Thursday, 14 November 2019
Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation
I return to the so-called winter plan. As we have been speaking, the HSE national director of acute operations has said that no extra acute beds will be opened as part of this plan and that no extra staff will be appointed as part of the acute capacity element of the plan. That summary illustrates that it really is a sham plan that will not make a difference. Will the Minister for Health make himself available next week to answer specific questions on this plan and on the Tánaiste's comments on the report that is being asked of the Rotunda on care levels there?
I do not order the business for next week but I am sure that the Minister will be available to answer any of those questions. I outlined earlier what the winter plan is about, namely keeping people out of hospital and moving people through the hospital system as quickly as possible.
Speaking at the Banking and Payments Federation, the deputy governor of the Central Bank, Mr. Ed Sibley, said that Irish bankers were displaying echoes of pre-crisis arrogance. My view is that it never left them and I am glad that the penny is dropping in the Central Bank.
He went on to say the banks were hitting mortgage holders with double the interest rates needed for them to make a profit, that they were charging new customers between 2% and 3%, while in some cases existing and loyal customers were being charged almost double these rates, at 4.5%. It is complete discrimination. He spoke about how the Central Bank must push the banks to be customer-centred in the process of solving problems with mortgage arrears and selling to vulture funds, etc. I note that a former Minister of State and the Tánaiste's old colleague, former Deputy Brian Hayes, completely disputes this, but his new job is to defend the interests of the banks as opposed to those of consumers.
As the Government is a major shareholder in three banks, what will it do to ensure the arrogance mentioned by the deputy governor can be knocked on the head and that banks will treat customers fairly when it comes to mortgage interest rates?
The upcoming report of the Committee of Public Accounts will highlight again the Government's mismanagement of precious State financial resources. The report is set to highlight overspending in areas such as An Garda Síochána, the Health Service Executive, the direct provision system and a range of other public agencies across the board. For example, in the case of the HSE alone, it will note an alarming level of non-compliance in the procurement of goods and services, often from private agencies. The estimated cost is €506 million or 23% of total expenditure. As I do not have time to instance all of the examples, my question is general. Does the Government take the issue of financial management seriously and what will it do about these matters?
We take the issue of financial management very seriously, but we have not yet had sight of the report. We are effectively relying on briefings and leaks. When the Government receives the detail of the report, it will act on it, as appropriate.
In the bitter November cold 50 workers at the Delfin English language school have been on strike all of this week. They were forced out on strike because of the refusal of their employer to recognise their right to be in a trade union and represented by it. This is the third or fourth week of industrial action. Where is the employment regulation order the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, recommended in order to establish proper minimum pay rates, conditions and rights for workers in the sector? More generally, what will the Government do about the completely precarious number of working hours given and the lack of trade union recognition in the very important English language sector?
The matter of Scoil Colm on Armagh Road in Dublin 12 has been raised with the Minister for Education and Skills a number of times. The Dublin 12 Campaign for ASD Inclusion has asked for it to be considered as an autism-specific school. Where are we in that regard? The issue has been raised a number of times in the past month. Will the Minister meet the parents and the public representatives to discuss it?
I thank the Deputy for raising the matter. Officials of my Department and I met the chief executive and staff of the National Council for Special Education this week. I will ask them to look specifically at this matter in Dublin 12. I will be happy to revert to the Deputy when we receive an update.
On page 92 of the programme for Government a commitment is indicated to deliver a school capital investment programme for extensions and refurbishments to cater for the provision of additional school places with significant funding secured as part of the capital plan. Shortly after it was included in the programme for Government, in 2017 Fine Gael politicians in west Cork announced that the Department of Education and Skills had approved the provision of permanent accommodation for St. Brogan's College in Bandon. They indicated that it was to include four mainstream classrooms and two resource teaching rooms. Even the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, in answering at the time in place of the Taoiseach stated the provision of the extension had been given the green light for the allocation of funding by the Department of Education and Skills and the Government. We are close to 2020 and not one shovel of earth has been turned at St. Brogan's College in Bandon. This is leaving the school and parents in Bandon and surrounding areas in another nightmare scenario as there will be no room at the school for many pupils who will have to go elsewhere. Were the people of Bandon misled and why have the four mainstream classrooms and two resource teaching rooms not been built as promised three years ago?
I am happy to obtain the detail on the project and revert to the Deputy directly. I reassure him that there is a capital plan for 2020 and that capital funding increased from €740 million in 2018 by €200 million in 2019. Activity will continue apace, with €620 million to be spent on schools next year.
I refer to the need for a consultant psychiatrist to be appointed for the deaf community in the southern region. There has been a vacancy for a consultant psychiatrist for quite some time. This information has come to us from people within the deaf community who are awaiting referral and their families. There is also an issue with the code of practice as social workers are not able to refer people to psychiatrists. In the first instance, we must have a consultant psychiatrist appointed for the deaf community within the southern region.
What does the Tánaiste have to say about the comments of a Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, who said gardaí had let down the people living in Border counties? Does the Tánaiste realise the Government let down gardaí there by not giving them resources such as Garda cars and cutting overtime? Rank and file gardaí throughout the country were hurt by the comments made by a Minister of State that they had let down the people in question. It is not right.
The Government's commitment to provide respite care services is addressed in the programme for Government. It claims to be guided by the two principles of equality of opportunity and improving the quality of life for people with a disability. That commitment is not working for ten year old Jonathan Kilcommins, a child with Down's syndrome who is very sensitive to noise and faces other challenges. His parents were told that he would have to wait for two years to access the HSE Maria Goretti centre at Lordship in my constituency. I have written to the Minister for Health about this and his reply confirms the waiting time of more than two years. Will the Government provide additional resources for the Maria Goretti centre which provides respite care for 85 children in order that the other 39 children denied this equality of opportunity and a better quality of life can receive respite care?
I thank the Deputy for his question. I will have to check the details of Jonathan's specific case, although I know that the Deputy has written to me about it. I can say to Jonathan and his family that we are increasing the number of respite care places. We have opened a number of new respite care homes across the country this year and will have similar levels of funding for new respite care homes in 2020. The HSE and my Department are finalising the HSE service plan which I expect to publish in the coming weeks.
Budget 2020 states the HSE will review arrangements for the provision of discretionary medical cards for those with a terminal illness and look at extending medical cards to them. Many of the people concerned and their families do not have time to wait for a review and are being stretched to their physical and mental limits. Worrying about paying medical bills should be the last thing on their minds. As they already have received devastating news about a terminal illness, will the Government provide them with a medical card? We are talking about a very small number of people, but this issue is important. The Minister would receive support across the House in making an announcement on the matter. Will he issue the medical cards as a matter of urgency?
I thank the Deputy for his intervention on this important point. As he knows, the number of discretionary medical cards issued is increasing month on month. The holders are persons whose incomes exceed the financial threshold who but qualify on medical grounds. I agree with the Deputy that we need to alter the rules for persons with a terminal illness. We provided for this in the budget, following the excellent advocacy on the issue by Mr. John Wall. The relevant review is under way by a clinical advisory group and due to conclude before the end of the year. I expect to be in a position at that stage to bring forward good news on the matter.
A Programme for a Partnership Government contains an explicit provision guaranteeing the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts. The decision of the Upper Tribunal in the United Kingdom in the DeSouza case in October highlighted that the foundational birthright guarantee, that is, the right of citizens of Northern Ireland to identify and be accepted as British or Irish or both, was not reflected in British domestic law, policy or practice. The British Government's rationale, which was accepted by the tribunal, is divisive and worrying because it interprets the Good Friday Agreement as concerning only one's identity, not an entitlement to choose one's citizenship. What progress has the Tanáiste made in urging the British Government to give domestic legal effect immediately to the birthright provisions contained in the Good Friday Agreement?
I am aware that the Deputy has been concerned about this issue for some time. I am meeting later today the Secretary of State, with whom I have raised the DeSouza case on several occasions. I expect us to discuss it again this afternoon.
The local improvement scheme, LIS, which is funded by the Department of Rural and Community Development is attempting to play catch-up after a ten-year spell in which there was absolutely no investment under the programme. Rural communities like my own in Cavan-Monaghan, particularly farming communities, are hugely dependent on the scheme. Cavan County Council has more than 220 application forms sitting on shelves since as far back as 2008. In Monaghan County Council there is an eight-year backlog. The Minister, Deputy Ring, has done a terrific job in reintroducing the scheme, but he needs the support of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in implementing it. The Minister in that Department, Deputy Ross, should be playing a more active role, together with the Department of Rural and Community Development, in investing in local authorities by way of the scheme. Otherwise, they will never catch up in dealing with a backlog that stretches back ten years in some cases.
The local improvement scheme should really be within the remit of another Department. However, I reintroduced it because I knew that there was a need for it. To date, I have put €48 million into it. Everybody has to play a part in ensuring the success of the programme, as I have been telling local authorities and their elected representatives as they draw up their budgets. Instead of charging my Department for administering the scheme, I am calling on the local authorities to use their discretionary funding and any other Department that has money to help to fund the LIS. I agree with the Deputy that it is a very important scheme, for which more funding is required. I have another €10 million in my budget for it next year. However, as of last month, a number of counties had not drawn down one penny of the money I allocated last February. I made the allocations in February because local authorities had previously complained that they were getting the moneys too late, yet we are now finding that the funding has not been drawn down. I hope the various roads projects will be completed by the end of the year. More funding is required for the scheme. Everybody has a role to play in that regard.
Will the Tánaiste indicate when the Government will amend the unfair, inequitable, discriminatory and, possibly, illegal tenant purchase scheme? A commitment was given in that regard in the programme for Government and this is the 11th time I have asked about it. I would finally like an answer as to when the scheme will be reformed.
I join Deputy O'Dea in seeking clarity on this matter. It is a national issue, with a significant number of people experiencing discrimination. I am dealing with a case which involves a widow who has lived in her house for 50 years. She has the money to buy out the house, but she cannot do so because she does not have €15,000 a year in earned income. That is very wrong and it is causing serious problems, particularly for rural people. As the houses are not going back on the housing list, those living in them should be given the opportunity to purchase them.
This issue will be dealt with as part of the social housing package the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, intends to bring forward in the coming weeks. We have discussed the issue often in the House and, as Members know, the scheme is very generous. The €15,000 income requirement is in place for scientific reasons, but I agree that it is causing a difficulty. The matter is under review and will be dealt with in the weeks and months ahead.
The Government has committed to having 1 million electric vehicles on the roads by 2030, which is welcome. The problem, however, is that the cost of purchasing such vehicles, compared to a petrol or diesel car, is far too high. Moreover, the batteries must be replaced after eight years at a crazy cost of more than €10,000. On Claire Byrne's television programme last Monday a family spoke about all of the good things they were doing to combat climate change. They had test driven an electric car and were very impressed with it. The reality, however, is that electric vehicles are too expensive for most families. After eight years electric vehicle owners must either replace the battery at a cost of more than €10,000 or scrap the car. How does scrapping cars help in dealing with climate change? The Minister, Deputy Bruton, initially provided funding for batteries, but down the road can some grant be given to help families and individuals who would like to purchase an electric car?
We are in a transition process from diesel and petrol cars to electric cars and that transition will continue for many years. We have set the target that, by 2030, electric cars will make up one third of the vehicles on the roads. To support the achievement of that target, we have in place a €5,000 grant, a €5,000 concession on vehicle registration tax, VRT, a €600 grant for installing a home charger, a lower rate of motor tax and a half-rate charge on tolls. It is a significant package and there has been good progress made. This year we will see close to 4% of drivers opting for electric or plug-in hybrid cars, which is double the number last year. In addition, we will double the number of public chargers this year, at a significant cost to the Exchequer. These measures will support people in making the switch. The cost of batteries is coming down and new technologies will help to make electric vehicles the self-evident choice.
In recent weeks the House debated the failure of Irish Water to provide a service for the 600,000 people affected by the boil water notice. I wish to highlight, not for the first time, another failure of Irish Water. In Athlone town the water supply has been turned off more often at night than it has been on in the last quarter. This is having a devastating effect on people who are trying to run businesses and parents who are trying to rear their families. The council has been advised that there is no plan to upgrade the treatment plant in the next three years. I have raised this matter twice on the Order of Business and been assured that the relevant Minister will get back to me directly, but that has not happened.
The Deputy has asked me about this issue before. I told him that I would get the Minister responsible to respond to him directly. If that has not happened, I will make sure it is done today. I understand we will have statements in the House on water services the week after next, which will give the Deputy an opportunity to express his concerns. In the meantime, I will get the Minister to contact him today, if I can.
My question concerns the absence of a psychologist for school-age children in the north west, including counties Sligo and Leitrim. I have received an email from a parent in north Leitrim whose eight year old daughter has displayed various disorders and emotional dysfunction. She is on the list awaiting an autism spectrum disorder, ASD, assessment, but there is no psychologist for school-age children in the area. The parent to whom I refer has received a communication from the service informing her that the child is at No. 67 on a list of 68 children. In recent weeks 50 children in the region have been transferred to access this service in Northern Ireland by way of a special fund put in place for them.
That fund is now exhausted. This child's mother has been told that she will have to wait up to eight months for an assessment. This child cannot attend school full time; she only goes part time. She lashes out at other children and at teachers, she damages property, she runs out on the road, and she climbs out of windows. Her situation needs to be resolved, and quickly.
I will be happy to get the detail on that individual case from the Deputy. At a wider level, I assure the House that we are looking at a new school inclusion model. This will enhance communication between the Department of Education and Skills, the HSE, and the Department of Health. A pilot scheme is up and running whereby speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, behavioural therapists, and teachers operate in the same setting. The Minister for Health and I are working closely on this. With regard to this specific urgent case, I ask the Deputy to give me the detail.
The Forestry Act 2014 was meant to ensure forestry operations and activities were in compliance with the principles of sustainable forest management. I assure the Tánaiste it is having that effect. The waiting period for companies and individuals applying for tree-felling licences is beyond all. This is having an impact on timber processors who are trying to budget for the future and on people who availed of forestry grants 20 years ago and who are now seeking to fell trees as a means of generating income for themselves. When people apply for tree-felling licences, it is taking ages for them to be processed. Is there anything the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine can do? Is this a delaying tactic or is there a shortage of staff? I ask that the matter be investigated.
I have publicly acknowledged the difficulties being encountered. There is a delay but we have put a number of measures in place. New procedures are being developed. We are well aware of the issues. This has arisen, in the main, on foot of appropriate assessments and judgments of the European Court of Justice against Ireland, to which we have to adhere. We are, however, working hard on putting a new procedure in place. With that in mind, earlier this year I commissioned a study on processing procedures within the Department. That will be published on 28 November. On foot of that, we will develop new procedures and we will channel additional resources both for felling and for approval of licence applications.
An nglacfaidh an Rialtas seasamh ar mhaithe leis an nGaeilge sa chóras oideachais? An ndéanfaidh sé impí ar Choimisiún na Scrúduithe Stáit tarraingt siar ón bpáipéar scrúduithe a d'fhoilsigh sé an tseachtain seo don tsraith shóisearach? Tá múinteoirí Gaeilge ag rá go soiléir go bhfuil ísliú céime i gceist leis an bpáipéar sin, go bhfuil sé scannalach, agus cur ceap magaidh é. Iompóidh sé daltaí i gcoinne an teanga náisiúnta. Tá sé tubaisteach go bhfuil an cúrsa sóisearach fós dírithe ar an litríocht seachas ar an teanga labhartha.
Gabhaim buíochas as an cheist. Chonaic mé an ráiteas san Irish Times inné faoin imní atá ar na múinteoirí scoile uilig. Bhí mé i dteagmháil le mo chuid oifigí agus leis an State Examinations Commission, SEC. Dá mbeinn in ann solúbthacht ná cuidiú a chur ar fáil maidir leis an scéal sin faoin teastas sóisearach, bheinn sásta é sin a dhéanamh. Maidir le cúrsaí an lá inné, tá am ann fosta. B'fhéidir go mbeadh breis ama de dhíth. Ba shin an fadhb a bhí ann inné. Tiocfaidh mé ar ais nuair atá níos mo eolais agam.
My question relates to agriculture. There has been a delay in payments to farmers whose farms have been subject to satellite mapping review. The single farm payment should have been paid in September and the area aid payment in October but those who have been subject to a mapping process have had their payments delayed. They need this money to pay the bills of their farming enterprises throughout the year. Will the Tánaiste ensure that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine makes sure these payments are made urgently?
As a former Minister in that Department and as someone who has applied for many payments at different times, I understand the mapping issue but until the Department gets clarity on the size of the individual parcels of land in a holding, it is difficult for it to pay out under the rules of the Common Agricultural Policy, to which it must adhere. I will, however, get the Minister to reply to Deputy Harty directly. If there are significant delays, that is an issue which needs to be resolved.
Tá ceist agam don Aire Oideachais agus Scileanna. I raise the issue of the incredibly challenging situation regarding school places for children with autism spectrum disorder, ASD, in Dublin 2, Dublin 4, Dublin 8 and especially in Dublin 6 and Dublin 6W. In an area of 80 sq. km, there are more than 80 primary schools, but only three have an ASD unit. No unit in south Dublin will have a place available for the next three years at least. Ultimately, there is no service in south Dublin. We need to support principals in what is a challenging role. They continue to do a great job. We need to be facilitated in giving these assets to schools. Will the Minister advise me of the actions the Department is taking in this regard?
This issue with regard to south Dublin has been raised by a number of Deputies on all sides of the House. I assure the Deputy that we are conscious of the demand for places. The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, has been in touch with many individual schools. I have decided to invoke my powers under the legislation for a second time. I invoked it in respect of Dublin 15 last April. This unilateral invocation of powers under legislation is not good enough in itself. This issue has to be resolved on the basis of persuasion and partnership. I implore the schools to stay in touch with the NCSE and my officials. If they have concerns and fears - and I know there are concerns about support systems for schools - we will alleviate them if we can. At the end of the day, the demand comes from mothers and fathers whose children do not have a place. That is the immediate priority. It is with reluctance that I invoke the legislation again and direct schools to add classes. This will not work without partnership. There is a very good example in Dublin 15. People, including Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, showed leadership in this regard and we now have the places we sought back in April. Invoking legislation is not in itself good enough. We also have to persuade people.
Ba mhaith liom ceist a chur ar an Aire Sláinte. Today is World Diabetes Day. This year's theme is diabetes and the family. Today we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Frederick Banting who developed insulin in 1921. There are 225,000 people in Ireland living with diabetes, 20,000 of whom have type 1 diabetes. The Minister introduced FreeStyle Libre for children and young adults aged between four and 21. This has been a game-changer. It has been positively received by all those who are able to access the device. The next step is to roll out the FreeStyle Libre device for adults older than 21 who have type 1 diabetes. Does the Minister have an update on this? Is it something at which he is looking?
I thank Deputy Butler for raising this important matter on World Diabetes Day. She is correct; as she has generously said, the FreeStyle Libre device has made a significant difference to the many people who have tried it. I know, however, that there is a cohort of adults who would like access to it. This is a decision for the HSE to make using its various assessment processes. Instinctively I would like to see it happen. I will seek an update from the HSE on its progress in this regard. My understanding was that the executive intended to evaluate this measure after the device had been made available to the younger cohort. I will revert to the Deputy directly.
The winter initiative is being launched today but there is a specific problem in Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe. Two thirds of the public health nurse posts in the community are vacant. Oncology and chemotherapy patients in the hospital cannot be discharged because of the embargo and the shortage of public health nurses.
Will the Minister intervene directly to address this issue? There is no point in investing in a hospital if patients cannot be discharged back into the community because of the lack of community nurses.
I thank Deputy Naughten for inviting me to visit Portiuncula Hospital recently. It is really excellent and I enjoyed my visit to it. Yes, I will follow up on the matter with the HSE. At the core of the winter plan is the idea of having patients discharged from hospital back into the community. I will raise the Deputy's concerns directly with the CEO of the HSE.
Dírím an cheist seo, maidir le cúrsaí banaltrachta i gceantar Gaeltachta Mhúscraí, ar an Aire Sláinte. It is almost nine months since the public health nurse retired in Baile Bhuirne and temporary services have since been provided. There is real concern locally that it is taking such a long time to find a replacement and that services are also being withdrawn gradually back into towns such as Macroom. Baile Bhuirne health centre served a very large rural area extending west from Cluain Droichead, Cill na Martra and Inchigeelagh to Béal an Ghaorthaid, Cúil Aodha agus Baile Bhuirne. Having a nurse based locally was a key feature. Will the Minister indicate when an appointment will be made? Will he raise the issue with the HSE to ensure it will be done without further delay and that the appointment will be based locally in Baile Bhuirne health centre?