Thursday, 31 January 2019
Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation
Another issue the Government is putting its head in the sand about is the new GP contract for primary care. Elderly patients are being denied blood tests on their medical card because of this dispute. This issue has been long fingered for long enough. The Government is leaving general practitioners, GPs, waiting and now patients are left waiting. First, will the Tánaiste update us on the position with the GP contract negotiations? Second - the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, might be able to take this question - what is the position on medical card holders who possibly require multiple blood tests in a week as part of their daily care?
The negotiations are continuing. There are two sides to the negotiations, the GPs and the Government. All of us want to see these negotiations come to a satisfactory conclusion as soon as possible. We acknowledge that GPs are working under a contract that predates many of them entering the service. It goes back to 1973 and is not fit for purpose. The Government is committed to it both financially and politically but there are many issues to be teased out. We can continue to keep up the pressure from the Department of Health side to try to bring the negotiations to a conclusion as speedily as possible. I am not certain about the second question. What was-----
As the Tánaiste is aware, there is a clear commitment in the programme for Government to provide for health services. Sligo University Hospital has been awaiting the provision of a cath lab for many years. It has been an issue probably for the past two decades. It is also waiting on the provision of two 21-bed units. There are major problems with overcrowding in the hospital because there are not a sufficient number of beds to allow patients to be admitted. We had a debate here yesterday evening about a rainy day fund. In the context of that discussion, the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, told me that there was any amount of money available for health services. I would like to get a commitment from the Tánaiste and the Government that the cath lab and the two 21-bed units will be put in place in Sligo University Hospital to provide for the people before we provide a slush fund for banks.
I want to clarify for the House that the rainy day fund is not for capital investment in health infrastructure. There is a significant increase in capital investment in health infrastructure but I will ask the Minister to come back in regard to Sligo University Hospital.
I raise the issue of lower paid teachers working in non-casual substitute teaching positions. We know they do not get paid for any holidays. They are badly treated but worse than that they do not get their proper pay at all, because since before Christmas, injury has been added to insult for them by the fact that this cohort of teachers has been subject to emergency tax deductions. Substitute teachers are put into the tax system and are restarted in their position every two weeks. One teacher told me she got €400 for two weeks work. It is happening throughout the country to hundreds of teachers. Will the Department of Education and Skills explain how this was allowed to happen and, more importantly, take steps to remedy the problem and ensure that excessive tax deductions are returned to those employees who are living hand to mouth? Worse still, the Department will not directly answer the teachers about their predicament.
This is an important issue and I know that a new system has been introduced with Revenue since the beginning of the year. There has been an issue with substitute teachers. Our officials are working on that with Revenue and we will ensure that we get through that. The Deputy's first point on substitute teachers' pay in general comes into the debate on teacher supply. We have major issues, particularly within the primary school sector, and what I am doing at the moment along with my officials is looking at teacher supply panels. I know that there were complications with this in the past but new systems have been introduced and there are new ways of doing business and of informing teachers, so now we might have a better and more coherent and efficient way of dealing with teacher supply panels and that is something I am very anxious to do.
A Programme for a Partnership Government gives a commitment to protect and promote human rights. In that regard and to keep that commitment, I ask whether the Government will condemn what is a clear and ongoing coup attempt in Venezuela? It is a coup which is clearly made in the USA, it is directed by President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, it is co-ordinated with various right-wing governments in Latin America, and it is reinforced by talk of the US sending 5,000 troops to neighbouring Colombia. Unfortunately, President Maduro's policies in seeking to compromise with the right, bureaucratisation and corruption have opened the way to the right and this coup. If the coup is successful, it will be a disaster for working class people in Venezuela. It will be another hard right regime like President Bolsonaro's in Brazil. It will trample on human rights.
The transition plan of the National Assembly of Venezuela openly speaks about mass privatisation, mass dismissals from the public sector and the implementation of neoliberal policies. Will the Government condemn this coup attempt?
All I can say is that if ever there was proof that the kind of ideology that the Deputy talks about delivering for working people does not work, it is in Venezuela. People are starving and selling their hair to try to feed their families-----
-----because of the policies of the person who the Deputy seems to be standing up for today. I am afraid that what we would like to see in Venezuela are free, fair and democratic elections that are monitored by the international community to ensure that the results are free and fair so that the people themselves can decide the kind of future that they want.
On a more mundane matter, I will bring the discussion back to Tipperary town. The Tánaiste is well aware of it and we will stay away from Nicaragua and such places. The Taoiseach promised a jobs task force and groups such as Jobs for Tipp and March for Tipp have harnessed great energy and have worked very hard there. There will be a Fine Gael bandwagon there tomorrow with two Ministers on a jobs show, rounding up 900 unfortunate jobseekers and bringing them in to give them the same advice that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is paying Turas Nua to give. Will Fine Gael get real about Tipperary town and the people of Tipperary? It left Fine Gael with no Teachta Dála the last time. Is there any wonder why it did not? This is a stunt by election candidates tomorrow instead of meaningful engagement with the people of Tipperary town. It is nothing short of a disgrace. It is a blueshirt cabal and it is disgraceful. Answer the question about the task force. The Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy English, has refused to meet Jobs for Tipp even though he promised us that he would. This is an election stunt, it is sickening for the people of Tipperary and they will not stand for it.
Page 92 of A Programme for a Partnership Government mentions educational assets in communities, special needs education and the facilities for same. In particular, I want to raise the issue of the Kolbe Centre in Portlaoise. It is for children with intellectual and physical disabilities and it is in chronic need of a new building. At the moment it is housed in a collection of small, cramped, damp prefabricated buildings. There is only one solid classroom and it is a desperate situation. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, will be familiar with it as well. There is only one solid building there. A site has been secured for a new building and it is time to move it on and get this project under way. I welcome the fact the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, is here this morning. I asked the former Minister, Deputy Bruton, to visit the school. I know his role has changed and Ministers are busy but I ask the Minister, Deputy McHugh, to visit the Kolbe Centre to see the desperate situation it is in and the need for a new school to provide education for these children who have severe disabilities. I am sure the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, would agree on this.
This is an important issue and I have spoken about it at length with my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, who visited the school recently and has reported back to me on it. We are actively monitoring it. We are conscious that a decision needs to be made so we will remain vigilant. On the Deputy's invitation, I am in the midlands from time to time and the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, has invited me before I received the Deputy's invitation so that is two invitations and I would be happy to oblige.
We all acknowledge that there is a large health budget of €17 billion but the overrun on the new children's hospital is a concern to everybody. I am concerned about a number of projects in my constituency and in the adjoining constituencies. Clear commitments were given in A Programme for a Partnership Government, as far as I understand it, and by Fine Gael prior to the last election. One of those commitments was the building of a 50 bed unit in St. Patrick's Community Hospital in Carrick-on-Shannon, another was the building of a 50 bed unit in the Sacred Heart Hospital in Roscommon and the final commitment was the building of a 50 bed unit at Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe, which is desperately needed because of the issues with the accident and emergency department. Will the Tánaiste assure me today that none of those three projects will be put on the back foot or pushed down the line because of the overspend in the new children's hospital?
The capital plan is being reviewed and finalised by the HSE, which was mentioned earlier in this House. As soon as that has been completed, it will be published and there will be clarity but the intention of the Government is that any project that has a financial commitment will be delivered but it is about the scheduling of that delivery.
In A Programme for a Partnership Government, the section on agriculture and the marine begins on page 112 and it goes on until page 124. Agriculture and the marine are in one Department with one Minister in charge of it. I am not being critical of the Minister but with Brexit coming, be it hard or soft, agriculture needs a strong, stand-alone Minister as do the fisheries, preferably a Minister from a coastal community. Post Brexit, the livelihoods of many families could be in danger in both agriculture and fisheries. Both industries face challenges and need to each be represented by a Minister going forward. Will this Government divide the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine into two independent Departments with a Minister in charge of each in the interests of both industries?
I have been a Minister in that Department and the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Doyle, who is here has been in that Department for quite some time also. This is something that the Government looked at before in terms of how Ministries are linked to make sure that briefs complement each other and so on. The food industry in Ireland is a very important part of our economy and both fisheries and the marine, as well as agriculture and food are linked with that. What the Deputy is proposing would not add to representation for either of those sectors. Linking the two of them continues to make sense.
In the programme for Government the Government gave a commitment under education to a funding provision, particularly for children with Down's syndrome. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of having Down Syndrome Ireland in the AV room to give a presentation on two particular issues, one being the July provision and the other being the urgent need for support for teachers in schools to prepare and implement what can be sometimes complex individual education plans. Teachers feel they are unsupported and under-resourced to do that, and it is the parents who will be at the coalface of that.
On the July provision, it is extremely important to have that extended school year, be it home or school based. Parents and teachers believe that continuity in terms of education for children with Down's syndrome is crucial. Does the Minister for Education and Skills have any plans to do so?
I have had a number of representations on this issue. The July provision for children with Down's syndrome is not included. One particular parent articulated the importance of continuity and a system through timetabling for children during the summer. The issue has been raised in the Seanad and by a number of my colleagues and we are going to look at the whole system. We are currently looking at the whole system of July provision not just for one particular grouping. I am keeping a very open mind on this. I am aware there were representations here yesterday as well and a number of my colleagues have raised this issue. We are in the space of looking at it all in general.
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport announced in 2017 that it would be mandatory by 2019 for sporting bodies to comply with the corporate governance code and that this was part of the reform of corporate governance structures. The code states that no member of a board would serve more than three cycles of three years. Currently, seven of the 11 board members of the Football Association of Ireland have exceeded that limit and the FAI is now proposing to change its rules. If these changes are passed it could mean that a board member could serve upwards of 20 years, which is more than double the recommended limit. What plans has the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to intervene to ensure that sporting bodies, which are in receipt of State funding, comply with and adhere to the corporate governance codes, or is he just going to turn a blind eye to it?
The adoption, tracing and information (No. 2) Bill, which follows on the Adoption, Tracing and Information (No. 1) Bill is still awaiting transition through the House. The Adoption, Tracing and Information (No. 1) Bill has been passed by the Oireachtas but the adoption, tracing and information (No. 2) Bill is still becalmed. When is it likely to be moved on?
Regarding the CervicalCheck scandal that broke last week, I tabled a parliamentary question to ask how many women will get a notification to return for a repeat smear test. The reply I received today asked me to clarify whether I was referring to the small number in 2018 or whether I wanted to get the numbers for 2015. I would think it was pretty obvious I was looking for last year's numbers. Specifically, how many women are going to get a notification to return and when will the backlog be cleared? Currently, the wait time for a woman getting a smear test today is beyond six months; it used to five weeks. When is the Government going to fix it?