Thursday, 5 December 2019
Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation
I apologise to Deputy Durkan in particular because I gather that he was the only one to show leadership at his parliamentary party meeting last night and actually call out the lack of performance of the Government. As regards the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's infallibility, the people of Donegal have known that for a long time.
As we speak, the board of the national children's hospital is at the Committee of Public Accounts. The latest instalment in the Government's vanity project is that there could be a further overrun of some €50 million on the project. This year alone, it is likely to run over budget by between €2 million and €2.9 million. I have been campaigning for some time to address the waiting lists of more than 500 people for occupational therapists in County Mayo. There are vacancies for occupational therapists. I got a response this morning from the HSE to say that it has applied for funding to fill one of those vacancies but that it continues to await a response. How does the Government defend to a parent of a child on a waiting list for an occupational therapist for the child the fact that the HSE cannot get approval for funding for an occupational therapist? The budget for this children's hospital will go over by another €50 million, including by €2.9 million this year. Some €2.9 million would employ an awful lot of occupational therapists.
-----to the national children's hospital, which is a project that will be delivered by this Government. I refer Deputy Calleary to his local community healthcare organisation, CHO, administration to find out exactly why it has not been able to find an occupational therapist to fill the vacancy.
Last month, Rondo Food in Arklow announced that there was serious concern about the future of 150 manufacturing jobs in the Arklow area. It committed to engaging in a 30-day consultation process. It is apparent that it entered that consultation process in bad faith. It has dismissed cost-saving measures from representatives from the workforce. It has also rebuffed proposals from Enterprise Ireland. This company has received substantial State grants via Enterprise Ireland and it is quite clear that it had no interest in that process because when it consulted workers in the factory, it was in the process of bringing engineers over from Germany to measure up and move the equipment to its plant in Germany. It knew what the outcome of that consultation process was. There is a dispute because the redundancy package being offered by Gaines is totally unsatisfactory. The workforce has referred it to the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC. Rondo Food, which has received substantial State funding, is refusing to engage with the WRC. I ask the Minister to intervene, contact this company and ask it to engage with the mechanisms of the State when there are industrial disputes. Arklow is unfortunately an unemployment blackspot and the loss of 150 jobs is devastating. I ask the Minister to commit to establishing an employment task force in the Arklow area.
The regional enterprise plan is the mechanism by which we continue to encourage investment and to support indigenous companies across that region. Enterprise Ireland has been working closely with this company to try to find solutions.
It was reported earlier that up to 12 content moderators intend to take legal action against Facebook because of the awfulness of the content to which they have been exposed. This awfulness is directed at users of Facebook. We have had many debates in the House about how to protect people from online abuse. It has now been two and half years since I introduced the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017. There have been numerous calls for the establishment of a digital safety commissioner. I have been constantly told that Government amendments to the Bill are imminent and that it will become law. It was originally promised that it would be enacted by last summer. We were then told it would be done by Christmas. The latter is now only a few weeks away and that is not going to happen. I do not know how many weeks are left in this Dáil session but this is a critical issue, on which there is consensus between the Government and Opposition to the effect that we need to protect people online. When will we see progress on the Bill?
I also read about that case this morning. It was very difficult to read that humans can behave that way. Thankfully, I do not spend much time on social media but this is a stark reminder of the ugliness that exists in our society. I agree that we need to bring in legislation to ensure a number of social media platforms are regulated. Deputy Burton also mentioned waiting for amendments. I do not intend to be trite, but I am not sure people appreciate the workload the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel had to deal with in the context of the Brexit Bill-----
-----and all the work done regarding social security co-operation between Ireland and the United Kingdom. That work delayed much of our planned legislation. I appreciate what the Deputy is saying and I will try to find out when the amendments will be published.
I am not exaggerating when I say that the Government is betraying dementia sufferers and their families, both present and future, as a result of its failure to honour its promises to keep the doors of St. Joseph's dementia care facility in Shankill open. The Minister told me and others that the doors to St. Joseph's would not close. However, they have been closed-----
-----in the context of future admissions. This is a personal matter for me and many others in the area. Some of my loved ones ended their days in St. Joseph's and a personal friend of mine is there now. I and others have people close to us who will be looking to go there in the near future. They will not be able to do so because this Government is refusing to acknowledge the high-dependency special care requirements of many dementia patients. The Taoiseach promised that a review of the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, and its dealings with this precise matter would be completed in 2017, but it never appeared. The Government is not acknowledging the high-dependency care needs of dementia sufferers. It is nonsense to say that the Government has nothing to do with the NTPF, because this is public money, allocated by the Government, and it has every right - indeed obligation - to tell the NTPF to treat dementia sufferers and their families with respect.
I will answer the Deputy's question. First, most of the matters we deal with in this House are personal to us. That is why we are here - because we care. Otherwise, we would not be here. The Deputy does not have a monopoly on caring about St. Joseph's hospital. We had this conversation with his Sinn Féin colleague less than half an hour ago.
With respect, the Deputy does not like what has been done so far because we have not yet determined the final outcome of the organisation's future security. Work is in progress and the negotiations are ongoing. As a sign of our sincere commitment to St. Joseph's, not only have we given security to the people already living there, we have also provided it with extra money and resources to allow it to take in more day patients. If the Deputy cannot see that as a genuine sign of commitment to moving forward, I give up.
I wish to raise an issue relating to the local drug and alcohol task forces. Is the Minister of State at the Department of Health aware that the HSE representative on the Canal Communities local drugs task force got up in the middle of an amicable meeting, announced that he was removing himself from the task force, and walked out? Are the State and its agencies abdicating responsibility and leaving communities to fend for themselves, contrary to the national drug and alcohol strategy?
I am fully aware that the HSE has withdrawn its service from the Canal Communities partnership. A review of the Canal Communities partnership in the north inner city was conducted, which raised a number of issues on which the HSE has not been able to come to an amicable agreement. I fully support the HSE's decision to withdraw its co-ordinator and its other representative from the canals partnership. The HSE is working with the groups being funded through the task force to resolve some of the issues on the ground. I am fully aware that the HSE has withdrawn its service from the partnership, with which I fully agree.
We have huge responsibility in this area. I am the Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy and I will not stand over funding being wrongly spent, a lack of governance and abuse of services, as were identified in that review. I will not stand over that and will not be taken to task over it either.
The tenders for 20 or 30 new school buildings were published on the eTenders website this week. Can the Minister clarify whether the number of schools is 20 or 30? A list of school buildings was also included in that tender which may be built subject to change. I ask the Minister to clarify when those schools will be given the details of when their buildings will be completed. What about the other thousands of schools which are waiting for major work?
As the Opposition spokesperson for education, the Deputy is well aware of how this process works. The tenders get put out and, when they are awarded, the teams sit down and work out the details. The schools will find out at that time. Some €700 million was allocated for school buildings this morning.
Unfortunately, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is not here, but I ask the Minister to relay this message to him. People across east Cavan are very concerned about their water supply. Irish Water has had its trials and tribulations, but the people of east Cavan are affected by brown, muddy water that is unacceptable. The situation has been going on for weeks. The water notice has been extended for the fourth time. Mothers are afraid to make babies' bottles and clothes are being stained in washing machines.
To give the Deputy some solace, we had a similar situation in my neck of the woods because of mains flushing. Brown water coming out of one's taps is not nice and one does not have to be a mother to think so. Irish Water has invested in a programme called "ice pigging", which is a bit unusual, but I might ask it to send the Deputy some details about it. Perhaps it should be employed in her area.
An awful lot of people are mindful of security in their homes at the moment. Companies are putting in monitored alarms but some of them face major issues installing monitored alarms in areas with poor mobile phone coverage. Has this been brought to the attention of the Government? Installers are coming in and checking what level it is at between one and 30. It must be at 11 before they can install monitored alarms. Swathes of north Cork are without mobile phone coverage. Has the Government contacted the Commission for Communications Regulation or looked at the companies to try to resolve this issue because monitored alarms will not be installed in the homes of elderly people unless something is done about it?
I fully support the argument that mobile phone coverage affects the installation of monitored alarms. In addition, I condemn what Eir is doing with regard to faults on landlines. I and others have a family connection with this. Eir is leaving older people for six, eight or ten weeks before fixing the fault. If the landline is out of action, a pendant alarm is not workable. We are fortunate in that the Department of Rural and Community Affairs has provided substantial funding for those alerts and we have a link to this. What Eir is doing is simply outrageous. I know it is now a private company but we need to call it to order and not leave those people, some of whom are in fear of their lives, stranded. It is in everybody's interests, even those who are laughing about it, that we call on Eir to do the right thing and not leave these people frightened in their homes in rural and urban areas.
A total of 53,000 people have pendant alarms under the seniors alert scheme. Eir wanted to take on the broadband scheme after it had pulled out of it. How could we give Eir the broadband scheme when it is unable to run the services it provides at the moment? I will get my Department to talk to Eir but it is a bit rich of Eir to tell us all how it was going roll out broadband when it cannot keep the phones on line as it is.
At a small schools symposium held in June 2019, the Minister for Education and Skills gave a commitment to carrying out a review of the resources needed for small schools. Could we get a commitment that teacher numbers will not be reduced in those smaller schools until this review is completed?
I wish to raise a really important issue regarding insurance. Athy Rugby Football Club, which has been in existence since 1880, survived two world wars and provided provincial and international players, sent a message to all its members yesterday telling them that it cannot get any quote for public liability insurance and might close its doors and grounds on 9 December. Will the Government stand over organisations like sports clubs and community organisations along with businesses not being able to get public liability insurance? It is appalling. Fianna Fáil has introduced a number of Bills that would help address this but the Government has completely stalled on the database in terms of claims. The Government must intervene. What is it going to do about it?
I will put on the record of the House that the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, and Deputy Heydon met Athy Rugby Football Club in the past number of days, discussed this issue and, I hope, gave it lots of reassurance that because of the passing of the Judicial Council Act in this House in July, it will see a real and positive impact before Christmas on insurance prices and indeed the claims culture in this country.
This week saw a motion of no confidence on the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. The Minister asked us to come up with solutions. Is he aware that the Sienna Valley housing development in Drogheda has 4,000 homes with full planning permission and several thousand homes zoned for housing with a DART station link to Dublin city opening in 2022 but that not a single home has been built because his Department is refusing to fund jointly the €15 million for the northern cross route road, which runs through the housing development? Why, at a time of a national housing emergency, is his Department blocking these homes that form a major part of the housing solution for Dublin and Drogheda and all for the sake of a simple €15 million through road that the local council has already agreed to fund jointly?
My question concerns regional rural development. What is the process regarding counties that were allocated additional funding? I am sure everybody in the House acknowledges the amount of LEADER funding that was made available throughout this country to very many worthy causes. The additional LEADER funding from the Department of Rural and Community Development must now go through when allocating the additional funding announced by the Minister for various applicants. The next high-scoring applicant in an area that missed out on the original LEADER funding should now be the first to receive the new funding.
I will give a very simple figure. I was delighted to allocate a further €5 million to ten LEADER companies. The criteria were people who had allocated funding or schemes that had been approved. We notified them earlier in the year. We gave the top ten €500,000 extra. Regarding ten to 15 companies, there were only about two or three points between them. I will review the LEADER programme at the end of the year. Some LEADER companies are still not performing and I will re-allocate some of that money in the new year.
Page 111 of the programme for Government recognises the positive benefits associated with the knowledge transfer scheme. I met a group of farmers last week in Birr. I have been told that this is a very successful and positive scheme. The farmers with whom I spoke certainly felt that it was very worthwhile. Will this scheme be rolled over until the CAP is agreed? I ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to make every effort possible to ensure this scheme is rolled over.
The Deputy is right. The knowledge transfer scheme has been part of the rural development programme under the CAP and has been very successful. There is a likelihood that the next CAP will be delayed by at least a year and there are transitionary arrangements so it is certainly intended to accommodate the knowledge transfer scheme under this provision.
The programme for Government commits to increasing capacity in accident and emergency departments across the country. Two years and two months ago, I was given a copy of a plan to remove the emergency department in Midland Regional Hospital, Portlaoise. There was a public campaign. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fleming and I met the Minister for Health on 15 December at which he committed to halting that plan and putting a consultation process with an external facilitator in place. All of us welcomed the fact that the plan was halted but two years later, nothing has happened. The external facilitator has not been put in place. I have consistently raised the issue through Topical Issues and parliamentary questions and I have also raised it outside the Chamber. The problem is that two years have passed and 15 December is approaching. We are almost there. The situation is creating uncertainty at the hospital. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection is representing the Taoiseach today. Could she raise this issue with him and the Minister for Health? It is causing problems in recruitment, management and planning at the hospital and we need certainty. When will the consultation process start?
My question is for the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation.
What measures will the Government take to help clients who are not working with local enterprise offices, LEOs, Enterprise Ireland or IDA Ireland? Such people are in business below the radar and will obviously be badly affected by the impact of Brexit. What cushions or measures will the Government introduce for people who do not necessarily engage with those organisations?
I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. We are both from Border constituencies and are conscious of the impact that Brexit will have on our respective regions.
I have the findings of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, report on SMEs and it has further informed us that we need to reach out to SMEs that do not currently engage with LEOs, Enterprise Ireland or InterTrade Ireland. We are taking a number of different initiatives to do that. I thank the Deputy for giving me the opportunity to say to people who own such companies, no matter how big or small, that the first port of call is the LEO. The local enterprise office will signpost a suitable direction for such a business owner and send him or her to whatever agency can provide the required support.
I want to concentrate specifically on our indigenous companies, which are huge employers in all of our regions, and find ways that we can support them further by encouraging them to innovate and improve their processes. I am committed to that.
The Leas-Cheann Comhairle is holding me up. My question concerns the programme for Government and is addressed to the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health, Deputy Daly. The draft legislation on the reform of Mental Health Act was put before the Mental Health Commission. Have we a definitive date for the publication of that report or, if it is already done, can we see it?
We do not have a definitive date but the heads of the Bill have been sent to the Mental Health Commission for its comments. The commission is working through that at the moment. There was talk that it could take up to six months to get a response in full from the commission but I cannot guarantee that. The Department has done its work and sent it over to the Mental Health Commission. It is up to the commission to come back to us on that matter.