Wednesday, 12 June 2019
Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation
I have asked this question on a number of occasions. It is time for full transparency and a comprehensive response. The question relates to the commitment made by the Minister for Health nearly two years ago to introduce a compassionate access programme in respect of medical cannabis. The Taoiseach will be aware that the Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA, recommended quite a long time ago the introduction of a compassionate access programme in respect of drug-resistant epilepsy, people who get sick from chemotherapy, and spasticity among multiple sclerosis sufferers. Approximately 14 import licences have been given to various individuals. Many have been waiting and waiting for the introduction of the access programme but we are no wiser now, so long on. I ask the Taoiseach to outline the Government's position on the introduction of the compassionate access programme. If he does not have the details now, will he provide me with a comprehensive response as soon as possible?
It is being worked on by the Minister and the Department of Health. I do not have an up-to-date position but I will certainly make sure it is provided to the Deputy.
Yesterday, the supplementary Scally report issued. I commend Dr. Scally on the work he is doing under very difficult circumstances. A number of sections jump out in the report, not least the chapter relating to the procurement of laboratory services. The report raises a number of serious questions, including why the HSE reduced the weighting for quality assurance and capacity and increased the weighting for costs in the tendering process. That is an important issue. The rationale for reducing the emphasis on quality and capacity in favour of increasing emphasis on cost needs to be explained in full. The report also raises other issues in regard to laboratories subcontracting other laboratories without the knowledge of the HSE, and questions are asked in respect of retrospective accreditation. Does the Taoiseach support a call for time to be made available in the Dáil for statements on this issue so we can get answers to these serious questions?
The Scally report is critical of the lack of payment for the work put in by the relatives of those directly affected by this scandal and who are now involved in transforming the system. From a Government perspective, will consideration be given to this payment in the time ahead?
I want to ask the Taoiseach a question on the programme for Government commitment on environmental protection. As he will know, the Ringsend wastewater treatment plant treats approximately 40% of public wastewater. It has been operating over capacity for some time and it is not now compliant with national and EU environmental regulations. The most recent EPA report states we are not addressing the deficiencies in wastewater treatment infrastructure at a fast enough pace and that our health is at risk.
Half of our waste discharges do not meet pollution and health standards. Untreated sewage is being pumped into our seas and wastewater in 38 towns and villages across the country. What is the Government going to do to address these genuine inadequacies in wastewater treatment? When can we have a solution for the wastewater treatment plant in Ringsend and the problems in the 38 towns?
On the wider picture, a significant Irish Water capital investment programme worth €10 billion is under way. It is impossible to do everything in one year, as I am sure the Deputy will appreciate, but it is part of Project Ireland 2040. It is a massive investment programme. It has helped to reduce the number of boil water notices and the number of leaks around the country. It will improve circumstances with regard to wastewater.
I want to follow up on Deputy Micheál Martin's question. It is two and a half years since the report came out. It was commissioned by the HPRA. Its main recommendation was that the cannabis access programme be set up. Since then, there has been no access programme. In the past two and half years, 16 licences have been granted to 16 individuals in the State. Of those 16 licences, three have involved financial reimbursement. There are, therefore, 13 other families who have not been reimbursed. A family contacted me over the past few weeks. Mary and Joe Stevens, who live in Waterford, were granted a licence last December for their daughter, Cassandra, and they were given notification yesterday by the HSE that they would not be reimbursed. The cost is €9,000 per year. The family still has to go to another jurisdiction, namely, Holland, to get the medication. As of August, however, the family will not be able to afford the medication for their daughter. According to their words and the clinical notes, we have learned that the product has made a dramatic difference to the daughter's life.
This is so important. I have been banging this drum for the past three years. I am so frustrated. My frustration does not compare with the frustration of the families. Is there a commencement date for the cannabis access programme?
Last November, the Taoiseach told this House he was appointing a task force to deal with the serious issues of unemployment and degradation in Tipperary town. I have raised this with him since. I spoke to him in his office only two weeks ago. The task force was appointed in name only. Ms Alison Harvey, whom I wish well, was appointed and had initial meetings but not one red cent has been approved by the Government to support the task force and enable her to collaborate and engage with all the groups involved - Jobs for Tipp, The March for Tipp, TIRD and many other community groups. We have a new chief executive in the district in Tipperary town. We look forward to engaging with the council, all the groups and the newly elected councillors but one cannot proceed without money. The Taoiseach told me he would revert to me. I received a reply to a parliamentary question late last night from the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, who stated there are applications in. Reference was made to other issues that apply here, there and everywhere, as the
Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, told me recently, but there is no dedicated fund so Ms Harvey and her team may do the proper investigative and collaborative work to which the people of Tipperary town and the rest of the area are entitled. The Taoiseach should put his money where his mouth is and please support this very valuable initiative. We do not want to be misled any further.
I agree Ms Harvey will need funding for her task force. It is impossible for her to do her work without funding support. I understand several Departments are discussing which Department will fund the task force or the proportions in which they will fund it, but the matter will be resolved.
Dr. Gabriel Scally was very critical of the current remedies in place for screening misdiagnosis and the fact that women and families are forced down the legal route. There is a specific reference to this in A Programme for a Partnership Government.
As the Taoiseach will be aware, there is a second misdiagnosis issue, namely, the hearing impairment misdiagnosis of 49 children in counties Roscommon and Mayo. In this case, the HSE has admitted responsibility and issued an apology, yet the parents are being forced down the legal route to gain access to the services required for their children because the HSE cannot provide the funding and the State Claims Agency will act only after a long and protracted process.
These children need support now, not a large compensation payment in 2025. Can the Taoiseach assure the House that the HSE apology will be acted on without delay and the required supports put in place for the children affected?
I understand that efforts are under way to put in place the necessary supports for the children and adults affected, including educational, social welfare and health supports. I discussed the matter with somebody earlier who suggested that the next step would be to appoint a dedicated liaison person because some families are getting supports while others are not; it has not been co-ordinated properly. On foot of the Deputy's query, I will follow the matter up further today and see if we can move things along more quickly because I know the response to date has been somewhat piecemeal.
I congratulate the Ceann Comhairle on the launch of the Treasures of the Oireachtas Library this morning and extend a special thanks to the library staff. Táimid fíorbhuíoch daoibhse.
The Cabinet yesterday approved a Bill to hold a referendum on presidential voting rights, which I understand is scheduled for October. It will extend the right to vote in presidential elections to citizens living outside the State, including citizens in the North. That is an overdue but welcome and good development. At a time the British Home Office is disputing the rights of Irish citizens in the North to be recognised as citizens, this is crucially important legislation.
It is the norm in other states that citizens living outside the state vote in elections. This is a sensible and inclusive action and we should all call for a yes vote. Can the Taoiseach confirm the date of this referendum, and tell us when the Bill will be published and the Government's timeframe for it?
I thank the Deputy for raising the issue and for his support for this proposal to extend voting rights for presidential elections to Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and around the world. They will register online and vote by post. The legislation was agreed by Cabinet yesterday. We want to take Second Stage before the recess and we need to do that to meet a timeline of having the referendum in October or November of this year. We do not have an exact date yet because it must go through both Houses first.
There is a commitment on page 90 of the programme for Government to promote excellence and innovation in education. I welcome the recent decision of the Minister for Education and Skills to allow students who suffer a bereavement in the course of their leaving certificate examinations to resit those exams in July. I ask the Taoiseach to discuss with the Minister if that privilege could be extended to also apply to students sitting the junior certificate, which is also a State examination. I accept that it is not of the same importance as the leaving certificate but it is nonetheless an important exam for the students sitting it. Any student who suffers a bereavement would be in no position to perform to the best of his or her ability. The results of those exams sometimes inform the direction in which he or she goes for their fifth and sixth years. It is a reasonable proposal that it be extended.
That is a reasonable and sensible suggestion. Although the junior certificate is not quite as life forming or life-changing as the leaving certificate, the same principles apply, and we should make allowances for students who are bereaved to allow them to do their exams at a later date. I am glad that change has now happened for the leaving certificate. The Minister for Education and Skills is away at the moment but, when he comes back, I will certainly let him know that the suggestion was made and will ask him to liaise directly with the Deputy.
I want to raise a matter relating to mental health services in Tipperary. I have a constituent who has unfortunately tried to commit suicide on a number of occasions, most recently last Sunday. Her psychiatrist has diagnosed that the best form of treatment for her would be a course of dialectical behavioural therapy. Her consultant has recommended that therapy. I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, on his efforts in trying to get her access to such therapy but because this young lady has a Tipperary address, she is denied access. This therapy would be available to her if she had a Limerick or Cork address but she is being discriminated against because she is from Tipperary. It is bad enough that we have no psychiatric beds in our county but it is not good enough when a person is denied an essential service because of his or her address. This young lady has a life-threatening condition and I sincerely ask the Taoiseach to renew efforts to get people from my county access to this therapy. I do not lay blame at the door of the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, as he has tried to get this young girl access to this therapy for the past couple of months.
I am sorry to hear about the situation the Deputy has outlined. I do not know the details, obviously, but it does not seem right, on the face of it, that somebody should be without access to a necessary treatment based on the fact that they live in Tipperary rather than Cork or Limerick. The Deputy mentioned that he has raised the matter with the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, and I will also talk to him about it to see if something can be done.
I do not know if the Taoiseach is aware of the very serious situation in County Kerry at present where the excellent people who provide home help by calling to people's homes must put the petrol into their cars at their own expense because they are not being given the money to which they are legally entitled to claim. Those claims are not being processed so not only are they providing this excellent service, they are running their cars at their own expense. As the Taoiseach knows, the geography of Kerry means they have to travel long distances in their cars to give care to elderly people or people who are ill in their homes. They are doing so entirely at their own expense. I ask him to ensure that this situation will be put right for home helps in Kerry and whatever has gone wrong in the processing of their claims for petrol and travel expenses will be corrected immediately to allow them to carry on the excellent service they give to elderly and sick people in our communities.
I am afraid I do not have any role in processing expenses claims for home help staff in Kerry. I imagine it is a matter for the local community healthcare organisation but I will certainly advise the line Minister that the Deputy raised the matter and perhaps he will pass that on to the local official responsible.
A number of months ago, at the request of Deputies McLoughlin, MacSharry and myself, the Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Moran, visited areas in County Sligo which are vulnerable to flooding. There is one particular area in Ransboro where four or five houses are very susceptible to flooding. In fact, one of those houses has been flooded on three occasions in recent times. Sligo County Council has made an application for funding to do a report and try to resolve this through a low-cost scheme. Is there any update on that? I see the Minister of State is present so perhaps he will respond.
I visited Sligo just before Christmas, where I met Deputies McLoughlin and Scanlon and others. I am delighted to inform Deputy Scanlon, the House, and the constituent I met there - who I wish well because I believe he is sick - that I signed off on that last Friday. The money has been made available to the local authority to carry out a consultant's report which can then be brought to my desk for more money in respect of the scheme. I issued a letter to the local authority last Friday stating that the money is available to carry out that report.
I ask the Taoiseach to correct the record of the House regarding an answer he gave to Deputy Pearse Doherty earlier on the issue of home helps. He stated there is no waiting list for home help services in north Cork. I have a reply here from yesterday relating to just one of the 11 cases awaiting home help hours. This person was approved for services on 20 May 2019 and is currently on the HSE waiting list. A response from a HSE official to the inquiry I submitted stated that cases are being approved as hours become available on the basis of clinical need and that there is hopefully not too much longer to wait.
There is a lengthy waiting list in north Cork for home help hours. In view of what the Taoiseach stated in an earlier response, I wish to give him the opportunity to correct the record and acknowledge that there is a waiting list in north Cork.
The Government stated that €17 billion is being invested in health, the highest such investment in the history of the State. The HSE welcomed the increase, stating that it will greatly assist dealing with year-to-year rising demands on the healthcare system. However, we are not looking after our most vulnerable people in society: the elderly and the disabled. The HSE has suspended home help in spite of more than 6,000 people waiting to access such support. The elderly and the disabled want to stay at home, close to their friends and family. This is bad management by the Government and the HSE. It is taxpayers' money. It makes sense to let citizens stay at home and be cared for. Home care works. Who is accountable? Who is responsible? If this was a private company, heads would roll.
To answer Deputy Fitzpatrick's question, the HSE is responsible and accountable for these matters under the Health Acts. To answer Deputy Moynihan's question, I am almost certain I did not state there was not a waiting list in north Cork or anywhere else, but I will go back over the record and if I did say that, I will have it corrected. I am pretty certain I did not say it.
Section 8 of the programme for Government deals with youth and youth affairs and clearly states its intention to put in more resources to help young people. I acknowledge that that has happened to some degree. I wish to briefly outline a case in County Roscommon. Two years ago, Youth Work Ireland was awarded a tender to provide targeted youth services in County Roscommon. It did a very good job, setting up groups in Castlerea, Ballaghaderreen, Roscommon and other parts of the county, as well as in east Galway. Up to 800 people avail of these services. It was very inclusive, taking in refugees based in Ballaghaderreen, people who were attending CAMHS programmes and other children from various backgrounds. It really had a very positive effect. In March 2019 it was announced that the tender for County Roscommon was up for reapplication, with a deadline of 5 April. To cut a long story short, Youth Service Ireland did not get the project. We have now been told that the service is gone for the summer and will be back under a new provider in September. The young people are very disappointed that they will have no service for the summer. They will very much miss it. Yesterday, they protested at a meeting of the Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board in Athenry. The service was of great benefit to them psychologically. I am a reasonable person. I ask that the Taoiseach and his officials speak to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, to see whether the service can be reinstated for the summer.
I am afraid I do not have any information on this issue and do not have a role in it, but I will certainly ask that the Minister, Deputy Zappone, engage directly with the Deputy on this issue and perhaps hear his concerns and resolve the matter.
Page 44 of the programme for Government deals with roads and investment. Project Ireland 2040 committed to the building of a motorway between Limerick and Foynes. I have been informed by the mid-west road design office of Limerick City and County Council that the planning application for this project will go to An Bord Pleanála at the end of June. The scheme encompasses the Adare bypass, which is critically required for the people of County Limerick and the south-west region, including areas such as County Kerry. The Taoiseach met representatives of Adare Community Trust in recent weeks on this issue. I ask the Taoiseach to confirm that the scheme will go to An Bord Pleanála at the end of June as indicated to me.
I thank Deputy Neville for raising this issue. The Government is very committed to this project, which is included in Project Ireland 2040. It will be of great importance in connecting Foynes, a deep-water port that has enormous development potential for trade, via a proper, high-quality road and will also help to alleviate the traffic congestion in Adare, which is a blight on an otherwise beautiful village. I do not have the timelines in front of me, but I will endeavour to have them confirmed and will revert to the Deputy on the issue.
This morning, Lorraine Walsh appeared on "Morning Ireland" and spoke about the Scally report and her very valid concerns regarding the recommendations on quality assurance, which formed part of his inquiry and which she stated are instrumental in terms of her confidence in any of the possible CervicalCheck outcomes. She referred to the 16 laboratories uncovered by Dr. Scally as compared with the six original laboratories, and made the point that he may have discovered more if he had longer to carry out his inquiry. My question and that of Lorraine Walsh is whether the Taoiseach will insist that the HSE clearly state that it has absolute confidence from a clinical perspective that the results coming from slides that are sent abroad for testing are safe.
-----that they are all accredited. He stated that there is no evidence to support the view that there are any concerns about the particular laboratories, but I am sure the HSE should and will want to comment on that.
I spoke with a legal representative of the family whose healthy child was recently aborted at the National Maternity Hospital. This is a desperately tragic case. The family was falsely told that the child had a fatal foetal abnormality. The couple claim that their child would be with them today, were it not for the actions of the hospital. They state that it was an illegal abortion and that the medical practitioners who signed off on the abortion never examined or met the mother in advance of the abortion. If that is the case, it is contrary to the law brought in by the Government and it is illegal. The family state that their calls for an independent investigation have been ignored by the Government and that they have had no real input into the terms of reference of the internal review which the Government is planning. They are shocked by allegations that the medical professionals signing off on the abortions have a commercial interest in the companies that produced the fatally insufficient test. This week, the bereaved family were shocked to hear that the State Claims Agency will indemnify the private company that carried out the fatally insufficient tests. They are furious with the Taoiseach for stating in the Dáil that this is a confidential issue. They believe he is seeking to sweep this illegal abortion under the carpet. Will the Government change the law, institute guidelines and carry out a fully independent investigation?
-----from the hospital's side. I do not wish to get involved in commenting on an individual case, even one that is very sad, such as this one, particularly when there may be legal proceedings under way. However, I understand that the Minister, Deputy Harris, wants and expects an external inquiry into the facts of the case to be carried out.
Two weeks ago at the working group of committee Chairmen, I raised with the Taoiseach the issue of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs, EPSEN, Act 2004. As all Members know, many aspects of the Act have not been implemented. It was introduced to ensure that every child assessed with a special educational need would have a personal education plan. To be fair, at the time the National Council for Special Education published guidelines and a phased implementation plan. However, the relevant sections have not been enacted. When will it be implemented? As I discussed with the Taoiseach, if there is a need for a review - which I believe there is and the Taoiseach also intimated there is - when is it likely to take place? There are so many children, parents, families and teachers who need a personal education plan for the young children in their care.
This is a matter for the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, who is currently out of the country. As Deputy O'Loughlin and I discussed, the EPSEN Act has been commenced in part but not in full. Many of the areas that have not been commenced are now a little out of date, given that the legislation is more than 15 years old. As I understand it, it is the intention of the Minister to review that. I will ask him to correspond with the Deputy and give her a more up-to-date response.
Prior to the local elections, €100 million was announced for beef farmers.
As the Taoiseach well knows, we have spoken often enough about this in the Dáil. Beef farmers have been on their knees in recent years. It is a very serious crisis. How will this funding be distributed and rolled out? Farmers do not want the factory hierarchies to get the funding when it becomes available to the farmers.
As the Deputy will be aware, the announcement was for €50 million from the Commissioner, with another €50 million to be secured from the Exchequer. The Deputy may also be aware that some of the farmer organisations have arranged their own consultation, but they will be consulted with in the near future, as soon as the regulation that has been forwarded down to the Commission has been addressed by the Department. The regulation includes some conditions which must be considered before any further steps are taken.
Every citizen in this State should have access to proper and sufficient ambulance cover. HIQA requires that an ambulance respond to a life-threatening incident within seven minutes and 59 seconds. In the area of south Mayo it is physically impossible for an ambulance to get from Castlebar, the nearest base, to Ballinrobe and surrounding areas. There has been an ongoing campaign for a permanent, fully staffed ambulance base in Ballinrobe to service the south Mayo area. Will the Taoiseach give a commitment that he will endeavour to get this organised and delivered without delay?
The budget for the National Ambulance Service is being increased year on year. I think the increase this year is in the region of €5 million. This has allowed for additional staff and ambulances and improved bases in Tuam and Mulranny, among other places around the country. The decision as to how best to allocate ambulances around the country is best made by the experts in this field, that is, the National Ambulance Service itself.