Thursday, 10 October 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Extraordinary reports are emerging on a High Court case held earlier this week about the payment of money by contractors to criminals to secure protection at a housing scheme, in this case, a social housing scheme. The details are extraordinary and the reports read like something from a mafia documentary or "The Sopranos". A message must be sent from this House that there is zero tolerance of any such behaviour. As I am very conscious that the case is before the courts, I will not delve into the details of it. However, if the Tánaiste has not done so, I suggest he do so to get a sense of the absolute madness of what is going on.
There are political ramifications for the sharing of information on these cases within government. What we know is that Dublin City Council states it did not pay out any council money, but one of the builders says they were advised by a Dublin City Council official to pay criminals. The Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, was informed of this by Deputy Ó Snodaigh and says she passed on the information to the Garda. She has not said, however, whether she passed it on to the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, who said the first he had heard of it was yesterday. We also know, as of this morning, that the office of the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald, was informed of the case and that an acknowledgement was issued that the letter had been received. She did not, however, follow it up with a meeting. Again, this suggests there was knowledge in government of a problem at Dublin City Council and that nothing was done about it.
In September 2016 the Evening Heraldcarried a front page story about the issue. It led with the headline, BLOODBATH MOB GUARD COUNCIL SITE. The Tánaiste was Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government in September 2016. Did he not follow up on the story? Is this common practice within the local authorities? Has the Government done anything in the past 48 hours to get a sense from Dublin City Council of what is happening and what went on? Does the Tánaiste think it is appropriate for Dublin City Council to carry out its own investigation, or should the Government appoint an outside investigator to get to the bottom of the matter?
What is going on at the heart of Government? Ministers are not exchanging very important information with one another. Surely the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, who seems to have history with the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, on other developments, should have brought the case to the attention of her political colleagues also? Surely, given the engagement the Minister and the Minister of State have had on other housing developments, opportunities were presented to her to raise the issue with the Minister to bring this practice to his attention. One would imagine the issue would come up in discussion in planning for and the financing of social housing.
Will the Tánaiste to reflect on these questions and give me the up-to-date position on the Government's understanding of what was revealed in the case?
Contributing financially to criminality of any kind should never be condoned in any circumstance. Although it was, in fact, private contractors who paid funds to the individuals concerned, I appreciate that issues were raised in the proceedings in respect of Dublin City Council officials. It is a matter for the council to investigate fully the role of its staff in the matter. The council indicated in a press statement yesterday that it was arranging for an independent investigation to be carried out into all aspects of its involvement in the matter. My colleague, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has stated he was not aware of the issue. He has publicly condemned any such practice and asked that the investigation be conducted quickly. Both he and his Department are following developments closely. The outcome of the investigation will inform further actions, if needed. The Minister has also spoken to the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, about the matter.
At this point the new homes concerned have been built and are largely tenanted, with the final tenants expected to move in in the coming days. I understand why Deputy Calleary would have questions, but we are trying to establish what happened and when, who sent emails to whom and what action was taken as a result. As the then Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, I can say there was certainly email correspondence with the Department of Justice and Equality through various email traffic routes. My office was cc'd in some of that email traffic, but the first I heard of the issue was yesterday. We are now trying to establish the communication lines for the email traffic, but one thing is clear: the concerns expressed and accusations made were matters for An Garda Síochána. The then Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald, responded comprehensively to Deputy Ó Snodaigh who was raising the issue and confirmed that it was a matter for An Garda Síochána, that an investigation was ongoing and that if people had concerns, they should talk to the Garda about them. I have the email in front of me. Because of the accusations made and their seriousness, we need a completely independent investigation by Dublin City Council to establish exactly what happened and when and who knew what in order that we can be sure we understand what happened and that it will not happen again.
The Government, not Dublin City Council, needs to appoint a completely independent investigator. The Tánaiste has confirmed that his office was cc'd in an email. Will he state the date on which this happened? The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, also needs to become involved because the payment of this money is absolutely not on and never was. Unfortunately, it has happened. Is it happening in other parts of the country and on other contracts, either housing contracts or other local authority or State contracts? Are contractors being advised informally or formally by State or local authority employees on the need to pay this money? How endemic is the practice within the State system? The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, needs to become involved and find out. The case raises issues for Dublin City Council and the way in which the Government has handled the matter. When will it be in a position to publish the full chain of emails and notifications received by various Ministers and outline the full sequence of acts that followed?
They are fair questions, but all I can give the Deputy is an honest assessment of what I know. I only learned about the issue yesterday and, to be honest, only focused on it this morning when I asked for the email traffic into and from Ministers' offices and so on. As I said, Deputy Ó Snodaigh raised the issue. The email he sent was cc'd to a series of people. He did not copy it to me, as the then Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, but when one of the people who received the email, in Co-operative Housing Ireland, responded to him, my office was cc'd in that email. I am trying to establish what happened in that regard, but what I know for sure is that the then Minister for Justice and Equality sent a comprehensive response to the Deputy. She was the appropriate line Minister.
This was an illegal act. Intimidation was going on and serious concerns were raised legitimately by colleagues in this House. Yesterday was the first I heard of it and we will now follow the trail of who knew what and when, as well as the responses. The appropriate Minister responded and this is a Garda matter. With regard to the extent of this activity, I certainly hope it is not common practice on other sites. It is something for An Garda Síochána to deal with.
On Christmas Eve 2016, my colleague, Deputy Ó Snodaigh, sent correspondence to the Garda; the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald; the then Minister of State with responsibility for communities, Deputy Catherine Byrne; Dublin City Council and the current Tánaiste, who was then Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. The correspondence related to the construction of 73 social housing units in Cherry Orchard and informed the Tánaiste and the rest of the recipients that construction had halted on the site following a sustained campaign of intimidation, with building site workers and security staff under threat. He stated it was clear that the intimidation has been orchestrated by criminals who had vowed that no work on any Cherry Orchard site would go ahead unless they get the security contracts or receive moneys from the builder. He continued in the correspondence to the Tánaiste and others by stating:
It is my firm belief that if this work does not progress then we are condemning Cherry Orchard to a future of dereliction and abandonment. No homes or services will be built until this criminality is comprehensively tackled.
Although he made clear that extra Garda resources were essential and requested a meeting before the new year, my colleague received no response from the Tánaiste to the correspondence.
On 5 January 2017, Deputy Ó Snodaigh again wrote to Co-operative Housing Ireland, Dublin City Council, the then Minister for Justice and Equality, the then Minister of State with responsibility for communities, the Garda and the Tánaiste in his former position of Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. The correspondence was directly addressed to the Minister. Deputy Ó Snodaigh informed all recipients that matters had escalated, with criminal elements setting out conditions of commencement of construction works, with the Garda and Dublin City Council both aware of it. He again requested a meeting with the Minister for Justice and Equality, the local superintendents and others to ensure the site would not be compromised and that the demands of criminals would not be accepted. He requested that a Garda task force be set up to ensure work on the site could commence without workers, security staff or the Cherry Orchard development being held to ransom by criminal demands.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh stated in his letter that he was of the firm belief that if there was submission to the demands of these criminal elements, there would be contagion, not only for other sites in Ballyfermot and Cherry Orchard, but throughout the city as word of capitulation would spread. On 13 January 2017, more than two weeks after my colleague's initial letter, the then Minister for Justice and Equality declined a meeting, with no response from the Tánaiste in his then role of Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government or acknowledgement of either letter sent to him directly.
On Tuesday, approximately three years after my colleague's request for engagement with the Departments dealing with housing and justice, as well as the Garda, the High Court was told that Dublin City Council either paid or instructed contractors to pay protection money totalling more than €500,000 on three separate sites, including the Cherry Orchard site. The Criminal Assets Bureau has stated that a council official arranged payments, with the council denying the allegation. We have heard the court has opened an initial investigation but that does not go far enough. We need to know what others knew and why so many, including the then Minister for Justice and Equality and the current Tánaiste, did nothing despite being warned of the intimidation against site staff by these criminal elements as early as 2016. That was before over €500,000 was paid.
The current Minister for Housing, Community and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has stated he only learned about this the day before yesterday. The Tánaiste, however, was informed about this by Deputy Ó Snodaigh on Christmas Eve 2016, as well as on 5 January. The Tánaiste also received a letter from Housing Co-operative Ireland stating that it agreed with the concerns of Deputy Ó Snodaigh and his request to meet the Tánaiste and other Ministers to take on this issue. We have now learned that criminal elements have been paid €500,000 from the public purse. Will the Tánaiste explain to this House his inaction on this serious matter?
The matters raised by Deputy Ó Snodaigh were serious and he got a detailed response from the Minister for Justice and Equality of the time, as it was an issue pertaining to justice. I will read the response, which was detailed. It is not true to say she refused to meet people but rather there was an ongoing Garda investigation. The then Minister stated:
I am advised by the Commissioner that gardaí are pursuing a thorough investigation of the incident in question and are engaging with all relevant parties with a view to facilitating the safe return of contractors to the site.
I understand that following local protests, construction work had been temporarily suspended to allow for discussion of the issues in dispute. While gardaí encouraged all parties to resolve their differences, there was continuing opposition when works resumed and it was at this juncture, on 19 December, that the shocking petrol bomb attack took place. I am advised that Dublin City Council, quite understandably, felt it was necessary to suspend work on the site.
I am further advised that local Garda management has instituted a specific crime prevention initiative, with regular patrols on the Oranmore Road, Cherry Orchard and Croftwood areas, including the construction site. I also understand that a meeting has been arranged for today, Friday 13 January, between local gardaí, Co-operative Housing Ireland, Dublin City Council and the security firm which is contracted for the construction project.
With reference to the suggestion that criminal elements may be attempting to extract protection money, I am advised that gardaí have not received complaints to this effect. Needless to say, I would urge anyone who may have relevant information to support such a serious criminal allegation to provide full details to the Garda without delay.
In view of the foregoing, An Garda Síochána is clearly the most appropriate authority to deal with the present situation and, especially as a Garda investigation is ongoing, I do not feel that a meeting between us would be appropriate at this time. You will appreciate that it is not open to me to intervene in particular Garda investigations.
This was a Garda matter and the then Minister for Justice and Equality responded quite comprehensively on the matter. As of this morning, I am trying to understand the response that did or did not come from my previous Department and the reasons. If the matter had been raised with me, I would have raised it with the Minister for Justice and Equality, which would have been appropriate. I do not recall doing so as the matter was not raised with me. All I can do is give the facts as I understand them at this point. We will understand more as the investigation takes place.
The matter was raised with the Tánaiste when he was the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. We have the email from Christmas Eve 2016 and it is addressed to the email address of the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. As there was no action arising from that, a further email was issued on 5 January, again address to the Minister. A letter from Co-operative Housing Ireland was addressed to Deputy Simon Coveney, the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, and it stated how it would like to join in asking the Minister for any and all assistance. The Tánaiste mentioned the response from the former Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald but there was absolutely no response from the Tánaiste, who was then the Minister with responsibility for housing. We now know from what is happening in court that €500,000 was paid to these criminal elements from the public purse because of what happened when the housing development was built in this area.
The Tánaiste has said there was a comprehensive response from Frances Fitzgerald. She spoke about a Garda investigation into the attack on the JCB, which was absolutely appalling. Deputy Ó Snodaigh raised the matter with the Tánaiste and Deputies Frances Fitzgerald and Catherine Byrne, in their role as Ministers, as well as the Garda. We have correspondence indicating that on three occasions, the Garda was informed about this. This was not investigated and no action was taken by any Minister in response to attempts at extortion from this company. We now know the money was eventually paid through Dublin City Council.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh offered to meet local gardaí and the Minister in person to provide further information but all this fell on a deaf ear. The Minister for Justice and Equality stated that the Garda did not receive any complaints but we have correspondence to the Garda that demonstrates it was aware of the matter.
I want assurances from the Tánaiste that the House can be satisfied this is not happening on any other building site.
As Deputy Ó Snodaigh pointed out, that would lead to contagion. He is not the only Sinn Féin Deputy who has raised this issue or similar issues in Dublin city with the Garda relating to extortion.
I do not dispute much of what the Deputy is saying. Deputy Ó Snodaigh did good work here and raised issues that were genuine. What I am saying is that I was not aware of it. If I was, I would have raised it with the Minister for Justice and Equality. I am not saying emails were not sent to my office. I am trying to understand what happened in this regard. However, I am also saying that the appropriate response was from the Minister for Justice and Equality. This is a Garda issue, and was a Garda issue at the time. That is what I read out in the context of the response that the Tánaiste at that point, Frances Fitzgerald, made. I am not disputing that this a serious issue. It was raised and sent to my office. We did not respond to the Deputy, as far as I am aware. That is because I was not involved. Whether I should have been is a different issue, but I did not have this issue raised with me and, therefore, I did not speak to the Deputy or respond to him. The issue was responded to by Government and by the appropriate Minister because these are criminal allegations and have subsequently proven to be very serious.
The Deputy asked whether we can provide assurance that this is not happening on any other sites.
I read into the record what her official response was and why it was made.
The Deputy asked whether there is contagion on an issue like this onto other sites. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government will, of course, ensure that is not the case.
During his Budget Statement last Tuesday, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, spoke about "building a global and a robust tax architecture that works for all into the future ... [and] "a stable international tax framework". I am referring to those words in the light of the OECD-led work programme to develop a consensus-based solution.
The issue I raise is the need for comprehensive tax reform that would stop corporate tax dodging and limit tax competition. It is important that Ireland represents a strong voice that is committed at the OECD and at home to addressing the challenges of taxing multinationals in the digital area, to putting a stop to corporate tax dodging, to ending the race to the bottom in corporate tax and incentives and, especially, to generating additional revenues where the economic activity takes place. It is particularly important for Ireland to be that voice because of our commitment to the least developed countries.
The current system does not benefit developing counties, some of which are our partner countries. They need the income from corporate tax to provide badly-needed services in health, education and agriculture as well as to mitigate the effects of climate change. If the corporate tax system is not fair to them - we know it is not - then we are depriving those countries of the ability and capacity to raise revenue through income tax and other taxes. This is totally at odds with our policies as conveyed in A Better World.
Multiple loopholes in the international tax system allow for artificial profit-shifting to tax aggressive jurisdictions. Profits generated from sales and other digital activities in one territory can be largely untaxed. The loopholes mean there is little profit to the countries where the production of goods takes place. They allow countries to offer lower and lower corporate taxes to be attractive to investors. One example is tax holidays because of pressure from foreign nationals. Another example relates to the pharmaceutical industry. In seven developing countries, four of the big US pharmaceutical companies avoid an estimated €96 million every year. Some of them pay little tax on profits in Ireland even though they make significant profits here. Multinational corporations are paying less tax than they did before the crash in 2008. They continue to shift as much as 40% of their foreign profits to tax havens. The International Monetary Fund, IMF, put a figure of $456 billion on the losses to governments because of corporate tax shifting.
The least developed countries are especially under-represented on the inclusive framing steering group. As we are committed to A Better World and as we have a strong reputation for humanitarian work, will we also commit to supporting a minimum effective tax rate in every country? That would mean an end to tax havens and it would benefit the world.
I will try to do the same. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, has consistently stated that further change to the international tax framework is necessary to ensure we reach a stable global consensus for how and where companies should be taxed. Change is coming to the international tax system. The ongoing work at the OECD will result in further substantial alterations to the international tax architecture. The challenge before us is to build a global and robust tax architecture that works for all into the future. As part of this work the OECD secretariat has published a consultation paper this week on its proposals. The paper outlines a potential approach for making changes to the international corporate tax system. These changes would be designed to reflect the changing nature of where profits are generated in the modern digitised economy. Ireland welcomes the launch of this publication. It is important that all interested parties are able to contribute to this important work.
Ireland is actively involved in this ongoing work at the OECD to reach a global consensus on addressing the tax challenges of digitisation. Much work remains to be done before an agreement can be reached at the OECD. I note some speculation today on the potential impact on Ireland of any changes. It is far too early at this stage in the process to work out the revenue implications for different countries. These issues are discussed in the fiscal vulnerabilities paper published with the budget on Tuesday. As the Minister for Finance said in his Budget Statement earlier this week, it is in the interests of Ireland and all countries that this work is successful at ensuring the continuation of a stable and consensus-based international tax framework into the future. Ireland will continue to engage in this work at the OECD as well as taking actions domestically in line with the corporate tax roadmap.
The point the Deputy O'Sullivan made is that we need to try to have a level playing field in respect of tax rules and transparency through the OECD. I agree with that. We have always had an issue with the EU going alone in this regard because of what is happening in other parts of the world. If we can build consensus, and if Ireland can be part of designing it, that is our clear preference in terms of tax reform into the future.
The Tánaiste mentioned Ireland and all countries but it must be acknowledged that all countries have not had a fair deal to date. The base erosion and profit-shifting, BEPS, initiative has had some significant benefits, but it does not go far enough. Multinationals continue to benefit from transfer pricing. The double tax agreements favour residence-based over source-based arrangements. This results in capital flows from the developing countries to the developed countries instead of the other way around. It was disappointing to learn that the concerns of officials in the Tánaiste's Department were ignored when it came to the Ghana agreement. Prior to that agreement, Ghana could levy 15% on royalty payments and 20% on technical fees but the following the agreement, the figures were 8% on royalties and 10% on technical fees. Irish companies, therefore, investing in Ghana and other countries will benefit from lower rates of tax. That has to be at odds with our national plan on business and human rights. I reiterate that we are so respected in one area that we have to be also respected for supporting fair corporate tax reform in order that those in the developing world can raise the income they need. At the end of the day, we need an approach that would eventually mean a reduction in overseas aid if they can raise the money they need for services.
Deputy O'Sullivan approaches this from a perspective of global fairness, and I can understand that. Through the OECD, we have to reflect the changes in terms of the global economy that are taking place rapidly, especially around the digitisation of economies. This is far more rapid in some countries than others. Ultimately, we need to try to build consensus across the developed and developing world about how to have a transparent and fair tax system that allows countries to derive competitive advantage. However, they need to do that in an open and transparent way and make those choices.
There are consequences to those choices. This is about striking a balance between allowing countries to make domestic decisions on taxation and how Government expenditure is funded while also closing tax loopholes that should not be there and that create inequality and unfairness. Ireland has bought in to the BEPS process and will continue to see that through to a successful outcome. Hopefully, consensus will be reached.
My question relates to the dysfunction in the health service and, in particular, to the Sláintecare report and the reforms that flow from it. A key recommendation of the report was that legislation be introduced in 2018 to place guarantees on access to care on a statutory footing. Such legislation should provide that patients will be seen within 12 weeks for an inpatient procedure, ten weeks for an outpatient appointment and ten days for a diagnostic test. When will that legislation be introduced to meet those targets?
With respect, the Deputy will have to ask the Minister for Health that question, although I can ask on his behalf and revert to him if that is helpful.
Our focus is to implement Sláintecare, which will take about ten years. We are two years into that process now. For the first time ever, we have cross-party consensus on the kind of reform needed throughout the health system. We are putting significant resources behind the plan to get it done but it is not going to be done overnight. As we provide services, we also hope to be able to introduce new legislation to maintain those services in terms of timelines, standards and so on. Next year's health budget will be €1 billion more than this year.
That includes some of the additional spend this year that had not been budgeted for, which I accept that, but it is still well above €650 million extra next year for healthcare, reflecting the capital and current expenditure pressures that we face.
We are making progress here. We are spending more money and introducing a reform programme that everybody in this House buys into. We would like to do it as fast as possible but it is going to take time. We are in year two of a ten-year plan.
I understand that the Tánaiste is not the Minister for Health and I do not expect him to have a specific answer to my question. The point I am trying to make is that targets will not be met unless there is legislation to underpin them. Targets will not be reached voluntarily. The Government must provide an incentive so that targets will be met. Of course, Sláintecare cannot be delivered overnight but the question is whether the Government is willing to introduce legislation that will demand that targets are met. Outpatient numbers are increasing and the demand for elective care is also increasing. Soon the only elective care that will be delivered in our acute hospitals will be for trauma, emergencies or cancer. Elective care is slowly being pushed off our hospital waiting lists. Soon we will have a winter initiative under which elective care will be cancelled for between six weeks and two months, which will only add to the lengthening lists. When a patient moves from an outpatient list, having eventually been seen, to the inpatient list, he or she moves to the bottom rung of that list. Legislation must be introduced to impose targets and to demand, by way of statute, that care is delivered in a timely fashion. When will that legislation be introduced?
If there is clarity on that in the Minister's office, I will forward it to the Deputy but if we are going to pass legislation, we must make sure resources are available to deliver it, otherwise, something will be passed that cannot be delivered, which does not make sense. If we introduce legislation to protect patients and ensure that targets are met, we must also make sure the resources are in place, including both human and capital resources, to make it happen. This budget will result in 1,000 additional staff based in the community. Recently, an additional €20 million was provided for the Sláintecare integration fund. There is also a significantly increased input from GPs in improving community care and keeping people out of hospital so that we can create space for the kinds of elective treatment to which the Deputy Harty referred. That reform is under way and those funds are supporting the reform programme. In the context of the legislation to which he referred, we must make sure that if we are going to pass laws, we have the resources in place to ensure compliance with them.
I wish to take this opportunity to express the condolences of Members on this side of the House to the family of Ms Frances Devlin from Ballinacurra, Midleton, Cork as well as to her extended family and friends, at this very sad time. I thank everyone who assisted with the search over the past four days and who worked so hard to bring Frances Devlin home. May she rest in peace.
Today is World Mental Health Day and I ask the Tánaiste to bear that in mind when he responds to my question. Of all days, today is the day to tell the truth about mental health. It is time to be honest with the people who depend on our mental health services, with their loved ones who support them and with campaigners and the people at large who want something to be done. These are the same people the Government is trying to fool and gaslight. Since I was elected to the House in 2016, the Government has talked out of both sides of its mouth with regard to mental health. I feel sorry for the two junior Ministers in the Department of Health who, I believe, are genuine but who have been forced to defend the crumbs off they table afforded to them each year, which they must know by now will never fully materialise. Last Tuesday's Budget Statement contains just three mentions of mental health. These include a reference to the reinstatement of capital funding that was earmarked years ago, a meaningless platitude and, worst of all, for the third year running, just pure bull. The Government claims that it is providing €39 million of new money for new services but this cannot be true. Up to this month, €25 million of the allocation announced in 2018 had not been spent, but not for the lack of need. Every year more money has been promised, withheld, re-announced, withheld again and so on. According to the Budget Statement, mental health spending in 2020 will be €1.03 billion. Last week in the Dáil, reiterating the spin of 2018, the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Jim Daly, said that more than €1 billion would be spent in 2019. If €39 million is added to more than €1 billion, it comes to a lot more than €1.03 billion, unless the numbers are false or there is a fabrication. Yesterday at a meeting with Mental Health Reform, the Minister said that out of the €39 million, there is absolutely nothing new. There is no new money.
There is €26 million for pay increases and €13 million for the Portrane unit and nothing else. There is nothing for Rehab, CAMHS, A Vision for Change or counselling - absolutely nothing.
This Government is supported by Fianna Fáil. I do not intend to let its members get away with this either because they are propping up the Government. What is the truth? The only conclusion that can be reached on the basis of all of these inconsistencies is that nothing honest is being said on either side of this House when it comes to mental health.
I ask the Tánaiste, on World Mental Health Day, to tell the people the truth. What does he have to say today?
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue and acknowledge that he consistently raises mental health in this House. Mental health continues to be a priority area for the Government. In budget 2020, the Government maintained its commitment to mental health by increasing funding by €39 million to €1.026 billion. This increase includes €13 million for new developments and €26 million for pay, which will help to ensure that existing initiatives are maintained and enhanced. Since 2012, the HSE mental health budget has increased by approximately 44% from €711 million to well over €1 billion next year. Budget 2019 made allowance for an additional €55 million for mental health services to build on the existing services.
It comprised €20 million for the continuing cost in 2019 of developments initiated in 2018, combined with €35 million for further new developments. The investment has enabled the HSE mental health service to progress initiatives agreed in the national service plan 2019, such as e-mental health pilot programmes, and clinical programmes in areas such as eating disorders and ADHD continue to be developed and implemented. The relocation of the national forensic mental health service to Portrane is another significant investment undertaken by HSE mental health services.
To date, €33 million of the funding has been drawn down and an application for a further €10 million is being processed. The management of the remaining €12 million funding for 2019 will be agreed with the HSE in the coming weeks. This money will also be available for new developments in 2020, for which a total of €25 million will be available. The extra funding has delivered the recruitment of 114 assistant psychologists and 20 psychologists in primary care since 2018, as well as ten advanced nurse practitioners in child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, who are currently in training.
It is important to state that CAMHS waiting lists, which were and are a priority for the Government, have been reduced by 20% this year. The August figure was 2,038, reduced from 2,517 in December 2018. I understand that the Deputy wants the Government to continue to prioritise mental health services through financial provision, increased staffing and better services, particularly in the community. That is happening and it will continue to be a priority.
I thank the Tánaiste for his reply, but I am very sceptical of his claims. It is more spin. The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Daly, told the media at a press conference yesterday that CAMHS waiting lists have been impressively reduced by 20%. The latest data we have, which were published in The Irish Timeson Monday, 9 September, indicate that more than 2,500 children and teenagers were on mental health service waiting lists. The HSE figures for June 2019 and July 2017 are almost identical, at 2,440. Some 267 children, many of them in County Cork, have been waiting for more than a year, an 11% increase. Who is telling the truth on this matter? How do we get to a point such that the Government will invest sufficiently?
The Tánaiste referred to the recruitment of 114 assistant psychologists. I have been told that some of them have already left their posts. I made that point at a recent meeting of the Committee on Health. The last person to leave cancelled 300 appointments. The Tánaiste is not telling the truth.
Sinn Féin, working with Mental Health Reform, managed to clarify that only €15 million of additional money was spent in 2017. The €20 million that was left over was re-announced in 2017, when an increase of €35 million was again touted. In 2018, funding of €55 million was announced, but we know that the real figure was only €30 million. We have constantly tried to highlight that the Government is sloughing this over. The Mental Health Commission stated that it met the Minister and it was confirmed that €26 million of the €39 million is earmarked for pay increases. The Tánaiste referred to an additional €13 million for services but that will be spent on Portrane. There is nothing new. Is there new money for mental health services or are we just wasting our time?
That is what is required. The CAMHS waiting lists are too long but we are making progress on them. The list has reduced by 20% this year. The figure in August was 2,038, reduced from 2,517 in December 2018. The number waiting more than 12 months reduced to 201 in August, down from 314 in December 2018. The HSE service plan 2019 aims to improve CAMHS out-of-hours and seven-days-a-week cover, as well as provision for eating disorders, specialist services and prevention and early intervention services. The Minister of State, Deputy Daly, has invested heavily in early intervention services to treat mental illness symptoms as early as possible, thus reducing the need to escalate cases to CAMH services. The number of CAMHS teams increased from 49 in 2008 to 70 today, as well as three paediatric liaison teams. In 2008, there were 350 whole-time equivalent clinical posts in CAMHS. That figure is now 645. We are investing in more people and better infrastructure. I accept that we are not where we need to be, but the charge that we are not prioritising this area for increased investment is simply not true.
I asked a particular question during the budget debate on Tuesday evening but I did not get a reply, so I will now ask it of the Tánaiste. Has the budget been poverty-proofed? Several features of the budget are clearly regressive, particularly the failure to index-link social welfare payments. Although the Government flagged that there would be no standard increase of €5 in welfare and pension payments, most Deputies expected that, at a minimum, welfare payments would be index-linked. The failure to do so, when combined with an inflation rate of, at least, 1.3% or 1.4% next year, with a strong likelihood that it will be more than that, amounts to an effective cut in payments to State pension or social welfare recipients. For example, there will be an effective cut of €6.12 in the weekly income of a couple on the contributory State pension.
The proposals related to carbon tax and the decisions taken in that regard in the House on Tuesday night are also regressive. I refer to the additional €6 per tonne in carbon tax. In promoting this measure, the Government referred at length to the recommendations of the all-party Joint Committee on Climate Action requested. It is important to bear in mind that the committee also requested a review of energy policy but, in spite of many promises, such a review has not been produced. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul stated that the measures to offset the impact of carbon tax on low-income households are inadequate and that many households will struggle with increased energy costs, notwithstanding the increase in the fuel allowance. Of course, the fuel allowance is only payable to one in five households in this country. On what basis was it decided that the increase in the allowance was an adequate response to the serious problem of fuel poverty? How did the Government come to the conclusion that it was sufficient to address the issue of fuel poverty?
There has been a failure to reform the existing grant schemes. A carbon tax should act to encourage people to change their behaviour but a very large number of people cannot afford to change their behaviour because of the way the grant schemes are structured. One needs money upfront to take advantage of them, but many low-income households simply do not have such money upfront. Will there be a commitment to roll out at an early stage a pay-as-you-go or pay-as-you-save scheme? Will the Government reform the warmer homes scheme, which is currently only available to those in receipt of fuel allowance, and make it more widely available? There is a very strict limit such that if one has one's attic insulated, one is not entitled to a further grant.
I sometimes think that when the Deputy comments on the Government's budgetary strategy, she fails to accept that choices must be made.
We have had to make a choice this year to assume the worst possible outcome to the Brexit negotiations. This has been necessary to ensure we have a resilient budget for next year. The Deputy's response to the budget largely ignores all of that. We have put in place a social welfare package which increases the social welfare spend by €170 million next year. We have deliberately prioritised and targeted the most vulnerable people for these extra supports. The Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, has repeatedly outlined where they are. We are ensuring the overall budget is fit for purpose for next year. For the past three years in a row, we have had annual increases of €5 in social welfare and pensions across the board. This was well ahead of inflation. We took this approach deliberately because we wanted to give back some money while the country could afford to do it. We will get back into that space again when we know we can afford to do it. We felt that rather than giving small increases across the board, it was more appropriate to target the lowest-income households, people living alone and people on fuel allowance.
We chose to protect the people on the lowest incomes because we knew they would be affected by Government policy, including the increase in carbon tax. We gave them the support they need to reflect that. That is what we did. We do not pretend otherwise. We had to make difficult choices in the context of the economic challenges that may well be on the horizon. Clearly, Deputy Shortall does not seem to be willing to make those choices. The idea that we should not introduce a carbon tax increase is counter to what practically every climate change expert on the planet is saying. Nobody is saying that increasing carbon tax will solve the climate change issue on its own. By giving a clear direction of the charges that are to be imposed over the next ten years as a means of placing a value on carbon into the future, we are giving society an indication of the kind of change it needs to accommodate. It is a modest enough increase, but it is a signal of the direction we are taking for the next ten years. We have put in place measures to compensate the lowest-income families for that. It is not true to say one cannot draw down grant aid unless one has resources. Some €53 million is being provided for the warmer homes scheme, which is targeted at people on fuel allowance. The poorest people are those who will get support from the State.
This Government has chosen to hit low-income workers, pensioners and people on social welfare. That is the effect of the choices it has made. These people will take the brunt of Brexit, just as they took the brunt of the recession. The Government has chosen to hit those people.
On the other side of the equation, it has extended the special assignee relief programme and introduced a range of tax cuts for business, while failing to introduce taxes that could have been imposed on the richest people in this country. The Government made those choices, just as choices were made during the recession. That is the problem. That is the issue. Basically, Fine Gael is not interested in the issue of poverty. I will repeat the question I put to the Tánaiste. Has this budget been poverty-proofed? I have another question I would like him to answer. Where is the anti-poverty strategy the Government promised two years ago? We are still waiting to see it.