudsman's recommendations following a scathing report late last year on the Department's administration of the Magdalen laundry redress scheme. The report came on foot of complaints made by 27 women who had been excluded by the Department from the scheme. Even after the investigation was complete, the first instinct of the Department of Justice and Equality was to push back. In evidence to the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality in January the Ombudsman stated that in his ten years as Ombudsman, he had never reached a point where a Department had, prior to publication of a report, absolutely and categorically refused to engage in the process of accepting and implementing the recommendations made. That reflection very much echoes the experiences of the excluded women.
A small number of women are awaiting redress. They lack capacity and are particularly reliant on the Department and the Courts Service to support their applications. The Taoiseach's decision to implement the report's recommendations is welcome. The Minister for Justice and Equality-----
To reply to the first question, the clerk to the committee is ringing around to make arrangements for this afternoon.
On the Magdalen redress scheme, the Minister for Justice and Equality, the Ombudsman and I met two weeks ago to resolve the matter. The Government fully accepts the four recommendations made by the Ombudsman. We will implement them without further delay. To date, some 700 women have received payments under the scheme, with enhanced health benefits and pensions. Much good has been achieved through the restorative justice scheme. We want to make sure the four issues raised by the Ombudsman will be dealt with. The first is where there is a dispute about how long a woman spent in an institution. We have appointed an independent senior counsel, Mary O'Toole, who has been asked to review all cases and make recommendations. That will be done without unnecessary delay. Her work will start immediately. She will advise us on women who lack capacity due to dementia or other reasons, including being wards of court and unable to accept an award because of a lack of capacity. We will also ensure women who were officially recorded as having been admitted to a training centre or an industrial school located in the same building attached to or located on the grounds of a laundry are included in the scheme. We envisage having that work completed in the next three months. We accept the Ombudsman's recommendation in that regard. There is a difference of opinion between the Ombudsman and the Department of Justice and Equality as to whether this would involve altering or changing the scheme, but I do not think that really matters. What is important is that the women affected receive redress and they will.
We are led to believe the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran, is to rotate out of the Office of Public Works and be replaced by Deputy Seán Canney. We are told in this morning's edition of The Irish Timesthat this "Lanigan's Ball" arrangement is now in some doubt. As head of the Government, can the Taoiseach advise the House if there will be a change of Minister of State in the Office of Public Works? Will it be determined by a vote of the Cabinet as required by law or is it another toss of the coin?
The decision on the appointment of a Minister of State is a matter for the Cabinet but who is to be nominated to hold the position is a matter for the Independent Alliance.
I have an issue with how women are treated in this country. Women's Aid, the organisation that supports women and families affected by domestic violence, produced its report on Monday. What it tells us is shocking. We do not just need Women's Aid to produce statistics for domestic violence and abuse, we also need the State, as promised, to do so. Some 16 years after the first report on sexual abuse and violence in Ireland was commissioned, we still do not have a proper answer from the Taoiseach, his Department or the Department of Justice and Equality as to when we will hear from the Department about a second sexual abuse and violence in Ireland, SAVI, report. It is long overdue. Over 30% of women reported to Women's Aid that they had found the Garda unhelpful. Women's Aid clearly stated and showed statistically how the housing crisis was having a major impact on women and families in not being able to leave abusive and violent situations because they had nowhere to go. Surely, there must be urgency in terms of the need for a second report 16 years on, rather than having to repeatedly come back to ask the Taoiseach when we will have it.
In the context of the commitment in the programme for Government to transparency and accountability, does the Taoiseach, as Head of Government, think it acceptable that the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, attended the launch of Amnesty International Ireland's repeal the eighth campaign? As the Taoiseach is aware, the Minister for Health, who he appointed, has a responsibility to all the people of Ireland under the Constitution. The Minister for Health might not be aware of that. Judging by the state of the health services, one would think he is not aware of it. It is totally inappropriate that he attended that launch because his duty is to defend the Constitution that is in place until it is changed by the people or otherwise. He attended the event and walked down the street with Mr. Colm O'Gorman of Amnesty, which has received €150,000 from George Soros. The Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, and An Garda Síochána are currently investigating that donation. If a Member of this House does wrong, he or she must be held accountable, and rightly so. For the Minister, in such a cavalier way, to attend the launch and walk around canvassing on Grafton Street with Mr. O'Gorman and his colleagues is downright to flout his Cabinet duties. Will the Taoiseach rein him in or are we going to have a free-for-all? Deputy Howlin mentioned musical chairs in the Independent Alliance. It is the Taoiseach's responsibility as Head of Government under the Constitution to ensure that Ministers act properly and obey the Constitution.
It is absolutely appropriate for the Minister for Health to be involved in such a campaign. The Government and the Oireachtas are proposing to change the Constitution. I do not know how many referendums we have had on constitutional amendments but it has always been the normal course of events for Ministers to campaign in favour of the change they propose. It is the logical thing to do.
Ba mhaith liom labhairt faoin bplean gníomhaíochta don Ghaeilge, go háirithe don tréimhse 2018 go 2022. Sé seachtaine ó shin thug an tAire Stáit óráid iontach sa Dáil agus gheall sé dúinn san óráid sin go raibh an Roinn ag cur bailchríoch ar an bplean ag an am sin agus go mbeidh sé le foilsiú sna seachtainí a bhí romhainn. Tá sé go díreach sé seachtaine an lá inniu ó thug sé a bhriathar go raibh an plean sin le foilsiú. Cá bhfuil an plean? Thug an tAire Stáit a bhriathar i rith Sheachtain na Gaeilge i mBliain na Gaeilge.
Tá nuacht dearfach agam anois. Bhí mé ag labhairt le mo chuid oifigeach inné fadúda an plean sin agus tá an chéad dhréacht socruithe. Anois tá na hoifigigh ag obair ar an dara dréacht. B'fhéidir go bhfuil sé socruithe anois, ach ní bheidh sé foilsithe inniu. B'fhéidir go bhfoilseofar é go gairid.
The Citizens' Assembly today published its report on climate change. Anyone who was present for its work on the issue would say it did a fantastic job. It got the best people in to give an overview of the relevant science and solutions, and came up with practical solutions in the areas of transport, agriculture and energy commensurate with the scale of the challenge we face. What does the Government intend doing with the report of the Citizens' Assembly and its recommendations? What effect will it have on the Government's legislative process, the national mitigation plan and Government budgets and actions? The Citizens' Assembly was very clear and practical and is very strongly supported by the environmental community and everyone interested in the climate issue. What will the Government do with it next?
I thought the report was published some time ago as I recall reading it, although perhaps that was a draft and the report was only formally published today. The deliberations and outcome of the Citizens' Assembly consideration of climate change very much informed Project Ireland 2040, the largest single element of which is the €22 billion to be invested by the State and semi-State bodies in dealing with climate change. For example, it proposes taking coal off the grid by ending the burning of coal in Moneypoint in 2025, that all new buses bought by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann from next year on will be low emission vehicles, and banning the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2030.
In recent times, the Government has made much ado about encouraging emigrants to come home and work in the teaching, nursing and social work professions. If such people have been out of the country for more than three of the past five years, they cannot access postgraduate courses without paying for them. A girl of whom I am aware left Killarney in 2014 at the age of 24. She came back last June and wishes to access a course in Trinity College Dublin which should cost €6,300 but, because she was away for three of the past five years, will cost her €11,600. She has spent 24 and a half years of her life in this country. Why is a limit being put on her such that she must be in the country for the past three years? Is this rule intended to apply to immigrants from other countries? It should not apply to people who were bred, born and reared in our country and who spent the most part of their lives here and will not even be able to access a SUSI grant.
There are restrictions on access to courses by persons who have lived outside the EU for a considerable period. The difficulty we face in arranging rules of access is that any such rule must apply to all EU citizens equally. The restriction that is in place has strictures which are uniformly applied. I will consider the case raised by Deputy Healy-Rae but there are difficulties in regard to people who have spent an extended period outside the country accessing third level because the rules must apply uniformly to all EU citizens.
Groups from all over Ireland are petitioning outside the Oireachtas today for the FreeStyle Libre blood glucose monitor to be made available to all adults who have type 1 diabetes. The recent decision by the HSE should be changed to provide the monitor to all those who need it, rather than only to those under 21 years of age. It is an important health device which would greatly improve the health and quality of life of those with type 1 diabetes. Why are some people being asked to pay €120 per month for a device which has been made available to other groups with type 1 diabetes? I have raised this matter with the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, through parliamentary questions but we are getting nowhere with it. It is a very serious issue. There are many people from throughout the country outside the Oireachtas today and they have the support of Members on all sides of the House. I ask the Taoiseach to deal with this matter, please, and give it the urgent attention which it requires.
I will arrange for Deputy Healy-Rae to be updated on the matter. I am aware of the issue and the gathering outside the gates of the Houses. There is concern on the issue and I will arrange for the HSE to forward an update on the matter to the Deputy.
It is stated in the programme for Government that efforts to increase access to safe, timely care as close to patients' homes as possible will be a priority for the Government. The Parkinson's Association of Ireland recently held a peaceful protest outside the Oireachtas to highlight the many shortfalls in the treatment of those with Parkinson's. Is the Taoiseach aware that there has been no Parkinson's specialist in Cork University Hospital, CUH, for more than two years or that the deep brain stimulation operations vital for many Parkinson's patients cannot take place in Ireland, meaning many patients have to go to Bristol for surgery? The Cork branch of the Parkinson's Association of Ireland has pleaded with the HSE to provide three specialised nurses, each of whom would be able to offer one-to-one care to up to 300 patients. The Parkinson's Association of Ireland is even offering to fund training for the nurses in the UK if the HSE will provide the nurses. I ask the Taoiseach to work with the HSE to ensure funding is put in place to provide such nurses.
I recently facilitated a meeting between the Parkinson's Association of Ireland and the HSE in my offices in Bandon on that subject.
The matter is being progressed with the HSE and we hope to be in a position to recruit in CUH in the short term.
Page 70 of the programme for Government states that this Government will improve services and increase supports for people with disabilities, particularly early assessments and intervention for children with special needs. I recently obtained a response to a parliamentary question on the number of children awaiting assessment under early intervention teams in Laois and Offaly. It showed that there are 105 children in Laois waiting more than six months, and 95 children are waiting more than 12 months while in Offaly, 125 children are waiting more than six months and 69 children are waiting 12 months or more.
The story does not get much better for occupational therapy. There are 350 children in Offaly currently waiting and 461 children in Laois are awaiting occupational therapy assessments. The long waiting times are having a serious impact on children's well-being and education. I have been contacted by many parents and teachers about this issue in Laois and Offaly. What action will the Government take in order to address this situation and end the unacceptable waiting times for children accessing basic services such as occupational therapy and assessments for early intervention?
The Minister of State with responsibility for disability is on his way to New York to formally ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. On his return, I will ask him to furnish a reply to the Deputy detailing the actions the Government is taking to reduce the waiting times.
As the Taoiseach is aware, there is a commitment in the programme for Government on children with autism. Autism units were put in place in many primary and secondary schools. An issue arises in regard to the primary sector in Sligo and Leitrim in that there are not enough such units in place and many schools are hesitant about putting them in place because they do not receive adequate funding. A significant problem is evident in this regard across the country, especially due to the lack of spaces in post-primary schools when children move on from primary school. The issue must be addressed. I urge the Minister for Education and Skills to carry out a review of the system and to come up with a solution because parents are very worried. Every child with autism does not need to get into a special unit, but there are not enough places for the children who require the service.
The situation in Cork is so bad at present that a six-year old, non-verbal, severely autistic child has no place in a unit and cannot get any education. The parent was given a list of home tutors which she could avail of. The difficulty is that she does not have a home. She is staying in bed and breakfast accommodation as she is homeless. The situation is that a six-year old, non-verbal, severely autistic child is living in bed and breakfast accommodation with no access to education, and that is happening under the Taoiseach's watch. That is simply not acceptable.
That is just one case. I could give the Taoiseach a dozen other similar cases where there are no places available for children with severe autism in Cork city, the second largest city in this State.
I support what was said by my two colleagues. This issue does not just affect Sligo and Leitrim or Cork but is nationwide. In Donegal, unfortunately, there is a similar situation. Children with autism and their families must undertake a lengthy journey to access services given that early intervention is not early and assessments are not provided. I have spoken to parents who had to pay for private assessments having waited for two to three years in order to find out that their child is on the spectrum. They then have to identify a different type of classroom environment where their child can flourish and grow, only to find out that such an environment does not exist within any reasonable proximity to their family life. It is simply unacceptable. This Government is failing the parents of children with autism. A joined-up approach is needed from the Department of Health and the Department of Education and Skills to make sure that the services are in place to support those children and their families.
There is a massive expansion in the resources being put into supporting children with special needs. We have increased the resources by more than 50% since 2011 in terms of teaching and special needs assistants, SNAs. We have more than doubled the number of special units in schools. Last September we opened approximately 150 and we will open another 150 next year. We are providing funding for such units where they are recommended by the National Council for Special Education, NCSE. There is not a difficulty in access to funding as they are given priority access.
In this House, we also propose to provide legislative power to give the NCSE the power to require a school to both take a child and to open a unit should the NCSE deem that is necessary. This is an area where we are getting extra resources. We recognise the need and we are giving additional powers to ensure that no child would be left out where the NCSE identifies a need.
Page 54 of the programme for Government commits to increasing on an annual basis the funding for home care packages. Earlier this year I noticed a significant increase in the number of elderly people contacting my office who were concerned that they were on a waiting list for home support. They had been assessed and were then put on a waiting list. I informally mentioned it to the Minister for Health who at the time was surprised that funding issues should arise so early in the year. However, when I delved a bit deeper and got replies from both the Department and the HSE the problem seemed to be as follows. The service plan adopted for this year provides funding for 50,500 people to receive home support. At the end of February this year there were 52,000 people in receipt of home support, with more than 6,000 on a waiting list. It is worth noting that in February 2017 the home support service provided for the needs of more than 51,000 people. The problem seems to be that the figure in the service plan this year of 50,500 is grossly inadequate.
I will make one final point, a Cheann Comhairle, because this is important. I also refer the Taoiseach to the fact that the confidence and supply agreement clearly states that HSE service plans would be based on verifiable and measurable outcomes and projections, which clearly is not the case with these figures.
The reporting structure this year has changed in the presentation of the figures because they have combined home care packages and home care hours. Notwithstanding that, on the substantive issue, 17 million home care hours are being provided. I appreciate that is no good to somebody who is looking for an hour of home care. The hours provided have increased from 16.36 million home care hours last year. The budget is €409 million. We cannot keep up with the demand which is surpassing-----
Yes. I appreciate and understand that. The only way we can proceed is to look at how we do what we do and look at doing it differently. That is the reason we launched a consultation last October which is due on my desk before the end of this month. We are going to have to revise the home care scheme which is not working as it is, given that we cannot meet the demand that is growing incrementally. Issues arise on two fronts. A total of €409 million is being invested in home care this year. However, we cannot get enough people to work as home helps to deliver the services in many areas. That is the challenge in my area of west Cork; it is not about money. The challenges are multifaceted. We must examine the scheme and we are in the process of doing so. The consultation has closed and has been finalised. As soon as it gets to my desk I will begin the process of revising the scheme and seeking to fix the flaws. It took seven to eight years to address the fair deal scheme and it will take two to three years before we have a system that is fit for purpose.
My question is for the Minister for Education and Skills and relates to funding for an extension to St. Angela's College in Sligo. I attended a meeting with colleagues in the college with the president, Dr. Anne Taheny, on Monday and we were given a brief on the outstanding funding that is needed for the link building and other areas. The classroom size is inadequate given the increased demand for student places. More than 100 students seek to get into the college on an annual basis. I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that it is vitally important that funding is made available immediately.
We had announcements recently on additional funding and that is vitally important for St. Angela's. The Minister is aware of the college's track record and what the president and all the teaching staff and students achieve there. It is vitally important that funding is made available under this plan.
As the Deputy is aware, in the mid-term review, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform trebled the money available for higher education investment over the next three years.
It was at an extremely low level. While I am not up to speed on this application, I will get an update for the Deputy. We are in a phase of expansion of investment in higher education after many years when none was done. I recognise that there is a scarcity of home economics teachers and the fact that St. Angela's college has expanded provision is an important element in meeting the need for such teachers.
Two weeks ago we had organ donor awareness week when we heard the good news that in 2017, 308 successful transplants were carried out thanks to the generosity of 98 individuals and their families. However, there are many people on the transplant waiting list and time is running out for them. We know that the greatest possible act of generosity is the donation of organs following a sudden death. Page 57 of the programme for Government refers to the setting up of an opt out register for organ donation before the end of 2017. The report of the public consultation on this matter was published in 2017, with support for such a register from a very large majority of people. When can we expect legislation to be enacted to put such an opt out register in place?
A record number of transplants were performed in Ireland last year. As the Deputy knows, for the first time more than 300 transplants were performed. I want to pay tribute to the extraordinary staff in our hospitals who made that possible and of course, to the people who donated their organs and their families. It is intended that we will have the heads of the Bill this month or next month at the latest. Obviously, the legislative timeframe is not under my control but we will have the heads by then, certainly.
I ask that because when I came in to the Chamber this morning, a number of Deputies were already here before me. They were at a function that I also attended. I left before them but they were able to get here before me. I do not know what way the numbers are given out but-----
The system is completely transparent. I cannot be held responsible for who is in the Chamber first or who picks numbers in advance. On the issue of timing, however, if Members are unhappy with the time provided, I ask them to come forward with proposals to change it. As long as the rules of the House provide for a specific amount of time, my responsibility is to ensure that all Members adhere to the rules. The rules are for all 158 of us and no individuals are exempt from them. If the time is not adequate, Members can change that and provide more time.