Wednesday, 23 October 2019
Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation
I return to the water issue. I ask the Minister to revisit the decision not to provide tankers. Some 600,000 people are affected, including many low-income families and elderly people. These people need water and cannot afford to buy bottled water. Has the Minister not met representatives of Irish Water face to face? I cannot get my head around the fact that this fault was identified on Monday evening and yet it took 24 hours for an alert to issue. They clearly were not ready for the impact of that alert. Has the Minister not met representatives of Irish Water? When was he informed about the fault?
This is a major inconvenience for hundreds of thousands of people. A precautionary notice has been issued. The treatment process had begun on a portion of the water that went into a very large system but had not been completed. We believe the boil water notice is temporary. I will talk through the temporariness we hope to see. The testing is under way. The HSE needs to get three clear tests over a 72-hour period. We hope that will conclude before the weekend. Provided everything goes well, we hope we will be able to take the vast majority of people off that boil water notice before the bank holiday weekend. A greatly reduced number of households might continue to be subject to a boil water notice over the weekend, but that remains to be seen and depends on the testing.
I have requested a special report on it from the EPA. The EPA does not report to me, but in this exceptional circumstance, it will report to me directly on this following its investigation, which is under way. We do not need to provide water tankers because it is a boil water notice; people can boil their water before they use it as a precautionary measure.
I will come to that in a moment.
In this instance we cannot be sure of that. Because we cannot be sure, as a precautionary measure on the advice of the HSE, we have issued a boil water notice to these households.
As it happens, my senior team and I met Irish Water's senior management team on Monday to discuss a whole host of issues such as monitoring systems, capital investment plans, etc., before this was identified. It was part of a regular engagement I have with Irish Water to ensure we know exactly what is happening across the operation of the agency.
The past 24 hours have been devastating for job losses in Munster. As has been mentioned, 500 jobs are to go in Shannon and now 320 jobs in Ringaskiddy, Cork. I am sure the workers concerned and their families are crushed by this news. The Government needs to be proactive on this. I know the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation is in Shannon today, following the job losses there. I hope she will also visit Cork and speak to the workers there. I hope the unions and other worker representatives can obtain the best possible conditions for workers in this scenario. Will the Minister immediately commence the process of seeking funding from the European Globalisation Fund to assist the workers losing their jobs in their search for new employment?
As the Deputy acknowledged, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, was in the region this morning, meeting the relevant authorities, the workers and management. We will examine whether it meets the criteria for the European Globalisation Fund. Those criteria are very clear and we will either meet them or not. If we meet the criteria, we will certainly make an application. Irrespective of what happens, we have a bit of time. These job losses are being phased in over two years, which gives the staff a chance to look for new jobs. It also gives us a chance to find a new investor, particularly for Molex in Shannon. No matter what happens, Government agencies will be there to assist the workers, engage with the unions, ensure that they know their rights and the terms of redundancy and early retirement, and ensure that they know what social protection supports are available, including back-to-education allowance, back-to-work enterprise allowance, training, etc.
The Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, seems to have it in for small family-run businesses. Last year, we warned him that betting duty on turnover would put such small firms out of business, as 2% of turnover was greater than their profits in some cases. That is what happened. In this year's budget, the Minister had to introduce a new relief in recognition of the difficulties experienced by small independent bookmakers. We told him last year that this would happen, but unfortunately, some have closed in the interim.
The Minister is now being warned that small independent health stores will also close, leaving more boarded-up shops in our towns and villages if he increases the rate of VAT on food supplements to 13.5% in the Finance Bill as he promised.
We simply cannot allow that to happen. I ask the Minister to provide clarity now. Will he preserve jobs by defining food supplements as food, with a 0% VAT rate, as has been the case for more than 40 years? With the pressure Brexit is putting on small firms and family-owned businesses closing down all the time, this is not the time for it to happen. Will the Minister preserve the 0% rate of VAT on food supplements?
I would have hoped the Deputy would recognise the measures I introduced in the budget to support small and medium-sized companies. Those measures have been recognised by many of the firms' representatives as delivering the change for which they were looking.
The Revenue Commissioners have indicated that in the absence of any change, they will adjust the VAT rate to 23% on 1 November. This time last year Deputy Howlin and others were calling on me to prevent that from happening. I have now made it clear that those products that are regulated by the agencies of the Department of Health will retain the 0% rate. The VAT rate of products without that status will change, but it will not change to 23% as envisioned last year. Instead it will move to 13.5%.
Once again the members of the National Ambulance Service Representative Association, NASRA, are protesting outside the gates because the Department of Health refuses to recognise their union. I plead with the Minister not to tell me that it is an inter-union dispute. For seven years union deductions were taken directly from these workers' wages and went to NASRA. This stopped because the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, admitted some months ago that the Department of Health would not recognise the union. I have this admission. The Department deals with other unions which the workers must join. They have a banner with the words "My Union, My Choice". The Government stood up for women's choice about what happened to their own bodies. Will it stand up for workers' right to choose the union they want to be in, rather than leaving them outside the gates of Leinster House, where they have appeared regularly since last January? Their union deductions have been stopped. The Department of Health is refusing to recognise the union, yet it includes the majority of paramedics and ambulance drivers throughout the country. Are workers and their rights invisible to the Government? It recognises wealthy people, for whom it does lots of favours in the budget. Workers need some recognition. Will the Minister get the Department of Health to stop blocking that recognition and deal with the union?
I note that the group outside Leinster House today comprises very professional and committed ambulance paramedics who are highlighting their right to join the union of their choice, not the boss' choice. This issue was raised last June when they were previously outside the gates. The Minister then said he was talking to management in the HSE. An all-party group of Deputies asked for a meeting with the Minister to try to resolve the issue. What is happening? Will the Minister update us on his talks with management? Will he meet the cross-parliamentary group?
We know the answer we will get to the question Deputy Bríd Smith has asked because we have asked it so many times. It amounts to the Government washing its hands in a situation where an agency for which it is responsible is effectively engaged in union-busting. What signal does it send to private sector employees across the economy when a State agency refuses to engage with one particular union because it does not like how it operates? It is utterly scandalous.
Yesterday there were pickets and protests outside Irish embassies and consulates in Australia, Austria, Britain, Belgium, Greece, Germany, the USA, Sweden, Canada and elsewhere in solidarity with Irish paramedics who were demanding the right to be recognised in the union of their choice. My question is this. Is it the case that these trade unionists and socialists have done more to help paramedics in 24 hours than the Government has done for a year? Will the Government change its position and grant them the democratic right to be represented by the union of their choice and for the union to be recognised by the HSE? More than 500 have made this choice.
I support the comments of my colleague, Deputy Joan Collins. It is vitally important that the Minister act and get the HSE to talk to the Psychiatric Nurses Association of Ireland. That is what the dispute is about. That cannot be a problem. As one of the signatories to the letter to the Minister, I find this very disappointing. It must be a year since the Minister undertook to talk to us about the issue, but nothing has happened. We have had no contact with him.
Of course, any individual has a right to join any trade union or body that he or she wants to join, but the Psychiatric Nurses Association of Ireland which is not affiliated to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has negotiating rights for nurses working in psychiatry and the intellectual disability sector. The clue is in the name. There are three unions which have negotiating rights with the HSE for front-line ambulance staff, namely, the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union, SIPTU, Fórsa and Unite. They represent all of the ambulance grades. Industrial relations policy has a long-standing objective of avoiding fragmentation of worker representation in public sector employment and the trade union movement more generally. This is meant to facilitate the orderly conduct of bargaining and other aspects of industrial relations. There are three unions for paramedics and ambulance grades that already have negotiating rights-----
I acknowledge that the Taoiseach has set up a task force for Tipperary town, but there is another problem there. I refer to a group of 27 small traders who are very spirited and want to make sure Tipperary town will remain open for business. This is a question for the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. Roadworks have been ongoing in the town for more than a year and businesses have been adversely affected. Neither the county council nor anyone else will listen to them and reflect this in their rates bills. Small businesses are barely hanging on. Big businesses have let workers go because of the downturn in footfall caused by the roadworks. While we welcome the roadworks, there must be appreciation of these hardworking 27 business people. Some understanding should be reflected in the rates demanded of them while the inconvenience continues. It has continued for 12 months. There must be some acknowledgement of the role these businesses have played in revitalising the town.
I thank the Deputy for the question. I will speak to the local authority about whether there have been unnecessary delays in completing the roadworks which can have a very large impact on businesses. Rates alleviation and rates bills are matters for councillors who must decide if they want to target particular parts of the county to support certain businesses at certain times or encourage a particular type of economic activity. I will also speak to the local authority about the issue.
Tá gealltanas sa chlár Rialtais go gcuirfidh chun tosaigh ár dteanga dhúchais. Tá deacrachtaí ar fud na tíre, agus i gContae Lú ach go háirithe, maidir le Gaelcholáistí, toisc nach bhfuil go leor múinteoirí dátheangacha ann agus nach bhfuil daltaí ag dul ó na bunscoileanna go dtí na haonaid. Iarraim ar an Rialtas scéim phíolótach a chruthú in aonad Choláiste Lú i gColáiste Chú Culainn agus comhoibriú a dhéanamh le Louth and Meath Education and Training Board agus an Foras Patrúnachta chun réiteach a fháil ar an bhfadhb seo. If we do not address the issue of dual language teachers, we will not be able to meet that commitment in every county. I, therefore, ask the Taoiseach to seriously examine this issue.
Is ceist é seo don Aire Oideachais agus Scileanna, Teachta McHugh, ach táim sásta é a phlé leis mar Aire Stáit ar a bhfuil freagracht as cúrsaí Gaeilge. B'fhéidir go mbeidh sé in ann casadh le Teachtaí ó Chontae Lú chun an cheist seo a phlé. Tá a fhios agam go mbaineann tábhacht ar leith leis an gceist, leis na seirbhísí seo, agus leis na haonaid trasna na tíre. Táim sásta é sin a phlé leis an Aire.
The Taoiseach is giving a false impression about the reduction of the housing list. If a couple with three or four children in receipt of family income supplement earn over €33,600 a year, they are knocked off the housing list. That family can never get a mortgage or build their own house. They still need a house and should be left on the housing list. People who have been on the housing list for 13 years are being thrown off it because they are in receipt of family income supplement. Surely when people are receiving social welfare payments to stay alive, they should not be thrown off the housing list, but that is what is happening in County Kerry. It is happening all around the county and wrong.
Different local authorities operate different disregards in different ways when it comes to calculating income for persons who qualify for social housing. There are different thresholds in different parts of the country. Each local authority will examine household income and, depending on the types of social welfare payment of which people are in receipt, disregard them to make sure we are doing what we want to do in the provision of social housing, which is to make sure a home is available for those who need it the most. The reduction in the housing list in the past two to three years is due to the increase in social housing stock. That is what is driving the reduction in housing lists. For those who no longer qualify for social housing, that is where the affordability scheme comes in, with affordable homes to buy and rent.
As of yesterday, 320 people were waiting for home support hours in the constituency of Cavan-Monaghan. The real frustration for families is that they are receiving letters from the HSE telling them that they have been allocated hours and are entitled to them. However, they continue for months without the hours being made available. They are left high and dry and given a false promise. Like many others in this House, constituents of mine have literally been waiting for months for home help hours to be made available. Does the Taoiseach really see the additional home help hours provided for making a real difference for the 320 people waiting in the constituency of Cavan-Monaghan?
On page 86 of the programme for Government the Government promised that it would introduce a uniform homecare service in order that all recipients could receive quality support seven days a week, where possible. The reality is completely different. For example, one constituent of mine who suffers from a lifelong condition and is wheelchair bound was hospitalised earlier this year with kidney and lung problems. He was ready to be discharged over a month ago, but he cannot leave the acute hospital owing to a lack of home help hours and now risks picking up hospital acquired infections, while his acute hospital bed is badly needed for other patients. Another constituent suffers from motor neurone disease and urgently needs additional home help hours, but he cannot get them. In the budget the Government promised an extra 1 million home help hours, but the experts reliably inform us that there is a need for over 4 million extra hours to clear the backlog. Will the Government take urgent steps to clear it?
Is the Minister for Health aware that the last time a new home help package was approved in County Offaly was last June? Does he know these facts or is he aware that the provision he supposedly made for an allocation to allow services to stand still will not enable it to stand still? That is an abdication of responsibility on the part of those charged with that responsibility. It is an absolute disgrace that the Minister is presiding over a situation where I can be told that not one home help package was made available in the county for the past six months. Is he proud of this?
No, but when Deputy Cowen was engaging on and agreeing to the budgetary figures for the past number of budgets, I am sure he made sure there was enough of an allocation made available for homecare services because I thought in the whole confidence and supply thing he came and saw the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and agreed to the levels of funding to be allocated for homecare services.
I will not take any lecture from the Deputy. He should not start pointing the gun at me again.
Deputy Smyth raised an important question and the Deputies might afford her the opportunity of receiving an answer to it. She is right. I consider Cavan-Monaghan has received an inappropriate distribution of homecare hours in recent years. Yes, the extra €26 million that will be spent as part of the winter plan between now and the end of the year will allow the provision of additional homecare packages, from which Cavan-Monaghan will benefit. Most importantly, the agreement we reached collectively on the provision of additional homecare services in 2020 will see the allocation of 1 million additional home help hours. This means that in 2020 we will for the first time in quite a few years see a reduction in the homecare waiting list. Of course, we know that the real answer is the putting in place of a statutory homecare scheme, to answer Deputy Michael Collins' question. We will proceed with a pilot scheme next year.
Is the Minister aware that in the mid-west region there is a three-year waiting list for aids and appliances? I have been talking to people who received sanction for aids or appliances up to three years ago and when I contact the HSE, I am consistently told that money has not been provided and that the list is growing. Can the Minister provide reassurance in that regard? When will money be released to accommodate those who have received sanction?
In respect of the €26 million in one-off funding to be made available between now and the end of the year, provision is made for additional funding for aids and appliances. As for how much of the allocation will go to the mid-west region, that is a matter for the HSE, but I will reply directly to the Deputy on it.
Last week the Court of Appeal upheld an order related to the largest illegal dump in the State which had been found in Whitestown in west Wicklow. It upheld the order and gave Wicklow County Council three years to remove all illegal waste from the site, on which it has been shown to have dumped a vast quantity of waste over a couple of decades. There are over 1.4 million tonnes of waste on the site and there have been several court cases about it. In July 2017, after a 53-day hearing in the High Court, Mr. Justice Humphreys concluded that the council had carried out a botched remediation of the site, on which 93% of the waste remains. It has been given three years to clean up the site. What is the Taoiseach doing to ensure the order will be adhered to? There is a massive legal bill. Who will cover that cost and the estimated cost of €100 million to remediate the site and remove all of the illegally dumped waste on it?
I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. I certainly expect anybody and any body to comply with a court order which applies to them. I am not in a position to answer the Deputy's questions today, but I will ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to contact him with a reply.
Outside the gates of Leinster House today there are a couple of hundred retired ESB workers who for the past ten years have received no increase in their pensions. I know that the Taoiseach is familiar with the issue because I raised it this time last year when they protested, but nothing has changed. Retired workers from every other body in receipt of pensions have received an increase in recent years. This applies to contributory and non-contributory pensions and so on. The workers in question who worked for a semi-State company have received nothing. What plans does the Government have to introduce legislation to compel semi-State companies such as the ESB to respect their retired employees and pay them their increased pensions?
This is not the first time retired ESB personnel are outside the gates. They are respectable people who earned their pensions and have been blaggarded and let down. The Ministers have been asked before to try to recognise the great service to the State the people concerned gave in all weather conditions. One of the most essential and important services we have is a fully functional ESB network throughout the country. The workers in question did everything they could on bad nights, Christmas Day and at odd times to make sure the lights were always on.
It is only right that their work be recognised by ensuring they get what they require, namely, fair play.
I am familiar with this issue. Since this Government of Fine Gael and Independents came to office, we have increased the State pension by €15 per week and by €20 per week for those living alone as of January. However, this is a company pension fund. It may well be a State-owned enterprise but it is still a company pension fund. The way company funds work is that during the course of their working life, workers pay into the fund and so too does their employer and investments are made as well with that money. In order to pay an increase from any company pension fund, there has to be enough in the fund to do so. If trustees of a pension fund pay increases that cannot be funded, what happens in the end is that some people end up with no pension at all and we certainly could not have that happening.
My question is to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. I am seeking an update from the Minister in regard to the mica redress scheme, which has been long promised for homeowners in Donegal. Some 5,000 people have been waiting for years at this stage for the scheme to be delivered and for houses to be repaired. I ask the Minister to confirm the status of this scheme. I understand from comments made locally by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, that it is with the Attorney General. Does this mean that the Cabinet is agreed in regard to the structure of the scheme and can the Minister give a commitment in regard to when the scheme will be operational and work on house repairs will commence?
I thank the Deputy for raising the question. I am aware of his commitment to this issue in particular and I thank him and his constituents for their patience in terms of having it resolved. We did allocate additional money this year, following on from a previous Government commitment to the scheme. It does not need to go back to Cabinet. I can confirm to the Deputy that the scheme has already been through Cabinet in terms of approval. In terms of what needs to happen now, the regulations need to be finalised between myself and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. We have engaged with officials from Donegal County Council and Mayo County Council in regard to the operation of the scheme. A final piece of work on the regulations needs to be done and I am told this will happen shortly. As I said, the scheme does not need to go back to Cabinet.
I have been informed that a memorandum in regard to the Limerick to Foynes road and the Adare bypass, which I have raised in this Chamber a number of times, is to go before Cabinet by the end of this month. I would impress upon the powers that be that this would be prioritised and that there would be sign-off for it at Cabinet.
The Deputy is correct. In the last few weeks, we have been able to give the go-ahead to the new road between Castlebar and Westport and between Ballyvourney and Macroom.
We are keen to make progress on some other projects too, including the Adare and Foynes projects. There is a memorandum imminent. I had understood that the timeline was for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to bring it to Cabinet next week but I am not sure if that is yet possible-----
I want to bring two issues to the attention of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan. There was an incident at O'Brien Street in Kanturk this week in which a car was set on fire and damage was caused to property. The closed-circuit television, CCTV, system installed by the community in 2012 or 2013-----
On legislation, there is a commitment to the roll-out of CCTV across the country but the process is tied up in GDPR in regard to the Department of Justice and Equality, An Garda Síochána and the local authorities. The local authorities are refusing to retain the information. I raised this issue in the Chamber with the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, during a previous Order of Business. There is a breakdown between the Garda Síochána and the local authorities in regard to this matter. There has been damage caused to the properties of many of the companies that contributed to the installation of the CCTV system in Kanturk.
Another incident in regard to crime-----
The same issue arises in regard to the hard-fought for CCTV system in Midleton in east Cork, in that An Garda Síochána does not want to take on responsibility for its maintenance and the municipal district in east Cork, formerly Midleton Town Council, has a major issue with it as well. There is a new CCTV operational in the town, which took a lot of fundraising to get up and running, but nobody wants to take on responsibility for it. I seek clarification from the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, in that regard.
I do not have the details of the cases mentioned by Deputies Michael Moynihan and Buckley. I would, however, be happy to engage bilaterally with each of them. I am pleased to inform the House that the CCTV scheme is ongoing but there are a number of issues arising with particular reference to the participation of the local authorities and the consent of the Garda Commissioner and local justice and policing committee, JPC. I would be happy to take details from the Deputies over the course of the day and I can assure them of the assistance of my Department where possible.