Tuesday, 21 June 2022
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
Today's business shall be: - Motion re Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 (Section 95(3)) (Variation of Title: Chiropodist) Regulations 2022 (without debate)
- Motion re Proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Parent's Leave and Benefit Act 2019 (Extension of Periods of Leave) Order 2022 (without debate)
- Motion re Proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the National Archives Act 1986 (Section 1(2)(d)) Order 2022 (without debate)
- Motion re Instruction to Committee on Road Traffic and Roads Bill 2021 (without debate)
- Statements pre European Council meeting of 23rd-24th June, pursuant to Standing Order 124 (not to exceed 110 minutes)
- Motion re Opt-in to EU Proposal for a Directive on Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (to conclude within 55 minutes) Private Members' Business shall be the Motion re Emergency Hospital Provision and Emergency Department in Our Lady's Hospital, Navan, selected by Sinn Féin.
Wednesday's business shall be: - Statements on Insurance Reform (not to exceed 210 minutes)
- Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2022 (Amendments from the Seanad) (to be taken no earlier than 5.34 p.m. and to conclude within 30 minutes)
- Higher Education Authority Bill 2022 (Report and Final Stages) (to conclude within 90 minutes)
- European Arrest Warrant (Amendment) Bill 2022 (Committee and remaining Stages) (to conclude within 60 minutes) Private Members' Business shall be the Motion re Respite Care Services, selected by the Independent Group
Thursday's business shall be:
- Statements on LGBTQI+ Equality (not to exceed 210 minutes).
Thursday evening business shall be the Thirty-ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to Vote at 16) Bill 2021 (Second Stage).
Announcement of Proposed Arrangements for this week's business:
In relation to Tuesday's business, it is proposed that:
1. the ordinary routine of business as contained in Schedule 3 to Standing Orders shall be modified to the following extent: (i) oral Parliamentary Questions to the Taoiseach pursuant to Standing Order 46(1) shall not be taken and expressions of sympathy for the late Austin Currie shall be taken at that time; and
(ii) Government business may continue after 6.12 p.m. in order to allow the Motion re Opt-in to the EU Proposal for a Directive Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence to conclude, with consequential effect on the commencement time for the items of business following, as well as on the time for the adjournment of the Dáil; 2. the Motion re Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 (Section 95(3)) (Variation of Title: Chiropodist) Regulations 2022 shall be taken without debate;
3. the Motion re Proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Parent's Leave and Benefit Act 2019 (Extension of Periods of Leave) Order 2022 shall be taken without debate;
4. the Motion re Proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the National Archives Act 1986 (Section 1(2)(d)) Order 2022 shall be taken without debate;
5. the Motion re Instruction to Committee on the Road Traffic and Roads Bill 2021 shall be taken without debate;
6. contributions on the expressions of sympathy for the late Austin Currie shall not exceed 2 minutes each;
7. the Statements pre European Council meeting of 23rd-24th June, pursuant to Standing Order 124 shall not exceed 110 minutes, with arrangements in accordance with those agreed by Order of the Dáil of 30th July, 2020, for 100 minutes, following which a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed 10 minutes, and members may share time; and
8. the Motion re Opt-in to EU Proposal for a Directive on Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 55 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: (i) the order of speaking and the allocation of speaking times shall be as follows:- opening speech by a Minister or Minister of State - 10 minutes;(ii) members may share time. In relation to Wednesday's business, it is proposed that:
- speech by a representative of Sinn Féin - 10 minutes;
- speeches by representatives of the Labour Party, Social Democrats, People-Before-Profit-Solidarity, the Regional Group, the Rural Independent Group, and the Independent Group - 5 minutes per party or group; and
- a speech in response by a Minister or Minister of State - 5 minutes; and
1. the ordinary routine of business as contained in Schedule 3 to Standing Orders shall be modified to the extent that oral Parliamentary Questions to the Taoiseach pursuant to Standing Order 46(1) shall not be taken, with consequential effect on the commencement time for the SOS and for Government business;
2. the Statements on Insurance Reform shall not exceed 210 minutes, with arrangements in accordance with those agreed by Order of the Dáil of 30th July, 2020, for 200 minutes, following which a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed 10 minutes, and members may share time;
3. in relation to the amendments from the Seanad on the Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2022, the following arrangements shall apply: (i) the item shall be taken either at 5.34 p.m. or on the conclusion of the Statements on Insurance Reform, whichever is the later; and
(ii) the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 30 minutes and any amendments from the Seanad not disposed of shall be decided by one question which shall be put from the Chair, and which shall, in relation to amendments to the Seanad amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth; 4. the proceedings on Report and Final Stages of the Higher Education Authority Bill 2022 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 90 minutes by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science; and
5. the proceedings on Committee and remaining Stages of the European Arrest Warrant (Amendment) Bill 2022 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 60 minutes by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Justice.
In relation to Thursday's business, it is proposed that:
1. the ordinary routine of business as contained in Schedule 3 to Standing Orders shall be modified to the extent that topical issues pursuant to Standing Order 37 may be taken earlier than 7.24 p.m. and shall, in any event, be taken on the conclusion of Government business, with consequential effect on the commencement time for the Thirty-ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to Vote at 16) Bill 2021, as well as on the time for the adjournment of the Dáil; and
2. the Statements on LGBTQI+ Equality shall not exceed 210 minutes, with arrangements in accordance with those agreed by Order of the Dáil of 30th July, 2020, for 200 minutes, following which a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed 10 minutes, and members may share time.
They are not agreed. At the meeting of the Business Committee last week, we requested that there would be time set aside this week for statements on the ongoing crisis in An Bord Pleanála. I appreciate that a review is taking place in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. Given that every single day there are new and very concerning revelations, however, it is only right that time be set aside this week for that debate. I urge the Government to reconsider the position.
We have been asking at the Business Committee for several weeks for statements on An Bord Pleanála. New allegations have been coming out week after week in respect of undeclared conflicts of interest and irregularities regarding the appointment of board members. There have also been also allegations that board members made changes to independent inspector's reports and overruled the vast majority of cases with regard to specific types of applications. There are also allegations that files were not randomly allocated to board members, that two board members in particular acted as a team in a large number of planning decisions and that there were multiple alleged breaches of the board's code of conduct. The report the Minister ordered is due on Thursday, which would be a good day to have statements on An Bord Pleanála. It would also provide an opportunity for the Minister to clarify when he first became aware of these allegations, what action will be taken on foot of the report he commissioned and how the Government will ensure that all the allegations that are in the public domain will be properly investigated.
I support the calls for an urgent debate this week on An Bord Pleanála. There has been a drip feed of allegations and very serious matters have been raised about conduct, processes and governance. It is timely that we would have that debate this week. We are all conscious that there is only a small number of weeks left before the recess. We have the summer economic statement to come and there are quite a number of other urgent matters before us.
This week would seem the right time and the appropriate time to have the debate on An Bord Pleanála, given the serious nature of the allegations that have been raised.
Over the past few days the French authorities have notified Irish authorities that the French navy is going ahead with a military exercise, some of which was going to be inside the Irish economic zone off the south coast. This is the second country, Russia being the first, that has notified Irish authorities that it is to carry out a military exercise within Irish zoned waters in recent months. The French exercise, however, is on a much bigger scale than that proposed previously by Russia.
We have found ourselves in an astonishing situation over the past few months in regard to Irish territorial waters. This is a danger to the lives of Irish fishermen who are already struggling in terms of their incomes. It is a danger to marine life, to fish, dolphins and whales, and it is a danger to our environment and our neutrality.
We have been told that the French military exercise is not to go ahead, that it has been put off or that it will happen a foot or two outside of our waters. This is an issue of huge importance to Irish people and warrants a debate. I am calling for a full debate on the issue this week in the Dáil. I would appreciate it if the Taoiseach accepted that.
The Minister has appointed an independent senior counsel. It is an independent review. It is not the Minister's review. I appreciate the concerns the Members of the House have on these issues. Under the terms of reference, Mr. Remy Farrell SC was requested to provide a report to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, within a period of six weeks. The Minister will consider those matters on receipt of the senior counsel's report.
The Office of the Planning Regulator has announced that it is commencing a review into An Bord Pleanála's systems and procedures as part of its reviews programme. The Planning Regulator has indicated that details of the Office of the Planning Regulator's approach to this review will be published in the near future. The Government is aware that judicial reviews have been initiated or are ongoing in relation to certain An Bord Pleanála decisions.
On 6 May, the Minister requested a report from the An Bord Pleanála chairperson setting out the chairperson's opinion on the allegations against Mr. Hyde, in accordance with the chairperson's powers under section 110(2) of the Planning and Development Act. The chairperson responded on 9 May that he first needed to gather and analyse all relevant information in order to form an opinion that the conduct of an ordinary board member has been such as to bring the board into disrepute, prior to exercising his chairperson's powers under section 110(2). He also confirmed that Mr. Hyde had agreed to absent himself from his duties as deputy chairperson of the board for the time being, on a strictly without prejudice basis. The chairperson has indicated to the Department that he should shortly be in a position to provide an update to the Minister in respect of the ongoing process.
The difficulty about having a debate right now would be the possibility of prejudicing the report itself and the content of the report. That is the challenge right now in terms of having a debate. The Government will keep the matter under review prior to the recess. We need to balance the genuine interest Members have and the public interest with the need to try to get some of these reports completed. If we can keep the matter under review, I would be open to doing that with Deputies.
On the French navy, I understand this is not to take place. I did not have the full and specific details on it coming into the House. I will ask the Whip if we can have a debate on that, or more generally about the whole area of military exercises and the compatibility of such exercises with marine life. We are all interested in protecting marine life. I am aware Deputy Collins would be a long-standing advocate for marine protected areas. It is also about protecting fisheries into the future and marine biodiversity. I would be very much in favour of having a wider debate on that. I am sure the Deputy would endorse that.
Cathal Berry, Colm Brophy, James Browne, Richard Bruton, Colm Burke, Peter Burke, Mary Butler, Seán Canney, Ciarán Cannon, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Jack Chambers, Niall Collins, Barry Cowen, Michael Creed, Cathal Crowe, Cormac Devlin, Alan Dillon, Paschal Donohoe, Francis Noel Duffy, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frank Feighan, Peter Fitzpatrick, Joe Flaherty, Charles Flanagan, Norma Foley, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Martin Heydon, Emer Higgins, Paul Kehoe, John Lahart, James Lawless, Brian Leddin, Catherine Martin, Micheál Martin, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, Charlie McConalogue, Helen McEntee, Michael McGrath, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Hildegarde Naughton, Malcolm Noonan, Darragh O'Brien, Joe O'Brien, Jim O'Callaghan, James O'Connor, Kieran O'Donnell, Roderic O'Gorman, Christopher O'Sullivan, Pádraig O'Sullivan, Marc Ó Cathasaigh, Éamon Ó Cuív, John Paul Phelan, Neale Richmond, Michael Ring, Eamon Ryan, Brendan Smith, Ossian Smyth, David Stanton, Robert Troy, Leo Varadkar.
Chris Andrews, Ivana Bacik, Mick Barry, John Brady, Martin Browne, Pat Buckley, Holly Cairns, Matt Carthy, Sorca Clarke, Joan Collins, Michael Collins, Catherine Connolly, Rose Conway-Walsh, Réada Cronin, Seán Crowe, Pa Daly, Pearse Doherty, Paul Donnelly, Mairead Farrell, Kathleen Funchion, Johnny Guirke, Brendan Howlin, Claire Kerrane, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Mary Lou McDonald, Mattie McGrath, Michael McNamara, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Verona Murphy, Johnny Mythen, Gerald Nash, Carol Nolan, Cian O'Callaghan, Richard O'Donoghue, Louise O'Reilly, Darren O'Rourke, Eoin Ó Broin, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Patricia Ryan, Bríd Smith, Duncan Smith, Brian Stanley, Pauline Tully.
One year ago, a wealthy cuckoo fund bought an entire estate of family homes in Maynooth. I am sure the Taoiseach remembers that. Instead of taking comprehensive action then, the Government introduced a token 10% stamp duty increase. It was warned at the time that this would not stop these funds and that these funds would easily absorb that increase by charging massive rents, on which they pay no tax. That is exactly what happened. Since the Government introduced its measure funds have bought 350 family homes, so these funds are still running rampant. Yesterday, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, said that he would now review this approach. That will not cut it. To halt the gallop of these funds and to give ordinary home buyers a chance, the Government must ramp up stamp duty to deter these funds, as well as end the tax advantages they enjoy. Crucially, the Government needs to apply these measures to apartments as well as houses because apartments are family homes too.
With regard to that housing estate in Kildare last year, it was not bought out by funds. The majority of those homes went on the open market while the remainder have been acquired by Kildare County Council for social and affordable housing under the terms of Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000. There is an endless attempt to spin this issue, but the facts are the facts. That estate was not bought out by the funds, as the Deputy has asserted. Also, in terms of the objectives, the planning laws we introduced on this last year have worked. Some 15,883 residential units have received planning permission since May 2021. Basically, in the space of 12 months, almost 16,000 residential units have been planned for or reserved or received planning permission for individual purchasers. The number of 350 is out of 16,000, so there needs to be balance and perspective here.
The planning measures that were introduced have worked in terms of protecting the individual owner. Certainly, we will keep everything under review, but there must be a little balance and perspective. The funds are not dominant in the Irish housing market. The Deputy keeps saying they are, but they absolutely are not dominant in the housing market.
I mark the sad passing yesterday of Mr. Liam Cahill, the journalist, adviser, author and historian.
Yesterday, when visiting Portlaoise, I had the pleasure of meeting with members of the local Money Advice and Budgeting Service, MABS, team in their office. I heard from them how their calls have reached record levels this year and how so many households and individuals are contacting them with serious money issues and huge pressures in paying for childcare, rent and mortgages. These are working people who were previously on adequate incomes and they now say the cash simply is no longer there to meet their basic needs. That is why the Labour Party has called for immediate measures to be adopted by the Government. That is why the kite flying in recent days has not been helpful. We need to see targeted measures now to support those on the lowest pay and the lowest incomes, with an immediate social welfare bonus this summer to help people struggling with the fear and anticipation of back-to-school costs and an immediate rise of €1 per hour in the minimum wage.
On the pay front, discussions have taken place between the Government and the public service unions on public service pay. They have broken up for the time being, but the Government is open to re-engaging in the public service pay talks. Meanwhile, in the private sector there have been various agreements in different sectors between different companies and their employees in respect of pay.
The Government has taken substantial measures in respect of fuel, transport costs, healthcare costs and education costs. Our view is that the situation is serious; there is no doubt about that. The pressure on people is enormous.
We want to do a comprehensive package in the budget that will be sustainable right through the winter. Our objective is to get people through what will be a very difficult winter, both here and in Europe, as well as globally.
The Taoiseach will be aware of Emma O'Sullivan, a young woman in Cork city who has had to start to fundraise to get treatment for an eating disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, OCD. She is fearful that she will never recover from these illnesses through the public mental health system. Emma has no choice but to seek costly private treatment. People are being incredibly generous in donating, including a bake sale at Ballinlough community centre at the weekend. A bake sale to raise money for potentially life-saving treatment is a glaring indictment of public eating disorder care in Ireland. Emma is not alone. Many, mainly young women, are in the same position. I have continuously raised this issue. Every time I do, the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, or the Taoiseach have given me the same assurances of more funding and improved care. I do not doubt their sincerity but cases like Emma's reveal the reality. What is going to be different this time?
I thank the Deputy very much for raising this case. I am aware of the case to which she alludes but I cannot discuss it on the floor of the Dáil. It was brought to my attention by Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan a couple of weeks ago and we have been working on it. The Government does remain firmly committed to enhancing specialist eating disorder services, including improved access and shorter waiting lists. A total of €6.85 million has been allocated, and a further €1.15 million again this year. The current situation is that by the end of this year, funding will have been provided for nine teams in total. Three teams are currently operational. Three other teams are funded and are at an advanced stage of recruitment, and funding is to issue this year for a further three teams. What I am trying to achieve is that we will have one team in each community healthcare organisation, CHO. It is important that we have a situation where, regardless of where one lives, one has access to an eating disorder team.
It has been stated constantly that there are only three eating-disorder beds in the country. All approved centres are available for eating disorder cases, and we have 56 approved centres in the country. A person can avail of inpatient supports at any of the 56 centres. I will continue to work on the particular case.
For young people with diabetes, moving from multiple daily injections to an insulin pump is such a step forward. It is a life-changer. Some 554 children and young adults are serviced by the paediatric diabetic department at Cork University Hospital, CUH, but as of two weeks ago, only 198 of them, 36%, had a pump. As of two weeks ago, 24 under the age of six were being forced to wait for pump therapy. Due to understaffing, CUH was allowed become the only hospital in the country where pump upgrades had to be paused.
I congratulate the parents who campaigned long and hard on these issues and whose efforts have played a key role in winning extra resources for this department. There will be two new nurses this July, a psychologist position is to be filled shortly, as well as an advanced nurse practitioner, and there will be extra administrative resources. However, through no fault of their own, the doctors here have a significant backlog to address. I will watch the progress made like a hawk and will demand extra resources in the coming months should that prove necessary.
In the last Estimates round, and in terms of providing a substantial budget to the Department of Health, it encompassed expanded services across the board, including paediatric diabetic services and a whole range of other services. This is being realised through the recruitment of staff and additional resources at various locations across the country, including CUH. We will continue to keep an eye on that and to keep the pressure on.
We know that central banks across the world are starting to raise interest rates now. The European Central Bank, ECB, is likely to begin to move the rate next month. Traditionally, Irish retail banks have been very quick to raise interest rates for borrowers but very slow to raise them for depositors and savers. Does the Government have any plans to ensure that Irish retail banks will not make excessive profits in this new interest rate environment and that the benefits of interest rate increases will also be passed on to Irish consumers?
There are commercial decisions involved here. The Central Bank regulates the banks. The ECB has kept interest rates at an exceptionally low level for the past decade, as concerns about deflation dominated. Inflation is now the predominant concern and worry, hitting about 8.1% in May across Europe. Last week, the ECB signalled a 0.25% interest rate hike in July and said a bigger increase might be needed in September. In our previous interest rate cycles, lending rates and deposit rates tended to move together, so there is good reason to believe that at some stage in the near future, deposit rates will move up from the current exceptionally low levels, as the ECB tightens monetary policy.
Two weeks ago, HIQA published an assessment of Tusla's foster care services in Cork which, as the Taoiseach well knows, has a quarter of the country's children. Tusla was compliant in only two of the 12 standards assessed. One example is that some children with complex needs taken into State care by Tusla in Cork were housed in hotels. The report is the latest among scores of reports that finds Tusla is not compliant with national standards for foster care in all of its 17 service areas.
HIQA has the power to monitor Tusla but has no power of sanction. This is farcical. It can close down nursing homes overnight and everything else. The Alliance of Birth Mothers Campaigning for Justice is advocating for these children. The group has written to the Taoiseach. A letter was handed to him by a Fianna Fáil Deputy. The group has asked to meet the Taoiseach. He was well able to question the then Minister, Ms Zappone, when he was sitting in this seat, but he has done nothing about it. What is going on in terms of how children are being treated is a present-day scandal.
As the Deputy pointed out, a follow-up report was done on an earlier report on the foster care service in Cork. The follow-up report continues to reveal deficiencies, in particular of staffing levels, in the Cork area. The crucial issue is the lack of social workers. Tusla has a remediation plan in place to try to bring in the necessary social workers, in particular at the relevant degree of qualifications, into the area. I am happy to follow up with the Deputy directly on how the plan is being implemented. It is something that I have raised with both the chief executive and the chair of the Tusla board.
I again raise the issue of University Hospital Limerick, UHL. On 15 March, HIQA visited UHL to measure its compliance with four key standards. It failed three and was only partially compliant with the fourth. The report found that there was inadequate capacity and pointed to the fact that it was the only model 4 hospital and there were no model 3 hospitals in the region. It also found that there was inadequate management of existing capacity, in particular, human resources. That is just one day. On every day, UHL is overcrowded. On every day, it poses a danger to the patients it is supposed to serve. On every day, people are afraid to go to the emergency department. People are afraid that frail family members will be brought by ambulance to the department. They beg ambulance drivers to bring them to another facility. I have lived that fear, as have many families right across the constituency. As Head of Government of this State, will the Taoiseach take responsibility for remedying this into his Department to ensure it is remedied, and if not, what will be done by the Government to remedy the situation?
The HSE is responsible for the delivery and operation of health services. The capacity is simply not there for any Department, including the Taoiseach's Department, to begin to run hospitals. That is simply not going to happen. It is not a runner, nor is it feasible or practical as a solution. In terms of what we can do, the Minister has met with the chair, the CEO and senior management of the HSE, and has requested the development of comprehensive plans with short-term and long-term measures to be taken nationally and at each emergency department and community healthcare organisation to ensure sustainable improvements in the performance of emergency departments. Without question, recent months have been highly challenging for emergency departments. The situation has been exacerbated by the constant recurrence and the prevalence of Covid-19, not just in terms of what happens in hospitals but of egress from hospitals and the inability of some community nursing units and nursing homes to take patients from the acute wards of hospitals because of them being subject to outbreaks of Covid as well, so it has been very challenging.
I have raised the Mazars report, which was tasked with reviewing the drugs payment scheme for the reimbursement of prescription medications in this country.
I have previously asked the Minister for Health and the Tánaiste, and today I ask the Taoiseach, for a commitment from the Government that this report will be published. The report was instigated in late 2017 or early 2018. It has been sitting on the Minister's desk since January 2020. It has cost the State approximately €86,000 to publish and, more than anything else, patients need to see that report and what improvements it advocates. I ask the Taoiseach to give a commitment that the Minister will publish it as quickly as possible.
I appreciate the Deputy's interest in this issue. I will talk to the Minister and ask him to ensure a timeline is provided for the publication of this report. It should be published.
I will again bring up the matter of the HIQA report into overcrowding in the emergency department, ED, at UHL. There are 88 patients on trolleys there today, which is the same number as that on 15 March when HIQA carried out its report. UHL needs serious help at a national level. We have the second highest number in throughput of ED patients, yet we have the lowest number, relatively, of acute beds. That is a very important statistic. The Minister for Health set up, and asked the HSE to put in place, an expert team at UHL. That team concluded its review on 10 June. We now need to see HSE corporate stepping in to help UHL. It needs help. I need the Taoiseach to stand behind that proposition and these measures. I ask that the action plan now being brought forward by the review team in the HSE nationally be implemented immediately in UHL. It has very hard-working staff but we have serious problems there.
That has happened. We are acutely aware of the challenges and pressures on the hospital. The HIQA report identified, for example, that even though there has been a substantial increase in beds in the past number of years, it did not in itself alleviate the pressures on the emergency department. There are issues other than resources. More resources will be required for acute beds but that will take time. In the interim, there are issues such as systems within the hospital and flow through it. As I said, when the HIQA report was carried out, it was at the high point of disruption caused by Covid-19. It was an unannounced visit, which is the same thing-----
One can understand. Covid is having an impact on health. Everyone wants to forget about it and pretend it is not happening but it is happening and having a significant impact on the operation of hospitals.
I will raise the issue of the provision of universal healthcare and the commitment in the programme for Government. The diabetic clinic in Portlaoise has 7,000 people with diabetes registered from the catchment area of Laois, south Kildare, Offaly, north Tipperary and County Laois. The insulin pump service is available for children and adolescents only and not adults. When people reach the age of 18, they have to go to Dublin and go private at more than €500 a pop. That is the only option.
There is no dietician for the adult insulin pump services, which means there are no such services. The clinic is doing great work and hospital management want to develop it, but it cannot provide a full service. Hospital management has made the case three times for funding up to January this year and continues to make the case. On 2 December, the Minister informed me that the appointment of a senior dietician to support the continued development of the services has been identified and is currently being considered. This is after years of delay. The heads of the hospital group are delaying this. This is what is happening because I have been digging into it to find out what the real problem is. The Minister needs to catch this because in the long term, this costs money-----
-----and people get sicker and sicker, if they do not get insulin pump services when they need them and they cannot afford them. If we are to move to a public health system and a national health system in this country as per Sláintecare, this service needs to be provided in the midlands. I appeal to the Taoiseach, and note one of the Ministers responsible for health is in the Chamber, to take up this matter with the HSE. The heads of the hospital group are delaying this.
I will talk to the Minister regarding the specifics. I do not have the specifics of this case. I do not know why anybody would want to delay matters, if the funding and resources are there, but I will follow it up.
I remember when we clapped in this Chamber for our front-line workers. That recognition was important but it is not sufficient. We know that the pay talks recently broke down and the unions are up for the negotiation. The Taoiseach said that he is also up for those negotiations. Will he commit to concluding an agreement with the unions that recognises the important work done by nurses, gardaí and civil and public servants?
We all wish the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, well with her very good news. Of course, she is not the only female Member to have had a baby in the lifetime of this Dáil. Indeed, a number of men have had babies in their families during the period of this Dáil. It is a useful opportunity to remind us we have made no practical advance in maternity provision for Members of the Oireachtas who may have babies. A Bill was passed on Second Stage and I thank the Government for its engagement with that. It is a recommendation of the Forum on a Family Friendly and Inclusive Parliament, and part of the work of the gender equality committee, to have a referendum on remote or proxy voting in limited circumstances, which would include maternity and potentially paternity provision. I ask the Taoiseach to indicate his support for this measure and indicate the lead Department in order that we might follow up on a practical basis for the future. Is it the Taoiseach's Department? It is surely not a matter of equality but one of the administration of politics more generally, rather than being hived off to the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.
I join the Deputy in wishing huge congratulations to the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and her family. Work is ongoing regarding the provision of maternity leave to members of local authorities. The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and his team are working on that. My Department is working on the provision of maternity leave to Oireachtas Members. We have engaged with the Irish Women's Parliamentary Caucus. We have sent a survey to all female Members to get their views. I am meeting with the Ceann Comhairle soon regarding an engagement to bring together Standing Orders and to see what elements we can undertake in that regard. We now perhaps have the opportunity, with the work life balance Bill that will move through the Houses shortly, to undertake some of the legislative measures necessary to provide maternity leave for female Members.
On 8 April, my friend Helen applied for her passport, as she did for her four children. The passports for her four children came back on 31 May with a request for further information from her, which she sent in. The flights were scheduled for 21 June. This is nearly ten weeks ago and I requested this matter be treated as urgent. Last week, she came to me saying she was so disappointed because this passport was urgent as this family was picked from the Kildare and Leighlin diocese for an audience with the Pope during the World Meeting of Families 2022. This is a family that is representing Ireland. I did everything on Friday to get the passport. I contacted the Taoiseach's office and the office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney. I contacted everywhere and she did not fly out today. It is unacceptable that this lady and her four children - it is such a privilege to have an audience with the Pope - did not get her passport. As I said, it has been going for nearly ten weeks. It is unacceptable. The other issue is that Helen went to the Passport Office on Friday and Monday. She said staff there were not one bit nice or helpful to her.
Or maybe divine intervention. In a more serious vein, it is very distressing for the family, to be fair. Normally, passport applications for children tend to be the difficulty and not those for the mother. I will raise this with the Department. It is no fault of the Deputy's because she contacted my office yesterday at around 8.30 a.m., as she did others. It is very distressing for the mother and the family who were selected to go to Rome to have an audience with the Pope. It meant a lot to that family. I cannot understand how that happened, especially if the children's passports were all sorted because that is normally the area where there seems to be the greatest delay.
It is clear that many sections of our community are suffering daily because of the significant increase in fuel prices. For people on the road, petrol costs €2.20 per litre and diesel costs €2.15. The total tax take on diesel is now 92.5 cent. When diesel cost €1.20 per litre in January 2021, which was only a little over a year ago, the tax take was 53 cent.
I wish to ask about a Bill that I introduced last year. On 30 June, it will be a year since the Government amended the Second Stage motion on the Industrial Relations (Provisions in Respect of Pension Entitlements of Retired Workers) Bill 2021 on the basis that it would return the Bill to the House within a year, which would be next Thursday. Will the Taoiseach guarantee me that the Bill will be before the House again before next Thursday?
Next year will see thousands of participants who joined the rural social scheme in 2017 leaving it after six years. This fundamentally opposes the very purpose of the rural social scheme and is nonsensical in the current environment. The six-year rule should be abolished immediately. Will the Government support such a move and resolve the considerable stress on participants, who are effectively on notice that they will lose their jobs next year?
Baggot Street hospital has been closed since 2019 and is steadily sliding into dereliction. The windows are boarded up and tiles are falling off the roof. Given the homeless emergency, will the Taoiseach intervene to ensure that this magnificent building is used for community purposes instead of being sold off to private investors?
I think I dealt with Deputy Danny Healy-Rae's question when I responded to his colleague, Deputy O'Donoghue, earlier in terms of the Government needing revenue to spend on services and to improve all those roads in Kerry that Deputy Danny Healy-Rae has so consistently articulated for. For improvements to the roads and so on-----
-----one needs revenue to do that now and again.
Deputy Bríd Smith raised the issue of the retired workers Bill. I will come back to her on that specifically.
I know, but I do not have the details to hand today.
Regarding the issue raised by Deputy Dillon, we can look at that. The Minister for Rural and Community, Deputy Humphreys, can look at it. Six years was originally a concession at the time. I would have been involved in introducing it under the job initiative and the community employment scheme. We can look at that.
Regarding the issue raised by Deputy Andrews, my understanding - I might be wrong - is that the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, had his eye on that in terms of emergency housing needs or was looking at the building in terms of the Ukrainian situation and whether it could be refurbished for that purpose.
That concludes questions on policy or legislation. We are running 25 minutes over time because, for the most part, neither the questions nor the answers stayed within the time limits.