Tuesday, 3 December 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The business this week shall be as set out in the second revised report of the Business Committee dated 2 December 2019.
In relation to today's business, it is proposed that No. 14, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Regulations 2019, back from committee, and No. 15, motion re financial resolution of the Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2019, shall be taken without debate and any division demanded thereon shall be taken immediately; and should a division be in progress at 8 p.m., Private Members’ Business shall be taken for two hours on the conclusion of the division, and the Dáil shall adjourn on the conclusion of Private Members’ Business.
In relation to Wednesday’s business, it is proposed that No. 16, motion re Planning and Development (Amendment) Regulations 2019, referral to committee, shall be taken without debate and any division demanded thereon shall be taken immediately.
In relation to Thursday’s business, it is proposed that No. 44, statements on housing solutions, the statements of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons of parties and groups, or Deputies nominated in their stead, shall not exceed ten minutes each, with ten minutes for all other Deputies and a five-minute response from a Minister or Minister of State, and all Deputies may share time; and No. 45, statements on Scouting Ireland, the statements of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons of parties and groups, or a Deputy nominated in their stead, shall not exceed ten minutes each, with five minutes for all other Deputies and a five-minute response from a Minister or Minister of State, and all Deputies may share time.
A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, we object to the idea that we will pass, without debate in the House, a motion to support handing over €17 million to the greyhound industry. It is utterly scandalous, not only considering we normally have a debate but also because it is in the same year that saw the "RTÉ Investigates" documentary-----
Bobby Aylward, Maria Bailey, Seán Barrett, John Brassil, Declan Breathnach, Pat Breen, Colm Brophy, Richard Bruton, Joan Burton, Catherine Byrne, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Pat Casey, Shane Cassells, Jack Chambers, Lisa Chambers, Michael Collins, Niall Collins, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, Barry Cowen, Michael Creed, John Curran, Michael D'Arcy, Jim Daly, Pat Deering, Regina Doherty, Stephen Donnelly, Timmy Dooley, Andrew Doyle, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Peter Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Noel Grealish, John Halligan, Simon Harris, Seán Haughey, Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Healy-Rae, Martin Heydon, Brendan Howlin, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, Alan Kelly, Seán Kyne, John Lahart, James Lawless, Marc MacSharry, Josepha Madigan, Micheál Martin, Charlie McConalogue, Helen McEntee, Mattie McGrath, Michael McGrath, Joe McHugh, Tony McLoughlin, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, Kevin Moran, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Margaret Murphy O'Mahony, Eoghan Murphy, Denis Naughten, Hildegarde Naughton, Tom Neville, Carol Nolan, Darragh O'Brien, Jim O'Callaghan, Kate O'Connell, Willie O'Dea, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Kevin O'Keeffe, Fiona O'Loughlin, Frank O'Rourke, Jan O'Sullivan, Pádraig O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, John Paul Phelan, Michael Ring, Noel Rock, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan, Eamon Scanlon, Niamh Smyth, Robert Troy, Leo Varadkar, Katherine Zappone.
Mick Barry, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Tommy Broughan, Joan Collins, Catherine Connolly, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Pearse Doherty, Dessie Ellis, Martin Ferris, Kathleen Funchion, Séamus Healy, Gino Kenny, Martin Kenny, Catherine Martin, Mary Lou McDonald, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Joe O'Brien, Louise O'Reilly, Maureen O'Sullivan, Eoin Ó Broin, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Maurice Quinlivan, Eamon Ryan, Róisín Shortall, Bríd Smith, Brian Stanley, Mark Ward.
We know that the report from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists was published at 3 p.m. Information about it is appearing on Twitter. We need a full discussion on the report. We heard alarming statistics today that 300 out of 1,000 women had discordant results.
Out of respect to everyone, the women who participated in the audit deserve that people read the report. It has only been published and so no one has done that yet. Those women also deserve that the Opposition Deputies attend a briefing with the experts from RCOG who carried out the report.
Representatives from RCOG have also agreed to go before the Committee on Health, and I and the CEO of the HSE are before that committee next week as well. I have no difficulty in facilitating a debate. Out of respect for the women involved, however, and the lessons derived from the Scally report, which criticised the conduct of this House in the past on this issue, people should at least read the report first-----
Will Deputy Smith consider the offer from the Minister? Is the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business regarding planning and development agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Thursday's business agreed to? Agreed. I would like the attention of the Deputies for one minute. I have a long list of those wishing to raise questions on the Order of Business. I remind all Deputies that only questions, and not statements, on promised legislation should be raised. I ask for order, please.
It is important that all of the Deputies should know this, because I have to implement Standing Orders. Deputies should now ask questions on promised legislation or on the Order of Business. This is not an opportunity to take a circuitous way of raising questions that can be dealt with under parliamentary questions or Topical Issue debates. I have a long list of Deputies who wish to speak and I ask the Deputies present to assist me, please, in ensuring we can get through this as quickly as possible. I call first, as is customary, Deputy Micheál Martin.
The programme for Government and the legislative programme are clear regarding climate change. They state that the global image our country is to be transformed so that we will be recognised as one of the cleanest and safest environments in the world. That is an exaggeration and a bit of hyperbole, to say the least. The failure of the Government to legislate for a complete ban on smoky coal reflects badly on it and flies in the face of the noble aspirations in the programme for Government.
It was 1990 when former Minister, Mary Harney, brought in a smoky coal ban. We now need definite, robust action. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, when he last answered me here, promised that the Minister would be engaging with the Attorney General and that he would deal with this issue robustly. It is a terrible indictment of the Government that it is not standing up to vested interests from outside the State that are threatening to sue. I ask the Government to get on with enacting a ban and sign this measure into law. We are going backwards at the moment regarding the quality of air, and recent surveys have shown that.
I thank Deputy Micheál Martin for raising the important issue of air quality. We had a detailed discussion about this matter just last evening at the Cabinet sub-committee on the environment. We acknowledge that poor air quality has a severe impact on people's health. We are keen to act on this issue, and things have changed since the 1990s. We now know that peat briquettes and wood are as bad for air quality as smoky coal. Switching from smoky coal to those other solid fuels does nothing for air quality. There is also a serious risk of a legal challenge being taken on that basis that could bring the entire smoky coal ban down. We do not want to risk that happening because that would be bad for air quality as well. We are, however, moving towards a solution, and I believe the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, Deputy Bruton, will be able to make an announcement on this topic in the next few weeks.
The review from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, RCOG, has now been published, as the Taoiseach indicated. He stated earlier that this would be a difficult day for the women concerned and their families. I have no doubt it will be. The Taoiseach also expressed the hope that this would be another step along the road to finding out what happened and rebuilding public confidence in our screening programmes. I share that hope.
We have a duty as public representatives to uncover exactly what happened and why, and to rebuild that confidence that we all desire. To do that, not alone do representatives from the RCOG need to appear before the committee, as the Taoiseach indicated, but we need a debate and discussion and an opportunity for questions and answers on the floor of this House as well. Will the Taoiseach specify when he envisages that debate and that opportunity for a question and answer session with the Minister for Health taking place?
I said something else as well that I meant sincerely. When the CervicalCheck audit report came out in May, we in this House did not cover ourselves in glory and nor did large portions of the media. I specifically recall Deputy McDonald making statements that had to be taken back and her party's spokesperson sent out tweets that had to be deleted. Let us not have that happen all over again. This is a report from the RCOG and not a Government report. The right thing is for people to get a chance to read it and that representatives from the RCOG be allowed to come in and answer questions on its report. After that, then by all means let us have a debate in this House, including statements or questions. Let us not, however, turn this into a political football. It should not be.
Out of respect for the women affected and their families, let us get this process right this time. Let us read the actual report, and not on Twitter. I am not referring to Deputy McDonald but another Deputy.
Let us read the report and have a chance to consider it. We can then let the people from the RCOG who wrote the report explain it and answer questions. After mature reflection and consideration, let us then have a debate in this House with questions. Let us not do all over again what happened two years ago. I ask that we please not do that.
According to the latest labour force survey, there are, thankfully, more than 2.3 million people employed in the country, but also some 128,000 unemployed people. Alongside that measure of unemployment, nearly 1.5 million people of working age are not in the labour force. Our employment rate is less than 60%, compared with more than 70% in many developed European countries. Part of that gap is explained by historical patterns of gender difference in the labour market and part by the number of young people in education. We need to address both of those issues.
Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. One of the calls being made is to increase opportunities for people with disabilities to access jobs. Tens of thousands of people with disabilities are frustrated at being deprived of the opportunity to work. There may be a requirement in some instances for employers to make minor adjustments to the workspace to facilitate a wheelchair or to make changes in work times to facilitate someone who needs to attend regular appointments etc. Some employers may be worried about extra costs, but we really need to get to grips with this issue. Does the Taoiseach agree with my views on this matter? What is the Government going to do to facilitate those with disabilities to participate fully in the labour force?
I thank Deputy Howlin for raising the fact that today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. It is appropriate that we discuss this. As Deputy Howlin points out, many people with disabilities would like to work if they can be assisted and facilitated to do so. There are, however, many barriers to doing so, and our job as a Government and a Legislature is to remove some of those barriers. Examples of what we are doing include situations such as where a person might be receiving disability allowance and then takes up employment. People in that situation can now keep their free travel for at least five years, and that kicked in last year. We have also changed the medical card limits in respect of the disability allowance. Many people on disability payments fear losing their medical card if they go to work, so we have changed the rules in that area.
We have also changed the disability allowance rules to provide that if a disabled person takes up work and it does not work out, and sometimes it does not, he or she can get the disability allowance payment restarted quickly. There is also a grant for employers to make adaptions to the workplace to facilitate people with disabilities, particularly physical disabilities. Sadly, that grant is undersubscribed every year. It is paid for by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. We would like to see it availed of more. We have set a target of increasing the number of people with disabilities working in the public service from 3% to 6%. Those are the kinds of thing we are taking action on. I thank the Deputy for drawing the attention of the House to the fact that today is International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
Later this evening, we will discuss the gamut of policy failures of this Government in the area of housing and homelessness. Because People Before Profit requested it, on Thursday we will discuss solutions to the housing crisis, in case the Taoiseach is tempted to say we do not want to discuss solutions. There was a whole chapter in the programme for Government on "Ending the Housing Shortage and Homelessness". Last night, the foremost housing campaigner in this country singled out one issue to be addressed. He said the key issue is the need to stop the flow of people into homelessness from the private rented sector because of evictions on the grounds of sale. Does the Taoiseach think he knows better than Peter McVerry? If he does not, and if he respects that Peter McVerry knows what he is saying, will he remove the money message from the Anti-Evictions Bill 2018 of People Before Profit and Solidarity, which proposes to do precisely that, namely to end sale of a property as a ground for eviction? Peter McVerry has identified this as the single major reason that people are going into homelessness.
With regard to homelessness, the best way we can help people who are in housing insecurity is by increasing the number of homes being delivered. Rebuilding Ireland set out a target of 125,000 homes by the end of 2021. So far under Rebuilding Ireland, 64,000 new homes have been delivered, 26,000 homes are on site in the last 12 months and a further 30,000 homes have planning permission. We are increasing the supply of new homes dramatically. For those who do not yet have their homes-----
I am getting to it. The Deputy spoke for a minute and I am going to speak for a minute. Earlier this year, we passed the most progressive rental reforms we have passed in three years. That was done with the majority support of this House because that is the only way things can get done here. The Government is in the minority. I cannot bring forward legislation and get it through without the support of this House. The reforms in question were very important. Earlier this year, the Taoiseach and I met representatives of the main non-governmental organisations in the country to talk about the issue of rented houses going up for sale and about why we could not do what is being proposed by Fr. McVerry, the reasons behind that-----
The Irish National Teachers Organisation has welcomed the reduction in class sizes in almost every school in the country. It has made the point that there has been a failure to reduce class sizes in DEIS band 1 schools. Will the Minister consider reducing class sizes in those schools on a pro ratabasis compared with every other school? Has the Minister received the upcoming report on class sizes in DEIS schools? If so, will he release it at his earliest convenience?
As the Deputy will be aware, the recent budget was framed in the expectation and fear of a no-deal Brexit. It was not a budget I wanted to be part of in terms of education. From a point of view of responsibility and the point of view of the country, there was an acceptance that we would make indicative moves on the pupil-teacher ratio. That is why we reduced the ratio in respect of schools with four teachers or fewer. We were not in a position to do anything more. The Deputy will be aware that we are spending €120 million on interventions through DEIS. This is working well. It is bridging the gap in terms of schools that were disadvantaged prior to DEIS. I want to build on this area. I am having discussions with my party colleagues on how we can build on the €120 million DEIS intervention.
The programme for Government explicitly mentions the agriculture and food sector. I note the presence of the Minister, Deputy Creed. The Independent Farmers of Ireland group, which manned the factory gates during the recent protests, is still locked out from the talks. All the usual suspects, including the non-independent chairperson - the former Secretary General of the Department, Mr. Dowling - are at the talks. Will the Minister include the people from the Independent Farmers of Ireland group in the talks? They were here last week. They represent those who have lost faith in their organisations. The group has organised at a national level and is registered. Will the Minister allow representatives of the Independent Farmers of Ireland group into the talks? They have been approved. They are representative. It cannot be business as usual, with Meat Industry Ireland and the usual suspects inside there excluding the people who matter on the ground.
I am pleased to say that talks at the beef market task force resumed today after an attempt to begin them in October. There are six farm organisations representing the farmers of Ireland in the room: the Irish Farmers Association, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association, the Beef Plan movement, Macra na Feirme and Meat Industry Ireland. I acknowledge the point that has consistently been made by Deputy Mattie McGrath. We negotiated with the Independent Farmers of Ireland group in September. After those talks concluded, the Department received notification from the negotiators that the Independent Farmers of Ireland group was dissolving because it had achieved what it set out to achieve. Subsequently, we have received representations from two different organisations claiming to be the Independent Farmers of Ireland group. I ask Deputy McGrath to say which of these organisations he is seeking to have represented at the talks.
I asked the Taoiseach a question about Holles Street hospital a few weeks ago. In his response, he spoke about three proposed new hospital buildings. He continued:
All three of those hospitals, including Holles Street, are privately owned. The difference is that when the new ones are built, they will be publicly owned. They will be State-owned buildings on State land.
I welcome that statement by the Taoiseach. I am checking that he stands by that statement.
I will answer as best I can. The Rotunda hospital will go to Connolly hospital, which is owned by the State. The Coombe will go to the St. James's campus, which is owned by the State. The arrangements for Holles Street hospital moving to St. Vincent's Hospital have to be worked out. My understanding is that it involves a 99-year lease. The building is owned by the State and the land is State-controlled at the very least.
The injunctions against two farmers that I raised with the Taoiseach last week have been lifted. I do not know whether there was Government intervention. It is very welcome that the beef task force talks have been convened today. We wish the talks every success. If they are to succeed, we need to have everyone at the table. The process must be inclusive. In answer to an earlier contribution the Taoiseach questioned who is the Independent Farmers of Ireland group. I agree that the situation was fluid over the summer. I contacted the Minister, Deputy Creed, on this matter yesterday. I have seen correspondence from the solicitor for the Independent Farmers of Ireland group in relation to the organisation being properly constituted from W.A. Smithwick solicitors in Kilkenny. It set out very clearly that the organisation is properly constituted and has elected representatives.
I do not mean to be obstreperous or awkward when I say it is important that these people are at the table and are brought into the process. I am trying to be helpful, as I was when I asked about the injunctions last week. We need to get to the far end of this.
-----there are six groups representing farmers in the talks.
We have correspondence from the initial representative body, the Independent Farmers of Ireland, which communicated to my Department that it is now dissolved. No sooner had that happened than two separate groups were claiming to be the successors in title to the Independent Farmers of Ireland, namely, the group to which Deputy Stanley referred and another organisation. The voice of beef farmers is adequately and professionally represented in the context of the talks. I ask the Deputy, insofar as he raised the issue, on behalf of which Independent Farmers of Ireland group he makes his representations.
Page 57 of A Programme for a Partnership Government commits to implementing the national dementia strategy. The largest and best dementia care home in Ireland is St. Joseph's in Shankill. In spite of promises from the Minister, Deputy Harris, on the floor of this House that it would remain open, it is now weeks away from closure. The board announced that, as of last Friday, it will no longer take in new residents. I am in contact with the chief executive officer and I have been told that the facility is weeks away from closure. There is fear and concern in the community. Will the Taoiseach give a commitment to the patients, volunteers, staff and families that, regardless of what happens in terms of the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, St. Joseph's will remain open?
Last month, on 7 November, I raised the issue of St. Joseph's dementia care home in Shankill following an announcement from the board that it was facing a brick wall, with potential closure of its day care and residential facilities. This is the result of gross underfunding year on year. On 7 November, the Minister gave a commitment in this Chamber that the facility would not close. The board of St. Joseph's has engaged with the process and the National Treatment Purchase Fund but, unfortunately, that engagement came to an unsatisfactory conclusion last Thursday.
The Minister needs to give a commitment that funding will be found and that the doors of this facility will remain open. I want him to give that undertaking to the people and families who are suffering anxiety-----
Since this issue was raised, the Government has provided more funding to St. Joseph's through the HSE. More funding has been provided and that secures the day care facility. In regard to the residential facility, people can be politically disingenuous if they wish but no politician can direct the NTPF in regard to the rate. It is a matter of public record that the NTPF has offered to pay more. It is also a matter of record that this is not enough for St. Joseph's in terms of its sustainability.
If Deputy Donnelly was in this seat, he would not able to change the position. The law is very clear in regard to the NTPF. The process has not been exhausted in regard to the NTPF. An appeal has not been lodged. I reiterate the position that I intend to keep-----
The Deputy is being disingenuous. I intend to keep the doors of St. Joseph's open. I will use every legal tool I have available to that end. I call on St. John of God, which does an awful lot of work in this area, to step in and resolve this problem. We will keep this facility open and we will do it through the process.
On the programme for Government, this Government promised that it would assist people to remain in their homes for as long as possible through home help service provision. However, in Kerry, for a person to get home help another person must die. Why is it that Kerry has been without funding for the provision of home help services since last May? The wife of an elderly man of 92 years of age was on Radio Kerry over three days pleading for home help services for him. I made representations on behalf of an 87 year old woman and I was told that someone would have to die before she would get services. Why is funding not being provided for home help service provision in Kerry?
There is a serious problem across the country. I am very aware of the problem in Laois-Offaly where, I am told, owing to budget restraints, no more home help hours can be allocated. It is stated in the programme for Government that this Government is committed to supporting our elderly people, yet they are not being given even a few hours of home help. I ask the Minister to intervene urgently, in particular in Laois-Offaly where there is a terrible situation in regard to home help hours.
It is not right or fair that the wife of a 92 year old man has to go on Radio Kerry to plead with the Minister to provide him with home help so that he can come home. It is a disgrace, it is wrong and I ask the Minister please to do something about it.
The law that this House passes prohibits me, as Minister for Health, from directing the HSE to provide a service to any individual. However, we have a job to do in terms of the provision of adequate resources. We are funding 18 million home help hours this year. We have provided more funding between now and the end of the year through the winter plan and we will be providing 1 million additional home care hours in 2020. I will specifically ensure that in regard to Laois-Offaly and Kerry there is a fair distribution of those hours.
At a meeting last week of the Committee of Public Accounts, I questioned the Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners on the issue of the removal of flat rate allowances as the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance had told me in this Chamber that this was not a matter for them, even though it impacted some 600,000 workers and many hundreds of miners in my home town of Navan. Last night, on the eve of an election, the Minister for Finance pulled a rabbit out of his magician's hat and announced that a tax strategy group would be established to examine this matter. When did the Taoiseach and Paul Daniels dream up this group, as the Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners had no clue about it last Thursday? How many days after the general election is it due to report back to Government and hit these 600,000 workers.
I did not think we were on the eve of a general election. Maybe I have been counting the numbers wrong. I will have to come back to the Deputy with an answer to his question as I am not familiar with the matter.
The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, will be aware that his Department provides substantial funding to Teagasc, the work of which I commend. Does the Minister have any say in how it spends the substantial funding it receives from the Department? I ask that question because it is rumoured that Teagasc farm walks in Cork south-west are to cease. These walks are not only educational and informative, they are a social outlet for many farmers. Does the Minister have a say in how Teagasc spends its funding and, if so, will he ensure that the farm walks continue?
I thank the Deputy for the question. Teagasc is an independent statutory body established under legislation in this House. It has a substantial budget and it deals with research and education, critically, for farmers, which includes knowledge transfer, farm walks, etc. I am unaware of the points raised by the Deputy and I would be very surprised if they had any veracity.
On the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill 2019, in rural Ireland one of the most reliable bus services is the bingo bus. On foot of media coverage over the weekend, concerns have been raised by the operators of bingo events, in particular Midleton CBS Past Pupils Union. These organisations hold bingo events to raise funds for local clubs, which distribute the money fairly and legally. The proposed legislation provides for a cap of 50% on the prize money, which is based on the night's takings. In other words, if an event takes in €700 on the night, the maximum prize fund will be €350. There is another issue, namely, the roll-over jackpots. How is this covered in the legislation? If the Taoiseach wants to avoid an elderly lady swinging a bag at him, he will need to sort this out.
I have no truck with the professional organisers of bingo events. I want to focus on the small bingo operators. Bingo is a rural pastime. Small minibuses collect people and bring them to and from bingo once or twice a week in the nearest town. The operators make approximately €100 a month.
This will cap that. It is a social thing and that needs to be taken into consideration. I am not talking about professional gamblers or people who make big money.
I understand is that there are two sections in the Bill. Section 11 allows a lottery permit, which the Department tells us is what smaller bingo operations will come under. They will not be restricted in that way unlike where there is a lottery licence. It would be very useful if there was clarity on that as there are many people, urban and rural, many of whom we saw outside the gates of Leinster House earlier, who play bingo and enjoy the social gathering. It would not be in the interests of anyone on these benches that anything would be done that would in any way inhibit the enjoyment that these people have. Clarity would be very useful on that because it is badly required.
There are no plans to cause difficulties to bingo players. What is intended is a legislative change that will ensure that charities receive a fair share from bingo operators who act as their agents, that is a minimum of 25% of proceeds. These measures will increase transparency by placing some additional responsibilities on applicants for lottery licences. It is right and proper that the charities, as the licence holders, get a return for their charity. Over time, bingo operators arose to act as agents for charities and sports clubs. These agents were allowed by law to take up to 40% of the proceeds and charities frequently ended up with very little, which is wrong. To ensure this no longer happens the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, proposes that a maximum of 25% of proceeds can go to operators, 25% to charities and 50% to prize winners. It is simply designed to ensure that the charitable purposes such as the sports clubs, school renovations and so on, will benefit as intended and as bingo players would expect.
Page 95 of the programme for Government, under education, says the Government is committed to delivering the school capital investment programme. Three years ago, the people of Bandon were promised a four classrooms and a teachers' resource room in St. Brogan's College to cope with the huge demand for entry to the school. Two years on, not a shovel has been turned, leaving a nightmare for dozens of parents who applied for entry to the school. It is compounded by Hamilton High School's inability to cater for any more first year boys next September, leaving Bandon in a crisis of not being able to cater for a large number of boys seeking admission to first year in September 2020. Parents are being advised to take these children to Cork city, which is a 45-minute drive. Will the Taoiseach and Minister for Education and Skills meet the schools in Bandon to see what can be done in the short or long term to avert the crisis for many parents in Bandon?
Sorry, I ask the Deputy to hold on. There are many Deputies who are using body language to indicate to me that they were first, second or third. I can only take Deputies as I find them and I have time to write down their names. We are six minutes over. I ask Deputy Breathnach to show the others how to ask a question.
The programme for Government gives a commitment to tackle crime, and CCTV surveillance plays a large role in that. There are two schemes, the Garda CCTV scheme and the community scheme. The community scheme is not working. Twenty-two applications have drawn down about €500,000 of a €3 million fund. Will the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice and Equality examine what statutory instruments or laws can be changed such that the data controller would involve a combination of the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána and the CEOs of local authorities to draw down this money and deal with criminality and crime, particularly in the Border area.
We are very keen to see the money for community CCTV drawn down. There have been difficulties in some places around who or who is not the data controller. The Deputy raised this with me personally earlier and I will ask my office to look at it and see if there is anything that can be done to make these programmes more operational.
The Taoiseach will recall that he launched the national drugs strategy some years ago, which is effectively a partnership approach between the voluntary, statutory and community sectors. More recently, the community sector is concerned that it is not having meaningful input into the strategy and its implementation. It wrote to the Taoiseach about four weeks ago requesting a meeting, which the Taoiseach acknowledged. Will he agree to that meeting and can it be organised during this Dáil session?
It is not my practice to organise meetings on the floor of the House. The Deputy will appreciate that I receive a lot of requests and my diary is now full until the recess. However, I will meet them as soon as it is practical to do so.
The Taoiseach mentioned the importance of marking the International Day of People with Disabilities. What about people who have a disability and are looking for respite care? I raised this with the Taoiseach last week and hoped to get the Minister for Health today. We were told that Cuisle was closing on Friday. Families are being pushed towards a hotel model. Unfortunately, for many of the people who used to go to Cuisle, hotels are not suitable. They are not inclusive places. Is there some sort of plan for a replacement for those people caught in this situation?
I am not in a position to update the Deputy. It is a decision for the Irish Wheelchair Association. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, was due to meet it, but I am not sure if that has happened.
Yesterday, I met pharmacists in Kildare representing 74 different pharmacies. Those pharmacies received 2.5 million visits last year. We all know the value of pharmacies in local communities. In addition to the medicines and prescriptions they dispense, the interactions they provide in smaller rural areas are very important. The proposed cuts announced on 25 October to pharmacists are unreasonable, unfair and unjustifiable. They make a mockery of Sláintecare. They will particularly damage pharmacies in small, rural and disadvantaged areas. There is no doubt that should the cuts go ahead, pharmacies will close. A meeting will take place with the Irish Pharmacy Union, IPU, on 5 December. Will the Taoiseach reconsider these cuts and not proceed with them?
Department officials met an Irish Pharmacy Union delegation on two occasions and received a detailed submission from the IPU on 8 November. The submission is being considered by the Department in the context of the statutory fee-setting process under the Public Service Pay and Pensions Act and the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest, FEMPI, Acts. The Minster for Health is due to meet the IPU to discuss the matter further.
The programme for Government gives a commitment to enhance our primary school facilities. I am glad the Minister for Education and Skills is present. Last night, I attended a meeting in Castlegregory national school, roll number 11746Q. It is a five-teacher school with 134 pupils and no general purpose room. It applied for one last year and sent an application on 28 March. On 5 April, less than a week later, a point-blank refusal came down. The school made a very convincing case to the public representatives present at the meeting last night, which was attended by 80 people. Will the Minister at least commit to an assessment of needs on the school to establish the need for a very worthy and needed general purpose room?
I would like further details of the school situation. It is important to point out that there is a scale of prioritisation with the need for new schools, extra classrooms and special education provision. There is a big budgetary demand but I am happy to have my officials look at the application.
I attempted to go down the parliamentary question route on this matter but without success. On ambulance targets, there is supposed to be a turnaround time of 60 minutes from when an ambulance drops a patient off at an emergency department and is ready to leave again. Some 22% of ambulances in Mayo failed to meet that target, taking more than an hour to get out of the emergency department. A response to a parliamentary question argued the Government was trying and that there was pressure on emergency departments at this time of year.
There is no ambulance service whatever in the part of south Mayo around Ballinrobe. It is physically impossible for ambulances in the current bases in Mayo to reach south Mayo, and specifically Ballinrobe, which has a significant population, in that timeframe to which I refer. We cannot afford to have ambulances taking longer than an hour to turn around when they cannot even get to where they are supposed to go in certain areas. Will the Taoiseach ask the Minister for Health to explore the possibility of a full-time base to cover south Mayo? Will he please try to address the turnaround times? Setting an hour as a turnaround time is already unambitious and not good enough. Not being able to meet that turnaround time is pretty appalling.
We are increasing funding to the National Ambulance Service every year. Only last week I was with the staff at the main call centre in Tallaght. Decisions on where services are located are really best made by them rather than us. I am advised that there are new centres at Tuam and Mulranny that have assisted. I will certainly make the National Ambulance Service aware of what the Deputy has said.
Article 15 of the European Union regulation on the governance of the energy union and climate action indicates that the Government must make a submission on 1 January 2020 on a new national energy and climate action plan. It is the most important plan for the country and determines how we will meet the Paris climate commitments. It sets out the fines, etc., we will have and must, as already stated, be submitted on 1 January. The Government has a public consultation in respect of the plan that closes on 31 December 2019. Is it expected that, when the rest of us are ringing in the new year, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, will be up all night working to take into account the findings of the public consultation? How will those two dates marry? How will the Government consult with the public when the closing date is the day before the submission must be made to the European Union on the most critical document on which this Parliament or the Government have to agree?
I am not sure about the exact timelines but I will check with the Minister and ask him to correspond with the Deputy. It sounds like our submission may be a little delayed. I will double-check that and let the Deputy know.
Commuter rail services in north Kildare have been in crisis for some time because of a lack of carriages, rolling stock and, in particular, parking spaces. My local station at Sallins and Naas is probably the busiest station on the Kildare line and it is almost unusable at this stage because spaces are simply not available after 7 a.m. This has the effect of frustrating commuters' efforts to get to work and flying in the face of public policy, which is to try to get people onto public transport. A proposal was painstakingly put together by local stakeholders and representatives, as well as interested parties, to extend parking facilities there but I was told this morning that CIÉ rejected that proposal at a board meeting in the past couple of days. At this point, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport must intervene as the matter has reached crisis point. Our services are bursting at the seams. The Minister referred me to the National Transport Authority, which referred me back to him. We are going in a circle and nothing is being done. Will the Taoiseach ask the Minister to intervene?
I thank the Deputy and I will inform the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport that he raised this matter. I will ask the Minister to reply to the Deputy directly.
In recent years, I have raised the issue of local needs requirements in the context of the planning process. There are currently families living in wee villages but it is impossible for them to get planning permission to build in the countryside. I have raised this matter with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government many times. In all counties, there are large numbers of people on housing waiting lists. We have an opportunity to get people out of towns in order that they can live in rural Ireland. Currently, we are breaking European law. I have asked the Minister about this on many occasions times and tonight he will face a confidence vote. People are asking why so many citizens are on council housing lists. Will the Minister please do something, once and for all, to sort out the problem of local needs requirements?
I thank the Deputy for the question. The number of people on social housing lists has decreased by approximately 20,000 since Rebuilding Ireland began because we are providing more housing for people.
The Deputy spoke about a particular way of combating further delays on the housing lists. We still operate to the 2005 guidelines. We are involved with the Commission in updating those guidelines in light of rulings that have come from there. Local authorities must work to existing planning guidelines and there is also the national planning framework. The position has not changed but as soon as we have clarity from the Commission we will be able to bring forward new guidelines.
We have exceeded the time for the Order of Business but today was exceptional. I have a list and I must give other Deputies an opportunity to contribute tomorrow. I remind Members that this is about the Order of Business and not constituency questions.