Thursday, 11 July 2019
Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation
I have a list of approximately 30 Deputies who wish to make a contribution. Deputies should please consider other colleagues in the time they use. I have been accused of using too much discretion so for the day that is in it, please be as brief as possible.
On behalf of Fianna Fáil I extend our good wishes to you and the Ceann Comhairle in particular. Thank you for the efficient running of the House during this session. It has been very difficult for the staff of the Houses because of the refurbishment-----
-----but they have stood up in a fantastic way. I particularly thank everybody involved with the Dáil 100 commemorations that occurred during this session. I hope when we return in September the Houses will be fully restored and the building will be back in good shape. As the Ceann Comhairle is fond of saying, I hope everyone takes a break during the recess.
I refer to the issue of a HSE decision to scrap the rehabilitative training allowance for people with disabilities. I listened to the Tánaiste's earlier responses to the question I asked about home help and the question Deputy O'Reilly asked about psychiatric services. It struck me that the Government has no sense of the serious situation within our health service that is affecting day-to-day services for families. This is another example. This allowance is €31.80 per week per student, designed to help people with disabilities to develop work, life and social skills. That amount makes a considerable difference to these people and the HSE has decided to scrap it without any recourse or explanation. I fear this is typical of what is going to happen over the next few weeks. Issues such as this will be swept under the carpet when the Dáil is not sitting and the HSE will not be controllable or accountable to anybody. I want the Tánaiste to comment specifically on this allowance and to give some indication that the Government understands and has some interest in how serious things are in every single aspect of our health services.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, the Ceann Comhairle and all the others who have sat in the Chair this term for the work they have done to contribute to the work of this House.
I also thank the Whip's office, which is a more complicated place when there is not a majority in government
I thank Ms Alice Kearney, Ms Les Hamilton, Ms Elaine O'Carroll and Ms Katie Downes in the Whip's office who have shown extraordinary patience with me and others, including Deputy Kyne.
I also thank the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel for drafting legislation. Many people were cynical about how this Chamber would operate with the numbers elected.
The Government is getting things done and will continue to try to do that.
I also thank the staff of the House, particularly for late night sittings that have been added at different times. People have shown extraordinary flexibility to facilitate the work that we are doing.
I will get a proper answer for Deputy Calleary from the HSE and the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, about the training allowance that has been removed. I accept that many sectors across the health system are under pressure but many others are working very well. There are significant increases in resources each year to deliver those services. We often focus on negatives and pressure points in this House for understandable reasons, as we must do so to improve them, but the many people who work in our health service, sometimes in difficult conditions, are doing a very good job. We will continue to try to work on the pressure points and I am sure the Deputy will continue to raise those issues with me.
On behalf of Sinn Féin, I extend my thanks to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, the Ceann Comhairle and all of the people who sit in the Chair for their contributions to the efficient running of the House. I also offer a special thanks to the ushers and the administrative and support staff who keep this place running, often at very family unfriendly hours. They do so with great heart, spirit and tolerance of us, as politicians who work here. I hope everyone gets to enjoy some rest and relaxation over the holiday period.
Today, 11 July, is a day when many in the loyalist and unionist communities on our island light bonfires to mark the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne. Many of these events pass off without any great disruption to people's lives but, in some areas, there are sure to be, as ever, incidents of hate crimes with election posters belonging to representatives of Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland being burned. In some instances, effigies of Sinn Féin representatives have been hung on these bonfires and the Tricolour is regularly burned on bonfires in some parts of the North.
These incidents would be considered hate crimes in anybody's book and so-called cultural expression cannot be an excuse for some of the behaviour witnessed over the period around 12 July. I ask the Tánaiste to join me in condemning all acts of hatred and sectarianism and in calling on the leadership of the Orange Order, other loyal orders and political unionism to take a stand against these kinds of acts.
This is a sensitive time of year in Northern Ireland, as the Deputy knows well. Today is the eve of 12 July which, particularly for many in the unionist community, is a period of recognition of tradition, identity and many other emotive and powerful influences within communities. There is a responsibility on all of us and all communities in Northern Ireland to ensure that expression of identity does not spill over into hatred and sectarianism and that communities are protected during these activities. There is a responsibility on all parties to ensure that there are not overreactions and we all work to soften language, rather than harden it, and that when acts take place that should not, we do not respond in a way that charges up the temperature rather than defuses it.
There is serious work to do in Northern Ireland in the coming days and weeks to re-establish a functioning, devolved government in Stormont and the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement. The tensions that may exist over the next 24 hours or so might make that more difficult but we need to ensure that the next few days are managed as best they can be so we can respond in the most appropriate way possible to those who may look to instil hatred and violence in Northern Ireland and that is to make politics work. Northern Ireland needs functioning devolved institutions more than ever now than in the past 20 years. I look forward to visiting Belfast next week, to work with all the parties to try and bring good news to the people in Northern Ireland who need it.
On my own behalf and that of the Labour Party, I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, the Ceann Comhairle and his office, all the officers and staff of the House, ushers and everybody who contributes to make this place function. It functions reasonably well, despite everything, and I hope all of us enjoy some rest and reflective time because the next Dáil session will be challenging.
Other Deputies have talked about different aspects of the health service today. The HSE's capital plan for this year has not been published. That is surely a ludicrous situation. We are more than halfway through the year and the plan around which the organisation must build this year has not yet been published and is not yet known. I cannot imagine any organisation not knowing, halfway through the year, what it will spend money on for the year.
It is reported that the plan is to published shortly after the Dáil breaks for the summer, which is convenient as there can then be no scrutiny of it.
It is plainly obvious that the overruns in the spend for the national children's hospital, which are still not nailed down and fully quantified, are having impacts on other announced and expected health projects. What is the reason for this extraordinary delay? When exactly will the plan be published? When published, will the plan tell us which projects have been euphemistically "re-profiled" and will be impacted by the overruns at the national children's hospital?
Clarity on what will be spent next year must be factored into the capital plan for 2019.
The summer economic statement provided extra capital allocation for 2020. That is being factored in terms of how and where it will be spent in the context of accommodating the increased cost of the children's hospital. I understand the plan is close to conclusion. The 2019 spend has been concluded but they are finalising work in relation to the 2020 spend.
I also wish every person who works in this place, all the staff, the best possible summer holiday.
Last Thursday the Dáil voted by 73 votes to 39 for a motion opposing closure of the Cork mail centre and in support of saving the 240 jobs there. The overwhelming vote was supported by Deputies of 11 different parties or groups and was opposed by members of two. The motion called on the Minister to instruct An Post to reverse the closure. The Minister claims he cannot do that and that to do so would be illegal. I challenge that but I will not get into that today.
The Minister is sole shareholder of the company. What is he prepared to do on this? Is he prepared to call in the chief executive officer and inform him of the vote and its serious character? Is he prepared to inform him that he and the Tánaiste are gravely concerned about the situation? Or is he going to continue to do nothing on this in defiance of the wishes of the Dáil and of the workforce, many of whom are the Tánaiste's constituents?
I thank Deputy Barry for raising this as it does give me the opportunity to clarify some of the points. The Deputy is absolutely right that it would be illegal for me to instruct An Post to do anything. That has been provided by this Oireachtas. We consciously decided that the operation of commercial State bodies should not be dictated by political decisions by the Minister. That is correct.
On the substantive issue, as the Deputy knows, a collective agreement was worked out with An Post workers. One element of that was that one of the four mail centres would be closed and that the board of An Post would make that decision in the best interests of its customers, employees and the company. To be fair to the company, it is showing that its diversification and restructuring which it is undertaking is working. It is building new opportunities for workers, securing new investment, indeed for Cork, and aims to provide employment. In terms of dealing with the staff who are unfortunately being displaced, it seeks to support them and offer them redeployment as well as support in terms of a package and retraining.
Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil don Leas-Cheann Comhairle, don Cheann Comhairle do gach duine atá ag obair i dTithe an Oireachtais. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, the Ceann Comhairle and all the staff, the bar staff and everyone else and all the people who put up with us here at all hours of the night in the restaurant and all over the place on behalf of the Rural Independent Group.
I raise the Amneal plant in Cashel. It is a good plant. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, came to its opening in a fanfare with an announcement of 300 jobs. It had grown to 91 jobs and there was great positivity and hope in the town, but yesterday a bomb struck when the company announced it would reduces its workforce to a skeleton staff of 30, are were letting 60 people go. There has been great disappointment and angst in Cashel, Tipperary and surrounding areas. Will the Tánaiste tell us if the agencies will get involved and see if there is anyway we can help the management, who are a good management, in Amneal to get the company back on its feet again? There are talks that more jobs are in the pipeline and more medicines and so on. We need this plant badly and we need supports to ensure that management grow the plant to where we were promised some years ago.
It is a serious issue. I take it that this is a good company that was providing very good jobs. Every State support available will be given to the company and the workforce which now has a great deal of uncertainty. Those consultations are ongoing.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, the Ceann Comhairle, the Secretary General of the Houses of the Oireachtas, and the staff for all the brilliant support they have given throughout the session. I thank all the staff, across our ushers, canteen staff and cleaners and everyone who works here, including in the committees, who help us do our job. On behalf of our Independent group, I wish them all a good summer break.
Will the recruitment freeze or embargo which is clearly happening in the HSE continue during the recess? The Chief Executive, Mr. Paul Reed, seems determined to deliver just the resources which the Government gave him in budget 2019 but the result is - all Deputies are hearing this - that skilled professionals who have been appointed to jobs a number of months ago are yet to start their jobs. There clearly is a recruitment freeze. Will it continue during the recess?
As I said earlier, there is not a recruitment freeze, there is a requirement on the HSE to operate within its budgets. The HSE is recruiting but it is doing so where it has made budgetary provision to do so.