Wednesday, 8 May 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The business of the week shall be as set out in the fifth revised report of the Business Committee dated 8 May 2019. Today's business shall be No. 10, motion re amendment of orders of reference of Special Joint Committee on Climate Action; No. 11, motion re special meeting of joint committees for engagement on challenges for the European Union on the occasion of Europe Day; No. 30, Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018 - Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; and No. 31, Health and Social Care Professionals (Amendment) Bill 2018 [Seanad] - Order for Report Stage, Report and Final Stages. Private Members’ business shall be No. 57, Road Traffic (All Terrain Vehicle and Scrambler Motor-cycle) (Amendment) Bill 2019 - Second Stage, selected by Fianna Fáil.
Thursday’s business shall be No. 32, Statements on Cervical Check; No. 30, Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018 - Report and Final Stages (resumed); and No. 32a, statements on the national broadband plan. No. 25, motion re report entitled Climate Change: A Cross-Party Consensus on Climate Action – Joint Committee on Climate Action, shall be debated in the evening slot.
In respect of today's business, it is proposed that:
(1) There shall be no suspension of the sitting under Standing Order No. 25(1). Private Members' business shall take place not later than 9 p.m. If a division is in process at 9 p.m., it shall take place immediately following the division for two hours. The Dáil shall sit later than 10 p.m. If the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018 concludes before 9 p.m., the Dáil shall adjourn on the conclusion of Private Members’ business. If the Bill does not conclude before 9 p.m., the Dáil shall adjourn not later than 12 midnight, or on the conclusion of the Bill, whichever is the earlier.
(2) No. 10, motion re amendment of orders of reference of Special Joint Committee on Climate Action, and No. 11, motion re special meeting of joint committees for engagement on challenges for the European Union on the occasion of Europe Day, shall be taken without debate and any division demanded on No. 11 shall be taken immediately.
(3) Second Stage of No. 57, Road Traffic (All Terrain Vehicle and Scrambler Motor-cycle) (Amendment) Bill 2019, shall conclude within two hours.
In relation to Thursday’s business, it is proposed that:
(1) The Dáil shall sit at 9.30 a.m. to take No. 32, statements on CervicalCheck, and shall adjourn on the conclusion of proceedings on No. 25.
(2) No. 32, statements on CervicalCheck, shall commence at 9.30 a.m. and shall conclude within 57 minutes. The statement of a Minister shall not exceed ten minutes. Following the Minister’s statement, each party or group in opposition shall have six minutes each for questions and answers, with five minutes for the Minister in conclusion. The statement, questions and answers and the concluding reply shall not exceed 57 minutes in total. If the statements conclude before 10.30 a.m., the Dáil shall suspend until 10.30 a.m.
(3) No. 32a, statements on the national broadband plan, shall commence not later than 3 p.m. Statements shall be confined to a single round for a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties and groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, of ten minutes each. Each party or group in opposition shall have six minutes each for questions and answers with five minutes for the Minister in conclusion, and all Members may share time. Topical Issues shall take place on the conclusion of the statements.
(4) Notwithstanding Standing Order 140, No. 25, motion on the report entitled Climate Change: A Cross-Party Consensus on Climate Action shall conclude within three hours, if not previously concluded. The motion shall be moved by the Chairman of the joint committee and, notwithstanding Standing Order 91, the following time limits and sequence shall apply: speeches of a Minister or Minister of State, Chairman and the main spokespersons for parties and groups, or a Member nominated in their stead shall not exceed ten minutes each; five minutes for all other Members; a five minute response from a Minister or Minister of State, who may speak twice; and all Members may share time.
There are two proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Thursday's business agreed to? Agreed. We have 26 minutes left.
Under the public spending code, the benchmark figure is the basis for determining value for money for any major project. Reading through the memo from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, it is very clear that they raise serious questions about the public spending code being breached by the Department in respect of the national broadband plan and contract. This illustrates the degree to which the Government was spinning and not telling the full truth on this all along. The memo confirms the original estimate was €500 million. In September 2017 the benchmark figure was €800 million. The memo is asking how the €800 million became €3 billion in a year and a bit. The Government was saying to us that it was a different project. It was not a different project. It went from €800 million in September 2017 to €3 billion. Very clear questions are raised in the memo, which notes that the public spending code requires that approval of the sanctioning authority for a raised financial limit be sought before contracts are placed. It states further that the revised projections appear to be derived from the views of the bidders' technical solutions and the outcome of the dialogue process with the bidders, as opposed to having been independently calculated. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is raising a red flag in terms of the breach of the public spending code on this project. Is the Government going to review the basis on which the public spending code operates, given what is clearly an extraordinary breach of or diversion from it and the ignoring of the procedures that should be followed under it?
There was no breach of the public expenditure code. The public expenditure code requires that before a procurement process occurs, an estimate is provided. In this case, as the Deputy knows, the procurement process was to identify the best technology and approach in an area in which we did not have a proven knowledge. This procurement process identified what the approach was by having an open competition, a competitive dialogue.
The two bids that came forward were comparable in scale. Those bids of course were substantially greater than the estimate that was put in. That estimate was not on a foundation of a clear projection.
The programme for Government promises to reform the HSE into a more efficient, transparent health service. Over the weekend the Taoiseach was forced to apologise to four pathologists in University Hospital Waterford whose very serious assertions regarding unacceptable conditions at the mortuary he had dismissed out of hand. The pathologists outlined that due to inadequate body storage and refrigeration facilities at the mortuary, most bodies lie on trolleys in corridors, leaking bodily fluids on the floor.
They also stated that some relatives had to wake their loved ones in closed coffins due to advanced decomposition caused by the conditions at the mortuary and they were never told why, which is astounding. We now know that the State Pathologist has directed An Garda Síochána to avoid using the mortuary due to concerns about evidence contamination. Therefore the Taoiseach was clearly right to apologise and the pathologists have been vindicated. However, on this occasion sorry is not enough and we now need to see action.
I welcome today's commitment, secured by An Teachta Cullinane, from the Minister for Health that representatives of the Department of Health, the HSE and the hospital group will appear before the Joint Committee on Health. Will the Government now take the next step and commit to a fully independent investigation of these issues to ensure the full facts are heard? Will it publish terms of reference for such an investigation? Crucially, when will a new mortuary be built at the hospital?
The Government has a very clear commitment to build a new mortuary there. That is contained in our capital programme. I will have to ask the Minister to provide the Deputy with a timescale in respect of that. In terms of taking immediate action, I understand that new refrigeration facilities are being provided and will be in place this week. The Minister has signalled that there will be a review of what happened in this case.
Rehab has threatened to serve a 12-month notice of termination in respect of some of its services. Thankfully that has now been postponed pending negotiations. The first that many parents and family members who rely on Rehab services heard of this was when the story broke yesterday. It has caused immense distress for the 3,000 people who access these services, some of whom are outside the gates of Leinster House today protesting for more care services, for example for wheelchair users.
Rehab is seeking an additional €2 million, not €2 billion as for the children's hospital or €3 billion as for broadband. It is a very modest €2 million. There are a number of reasons for this deficit, including people having higher care costs as they get older and the requirements of meeting Health Information and Quality Authority standards. When will the individuals who rely on these services and their families get certainty that they will get what by the standards of this Government is a trifling amount - a mere €2 million?
I fully acknowledge that the announcement that these services could be withdrawn within 12 months was a major shock for anyone who depends on those services. As the Deputy knows, the Minister, Deputy Harris, and the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, met representatives of Rehab yesterday, I believe. As a result of that meeting, Rehab will not issue that notice on suspending services. Intensive work is under way to see if a new arrangement can be worked out.
The programme for Government promises to provide a broadband service to the people who do not have one. Has the Thatcherite capitalist ideology seeped so far into the bones of Fine Gael that it can never countenance a situation where the State should intervene and provide basic infrastructure? It seems that it cannot think outside the private sector. Civil servants and even dyed-in-the-wool Fine Gael voters I have met on the campaign trail cannot believe that the State would not provide this infrastructure. We now find out that the cost could be the equivalent of 2,000 social houses, 18 primary schools, ten health centres, a whole load of flood relief and vital projects throughout the country.
Along with the national children's hospital, this is an indictment of the so-called fiscal rectitude Fine Gael is supposed to represent. Why did the Taoiseach say it would be "a bit much" to ask the ESB to do this? Why would it be a bit much? How much would that option have cost?
The Minister said the Government went through every single option. Ninety percent of the cost of this would be borne by the State. This is not a rural versus urban issue, as some Deputies are trying to suggest in the local election campaign.
I will not comment on the decision to sell Telecom Éireann, but when it was sold obviously we were depending on the private sector to deliver. It has been very successful in delivering for 75% of the population. People in urban and suburban areas will get access to fibre broadband.
This would not happen in the areas where the other 23% of the population live.
We set up a procurement model. One of the companies that entered that procurement process was the ESB in partnership with SIRO. For its own reasons, it decided not to proceed with that. We were strongly advised that the best and most cost-effective way to build this network was to build it off the core network that was already there, being able to rent poles and rent ducts, rather than having to build them from scratch. That is the model we proceeded with. If we were to terminate this contract and not proceed with the bidder which is here and start again, in order for the ESB to be considered as eligible to participate we would need to have an entirely new procurement process which could again take two, two and a half or three years to complete. ESB did enter it and for whatever reason it did not proceed.
Fad is a táimid ag caint faoi sheirbhísí do cheantair tuaithe agus go bhfuil sé ar intinn ag an Rialtas na ceantair tuaithe a shábháil le córas leathanbhanda ar an lámh amháin, ar an lámh eile, tá scrios á dhéanamh ag an Rialtas le seirbhísí agus tá mé ag caint faoi cheantair tuaithe i nGaillimh agus go háirithe i ndeisceart na Gaillimhe. Tá deireadh curtha le seirbhísí fisiteiripe ar an talamh. Tá deireadh curtha leis a lán seirbhísí eile ar nós oibrithe sóisialta. Is é mo cheist inniu ná, má tá an Rialtas dáiríre faoi sheirbhísí do cheantair tuaithe, cén chaoi gur féidir leis an Rialtas seasamh le cinneadh atá déanta ag an bFheidhmeannacht na Seirbhísí Sláinte deireadh a chur le seirbhísí fisiteiripe i nGaillimh, seirbhísí atá thar a bheith práinneach agus daoine a tharraingt isteach go dtí cathair na Gaillimhe, áit a bhfuil plódaithe agus a bhfuil tranglam tráchta ann?
Cén chaoi gur féidir leis an Rialtas seasamh leis an gcinneadh sin chun deireadh a chur le seirbhísí atá thar a bheith tábhachtach?
Some months ago after much begging and pleading, the Taoiseach announced a task force for Tipperary town, its environs and west Tipperary. Following on from that the Minister of State, Deputy English, appointed Ms Alison Harvey as an independent chairperson. The people in Tipperary were delighted about that. However, the process has come to a stop. No progress has been made. Many concerns have been expressed about whether Ms Harvey has been allocated a budget or if she is undertaking the role, and the people of Tipperary are bewildered. We need this task force up and running. We need collaboration from all the groups which are ready, willing and able to collaborate and interested in doing so. We need this to be funded by the Minister. I note the Minister, Deputy Ring, has his ear cocked listening. He needs to ensure it is funded. There is no point in making promises. We need a proper task force to examine this area and the whole N24 project, as we had in Westport some years ago, of which the Minister will be well aware. We need Ms Harvey to be in place, engaging with and listening to the people, and moving forward with the task force so that we can help redress the serious deficit in Tipperary town and district.
I thank the Deputy for his question. Much urgency has been taken on addressing this issue. The Deputy will be aware of that and the Taoiseach has taken a personal interest in it as well. The Minister of State, Deputy English, is very much involved. Ms Harvey, who has been appointed, is an expert in this area. There is no lack of funding available; €20 million has been made available to Tipperary in the past year between the Minister, Deputy Ring's, Department and my own. A number of additional schemes can be utilised by this task force when it knows what the schemes to be used are and how to use them best. Considerable work is happening. We need to allow the process to be completed before we know what the outcomes will be.
I wish to ask the Minister, Deputy Bruton, a question concerning a commitment in the programme for Government regarding the national broadband scheme. During a briefing with senior officials in the Department this morning on the scheme and the announcement yesterday, a number of questions came up and some answers were given. One answer related to the cost per household of the roll-out of the scheme. A question was raised in the context of where it exceeds a certain amount that the householder will have to pay. Along with the taxpayer paying a subsidy, householders in remote rural areas will also have to pay perhaps up to several thousand euros. Will the Minister confirm that?
Will he confirm also with respect to all the subsidy that will be going to other companies for renting the infrastructure in terms of poles etc. that almost €1 billion will go to Eir? Another area of concern relates to the board. The Minister, or his successor, will have the right to appoint one member to the board of an entity called National Broadband Ireland, NBI. Does that mean the other eight members will be appointed by Granahan McCourt? He might confirm that. These are key issues for the House and for the taxpayers who are investing almost €3 billion in this project.
Given what has emerged in the documentation regarding the fact that there is only one bidder-----
The documents that have been released today are staggering in terms of their critique and the mess that has been created. There is a reference over and over again in separate documents to the risk of the contractor abandoning the project. The risk of it abandoning and not honouring the contract during its duration is referenced in one document and another one states that the result could be that we would be stranded with an obsolete asset and that, despite paying €2.275 billion, it is an asset we would not own. Another document references a risk that the operator could abandon the project. This has been identified as a risk because of the lack of skin in the game on the part of the operator. If the operator abandons the project and, therefore, no broadband is rolled out to rural Ireland, what is plan B? The Department outlined the various capital projects that could be abandoned to accommodate the €1 billion additional capital investment that will be required. Will the Minister confirm that no projects will be delayed or abandoned? Will he confirm also that when the Taoiseach mentioned a €4 billion to €5 billion figure for metro north in the press conference yesterday, it was a slip of the tongue and that we will not see another project go from €3 billion to €5 billion overnight?
It is not anticipated that people will have to pay more. There is flexibility in the contract that up to 2% can be provided not by fibre to the home but by wireless. There is within the contract a provision, the same as would apply in a telecommunications standard line, that if the connection is more than a certain figure, a cost could fall on the individual premises, but it is not anticipated that will come into operation because it is believed that the flexibility of providing a wireless solution will avoid that happening.
The question of the charge that has to be paid for renting poles or ducts, which could be rented from Eir, the ESB or any other provider, is regulated and that price is set by ComReg. It is subject to whatever ComReg determines it is. The vast majority of poles will be rented, so there will be a charge, as Deputy Doherty said, of €1 billion.
There will be a ministerial representative but by far the more intrusive governance into this company will be through the contract we have negotiated. That will provide very detailed reporting of the progress of this contract roll-out to our Department where we will have financial, legal and technical experts overseeing the detailed roll-out because of the fact there is a contingency amount which could only come to be paid in the event that the Department is satisfied there is audited grounds for making those payments. There is very detailed supervision.
They have been permitted to be asked so I am trying to answer them. If the company cannot complete this - the asset - we will only have paid for whatever has been rolled out at that point. Those lines that have been rolled out at that point will revert to the State. We will have possession of the lines that have been rolled out. I can assure Deputy Doherty that no capital project will be displaced by this. The Minister has indicated that very clearly and that was clear in the statement issued yesterday.
Public confidence in University Hospital Waterford has been seriously damaged in the past two weeks. Confidence in the HSE and the South/South West hospital group has also been eroded since the letter from four consultant pathologists was made public concerning working conditions in the mortuary. It is not fit for purpose. In 2012, HSE Estates reported in stark terms the conditions and the unsuitability risks. Planning permission was granted in December 2015 but nothing happened.
In light of further developments last night with the removal of State cases from University Hospital Waterford mortuary, it underlines the need for a full investigation into how this situation was allowed to happen. Gardaí and the State pathologist no longer have confidence in the service provided at the mortuary citing a risk of evidence contamination with working conditions not fit for purpose.
This case is an illustration of how the Government's inaction on even the most basic essential services is failing. It is failing families; it is failing the dead. Only a full investigation will get to the truth of this.
I want to add my voice on this issue concerning the south east, which affects my constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny. I was horrified by the conditions in the morgue in University Hospital Waterford. This has been well known for many years. It was condemned in 2004 and the HSE was well aware of the conditions there. In 2013, money was to be made available for the renewal of the building but that did not happen.
I know of families in Kilkenny whose family members died and had to have closed coffins. The Taoiseach told us he did not believe this. However, I have proof from individual families who have since come to me and told me they were never told by the undertaker why the coffin was closed and why they had to bury their loved one with a closed coffin. We now know the reason. It is a disgrace on the HSE and on this Government which allowed it to happen. The sooner they rectify it, the better. I want to add my voice to the disgust in this regard.
I am sure the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, will appreciate the anger people in Waterford and the south east feel. I imagine he also appreciates the lack of confidence people now have in mortuary services, notwithstanding whatever mitigating solutions can be put in place. In the absence of the Minister, Deputy Harris, the Minister, Deputy Bruton, said Deputy Harris was supportive of a review of the claims that were made. What will be the nature of that review? Will the Minister consult Oireachtas Members from Waterford and the south east who have met bereaved families and who have real concerns? There are issues around process and around open disclosure, given not one single family was informed of the poor state of mortuary services in Waterford, which beggars belief. People want answers to questions, and the only way we can get answers to questions is a full, independent examination of the claims. Will the Minister for Health spell out his intentions? Will he consult Oireachtas Members in Waterford and health spokespeople from the different parties and groups?
I thank the consultants in Waterford, as I did during the week, for bringing forward their concerns and for doing so in the appropriate manner and engaging with hospital management. There is no doubt there is a need for a new mortuary in Waterford. That need is well accepted and has been well accepted for a long number of years, and it is about time we moved on it.
I want to say three things in regard to this matter, and I thank colleagues from the south east for raising it. First, on Friday, the temporary additional refrigeration facilities for the mortuary will arrive at the hospital in Waterford. My understanding, from memory, is that this will increase the refrigeration facilities from six to 13 and, I believe, will end the situation of bodies on trolleys in corridors. It is important we have dignity in regard to death.
Second, I spoke again to hospital management today and I have given the absolute go-ahead for the tender to issue in regard to the permanent build for the mortuary. I understand that will take a number of weeks in terms of processes, European rules and the like, but the go-ahead is in place and that new mortuary will be funded in the capital plan which I will publish shortly.
Third, Deputy Cullinane is correct in that I believe there is a need for a review. There is a need for questions to be answered in regard to how the mortuary operates and how we make sure best practice is in place. I want to take a couple of days to get this right. I want to take a couple of days in regard to the terms of reference and who should carry out that review. I am happy to hear from colleagues in the south east and anyone who wants can send me submissions on the matter.
My question is in regard to Naas General Hospital. Page 58 of the programme for Government refers to our hospitals, in particular accident and emergency services, and to reducing the time people have to wait. There is a crisis in the accident and emergency department in Naas General Hospital at present. While the staff are excellent, and I want to put that on record, in the past week more than 60 people have been on trolleys. One of the assessment clinics that was open 9 to 5 has been closed, apparently due to the lack of a doctor, which has added to the problems.
I will give one example. An 88 year old lady presented in accident and emergency and she was on a trolley for three nights. Over the following three nights, she was moved from ward to ward and she has now developed bed sores and is in huge pain. She is waiting for surgery and was told by the members of the orthopaedic unit in Tallaght who came to assess her that it should have happened last week. She has now been told she will have to wait another few weeks in hospital. It is a crisis. I invite the Minister to come and see what is happening.
I thank the Deputy for the question. Obviously, while any patient on a trolley is a patient too many, figures from the INMO and the HSE have shown a very significant reduction in the number of patients on hospital trolleys so far this year. I take seriously what Deputy O'Loughlin says in regard to Naas General Hospital. I will make inquiries in regard to the specific issue she has raised and I will revert to her directly. I have visited Naas General Hospital and I hope to visit again soon.
The programme for Government committed to enhancing businesses. Has the Government any intention of revisiting the rates situation? While out canvassing in recent weeks, I have called to many businesses in west Cork, many of which are very busy in the summer and not as busy in the winter. Like all businesses nationally, they are being hit by people buying online. I ask that something be done to help businesses across west Cork and nationally with regard to rates.
I thank the Deputy for question, which is an important one. We are all getting questions like this as we are canvassing with local and European election candidates. The Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, is responsible not just for the Valuation Office but also for rates and how businesses are rateable in this country. Work is happening on commercial rates to see what further changes might need to be made based on the changes we are seeing and how businesses are doing their business, not just in Ireland but internationally.