Dáil debates

Tuesday, 4 October 2022

2:55 pm

Photo of Jack ChambersJack Chambers (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I move:

Tuesday's business shall be: - Motion re Proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Planning and Development Act 2000 (Exempted Development) (No. 3) Regulations 2022 and the Planning and Development (Solar Safeguarding Zone) Regulations 2022 (without debate)

- Statements on Update on Housing for All (to conclude within 210 mins) Private Members' Business shall be the Motion re Defective Concrete Products Levy, selected by Sinn Féin.

Wednesday’s business shall be: - Regulated Professions (Health and Social Care) (Amendment) Bill 2022 (Second Stage, resumed)*

- Personal Injuries Resolution Board Bill 2022 (Second Stage)*

- Communications Regulation Bill 2022 (Second Stage)*

- Higher Education Authority Bill 2022 (Amendments from the Seanad) (to be taken no earlier than 7

p.m. and to conclude within 30 mins)

- Garda Síochána (Compensation) Bill 2021 [Seanad] (Report and Final Stages) (to conclude within 60 mins)

Private Members' Business shall be the Motion re the Provision of Free and Accessible Public Transport, selected by the Independent Group.

*If not previously concluded, debate shall be interrupted on any of these three Bills at Second Stage either four hours and 11 minutes after the conclusion of the SOS or at 7 p.m., whichever is the later.

Thursday’s business shall be:

- Personal Injuries Resolution Board Bill 2022 (Second Stage)

- Communications Regulation Bill 2022 (Second Stage)

- National Cultural Institutions (National Concert Hall) (Amendment) Bill 2022 (Second Stage) Thursday evening business shall be the Motion re Report entitled “Report on meeting on 27th April on the topic of GDPR”.

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) the Dáil shall sit later than 10.30 p.m.; and

(ii) the time allotted to Government business shall be extended for the purpose of allowing the Statements on Update on Housing for All to conclude, and private members’ business shall be taken on the conclusion of the statements, with consequential effect on the commencement time of Parliamentary Questions to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and topical issues;

2. the Motion re Proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Planning and Development Act 2000 (Exempted Development) (No. 3) Regulations 2022 and the Planning and Development (Solar Safeguarding Zone) Regulations 2022 shall be taken without debate; and

3. the Statements on Update on Housing for All 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. In relation to Wednesday’s business, it is proposed that: 1. the proceedings on any second reading motion of a Government Bill shall, if not previously concluded, be interrupted either at 7 p.m. or four hours and 11 minutes after the conclusion of the SOS, whichever is the later;

2. in relation to the Higher Education Authority Bill 2022, the following arrangements shall apply:

(i) the Amendments from the Seanad shall be taken either at 7 p.m., or four hours and 11 minutes following the conclusion of the SOS, 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 Education; and

3. the proceedings on Report and Final Stages of the Garda Síochána (Compensation) Bill 2021 [Seanad] 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 the ordinary routine of business as contained in Schedule 3 to Standing Orders shall be modified to the following extent: (i) if Government business is not previously concluded, the time allotted to it shall be extended until 8 p.m., with consequential effect on the commencement time of topical issues and the motion for the Committee report, and on the time for the adjournment of the Dáil, which may be later than 9.27 p.m.; and

(ii) topical issues shall be taken either at 8 p.m., or on the conclusion of Government business, whichever is the earlier.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Is the Order of Business agreed to? Agreed.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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We have a serious mental health crisis in Ireland. Communities and families are crying out for help. Front-line services and voluntary organisations are crying out for support. It is not an exaggeration to say that we face into a tsunami in mental health need, not least because of the pandemic. We know that children and young people are left waiting for far too long for mental healthcare. More than 4,000 children in the State are on CAMHS waiting lists and another 10,000 are on lists for primary care psychology services. Given the scale of the crisis, the €14 million in additional money allocated in the budget for mental health is paltry. It goes nowhere near meeting the level of demand.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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You are over time.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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I ask the Taoiseach to revisit this before the finance Bill comes before the Dáil.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Budget 2023 sees an additional €72.8 million in funding for mental health services in 2023. That will bring our total investment in mental health to more than €1.2 billion. The €14 million to which the Deputy referred is for new developments. There is an additional increase in the overall budget of close to €73 million. It will focus on reducing waiting lists for CAMHS and child psychology services. In particular coming out of Covid, there are significant issues around mental health and the need to do everything we possibly can to help people come through this period.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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More than 100,000 homes are affected by construction defects, representing 80% of apartments built between 1991 and 2013. This represents a systemic failing in the construction sector. Many of the builders responsible have simply walked away. Many homeowners and householders are faced with thousands of euro in costs, yet in government there has been a failure to bring forward the sort of windfall levy on the construction sector that we in the Labour Party have called for, which would have taxed the profits and not the product. Instead, the Government has put forward the concrete levy. Will the Taoiseach consider accepting the Labour Party amendment to the Private Member's motion, in which we call for a windfall tax on the construction sector? It would represent a levy on profit and not on product. We are also calling for retrospective tax relief for those affected by the construction defects scandal who have been forced to pay out many thousands of euro to try to fix the defects in their homes.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The bottom line is that there is no difference in what the Deputy is proposing and the levy. There is a lot of politics going on about it, but in reality it comes down to the industry or the taxpayer. It is time people made up their minds.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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With respect, we are putting forward a very different alternative. We are not just criticising; we are putting forward an alternative.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I know, but there is no difference in the end.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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It is very different.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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It is one minute per speaker and one minute for a reply.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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There is no difference.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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It appears from the Taoiseach's comments earlier that he is now okay with family homes being traded by investment funds as a financial asset. Let us be very clear about what is happening. Investment funds bought up homes at inflated prices, reducing the supply for individuals and families trying to buy homes and increasing prices at the same time. They then secured long-term leases guaranteed by the State. The investment fund, having secured those lucrative deals, then flips the home onto another investment fund at almost double the price of the going rate. How does the Taoiseach not see a problem with this? What is he going to do about it?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Again, the Deputy is putting words in my mouth that are wrong. He should not do that. He is correct; this is a fund selling on to a fund. That is not how it was presented earlier in the debate, but that is exactly what happened. Since the nine houses, or perhaps a larger estate, were bought, the Government has introduced measures such as stamp duty on any fund that buys ten houses or more and, indeed, planning regulations that were brought in by the Minister to restrict the purchase of homes by institutional funds.

The Deputy knows all those measures are now in place to deal with that issue in respect of homes. It is not, as presented, institutional funds competing with first-time buyers. It was one fund buying from a fund that already had the properties that were being leased to the local authority. The people in the houses stay in the houses and will stay there for the next 25 years, as per their tenancies with the local authority for social homes.

3:05 pm

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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I wish to make three proposals as to how approximately 200,000 pay-as-you-go gas and electricity customers can be protected from the threat of disconnection this winter. The first is to allow customers to transfer from pay-as-you-go bill pay without any obstacles, such as by removing the €199 transfer charge for gas, etc. Disconnections are already banned on bank holidays, Saturdays, Sundays and at other times for pay-as-you-go customers. My second proposal is that the Government could extend the days on which disconnections are banned to any day with a "Y" in it, up to the end of winter, at least. The third is that the Government could introduce a version of the Covid emergency credit, which allowed pay-as-you-go customers an emergency credit of €100 for gas. The number would need to be higher, of course, but there should be no cost to the State. All measures should be financed from the handsome profits of the energy companies. What does the Taoiseach say to these proposals?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Deputy's presentation but, as he knows, the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities, CRU, has functions regarding consumer protection as part of its statutory role, including around disconnections and protections for those on prepay meters. As part of the national energy security framework, the CRU announced enhanced consumer protection measures for implementation this winter. There is a range of protections for customers on prepay meters.

In addition, if anyone is in any difficulty, we have the social welfare system to provide supports on an emergency-needs basis and a basic position with regard to not disconnecting people throughout the winter who are in genuine hardship. We are looking at approximately 340,000 prepay electricity meters, with 90,000 of those provided to people who have experienced electricity debt, to help them budget these costs and providers have clear protocols in place.

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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I often mention University Hospital Waterford here. I congratulate the management team because it is now recognised as the best performing model-4 hospital with regard to trolley counts and it is the only acute model 4 to reduce its outpatient waiting list by 20% so far this year. I have key questions that relate capital resources to which the Taoiseach's office might respond. They relate to the capital plan for 2024, consultant packages, the confirmation of a new 160-bed block, the cardiology beds to support the second catheterisation lab and a new outpatient unit. I ask that the Taoiseach's office revert to me. However, the key question I have for the Taoiseach relates to the loss of 77 community residential beds in Rockshire and Maypark nursing homes. These are two private nursing homes that are closing in Waterford with the loss of 77 beds. This will have a specific impact on the hospital's ability to manage its trolley count.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputy for raising these issues and I join him in paying tribute to University Hospital Waterford on its efficiency and its being the best model-4 hospital in respect of its emergency department and getting the waiting list down 20%. I will revert to him on the current status of the capital plan with regard to cardiology beds and the second catheterisation lab. We are committed to that, as the Deputy knows, but I will get the detail on how it is progressing. Any loss of private nursing home capacity is to be regretted, given the importance that capacity plays in the flow through a hospital in terms of discharge and having proper quality care available for people who, at the stage of their lives, require nursing home residential provision. A range of measures is being put in place by the Minister to support nursing homes.

3:10 pm

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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We have another damning report from Deloitte on the University Limerick Hospitals Group and University Hospital Limerick, UHL but it is going to gather dust on some desk or in some pigeonhole. There is chaos in UHL on a daily basis since the closure of the emergency department in Nenagh Hospital as well St John's Hospital in Limerick and Ennis Hospital. We were told last week quite glaringly of the lack of redeployment and re-engagement of specialist nurses and a group of other people in that hospital. It is crying out for extra staff. Staff are voting with their feet and leaving and the trauma for patients is enormous. Councillor Séamie Morris of Nenagh is on to me on a regular basis about it and so are many others. It is in appalling contrast to what Deputy Shanahan raised about UHW. Something must be done here. We cannot have this Deloitte report, which was done at enormous expense, gathering dust. The management must be held to account as well so we can have services for the people.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The HSE has put a team into UHL to assist with the management of patient flow within the hospital over the past two months. It has had some beneficial impacts in increasing patient flow and the management of patients within certain wards and so forth. Additional staff have also been recruited. We are very conscious of the pressures that are on emergency departments at the moment. The winter initiative, which the Minister for Health will launch in the next ten days, will contain measures to deal with the situation in Limerick and those in other emergency departments as well.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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On the day the Taoiseach was elected and, indeed, in the days and weeks beforehand, I raised with him the issue of the Shannon Heritage sites. Clare County Council is willing to keep these important sites going and has carried out detailed due diligence on the capital investment required. Shannon Airport wants to concentrate on its core activities of aviation and commercial property but certainty is required most of all by the workers. They have lived with the uncertainty of the Shannon Heritage group since the Government took office. Two weeks ago, the Taoiseach toldThe Clare Echo: "I will talk to the Ministers and get this resolved." I am, therefore, wondering if he has any update on what is going to happen with the Shannon Heritage sites.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I was in Shannon. I had a fantastic-----

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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I was there myself.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Yes. If the Deputy recalls Deputy Cathal Crowe and Senator Dooley asked me to meet the manager-----

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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They were walking beside the Taoiseach.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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They asked me to meet the manager on-site on the very same issue and the manager basically identified that there was a funding gap from his perspective. I have spoken to the Minister about it and the Minister is working on this with all the stakeholders to try to get this resolved.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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Is that an update, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle?

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I call An Teachta Brendan Smith.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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There were many despicable crimes on this island during the era known as the Troubles. Seventeen people were abducted, murdered and buried in secret and four of their bodies have yet to be recovered - Robert Nairac, Joseph Lynskey, Seamus Maguire and Columba McVeigh. A search is under way in my constituency, at Bragan Mountain in County Monaghan, hoping to discover the remains of Columba McVeigh. The Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains has repeatedly appealed to the public that anybody who has a scintilla of information that may be of benefit provide it directly to the commission, the Garda or whatever authorities in the State. I appeal to the Taoiseach to issue an appeal to the public again to support the work of the commission and ask anybody who thinks they may have some information that may be useful to provide it to the authorities.

Columba McVeigh was murdered in 1975, which is a long time ago. We know memories fade and that it gets more difficult every day-----

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Go raibh maith agat. We are over time.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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-----but those people just want a Christian burial.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Thank you.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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I am sure, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, we all agree with the words-----

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I agree but I have to move on-----

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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-----of Oliver, his brother, who said "We don’t want any incriminations or any investigations". He said they just want to find Columba and have a Christian burial.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I thank the Deputy and call on the Taoiseach.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I agree with what the Deputy said. An expert team is searching for the disappeared victims of the Troubles. The team has begun a sixth dig for the remains of a teenager, Columba McVeigh, who was murdered by the Provisional IRA in November 1975. He was from Donaghmore, Country Tyrone and was aged 19 when he was abducted, shot and secretly buried. The investigators from the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains have returned to Bragan Bog near Emyvale, County Monaghan and will search there.

They are not saying they have any additional information; we should not presume that. However, they are asking anybody who knows anything that could help them recover Columba's remains to contact the team. A very revealing book, Say Nothingby Patrick Radden Keefe should be required reading for everyone in this House in terms of what happened to families and the lack of any accountability.

3:20 pm

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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The budget provided significant and welcome supports for families around the country such as the €600 energy credit, which people in my constituency are very happy with. However, a small group of people live permanently in a mobile home park in my constituency, many of whom are pensioners. They are not the normal type of ESB account holder but instead pay their energy bills directly to the mobile home park operator through private meter arrangements. I raised this matter last March with the Minister responsible for energy and the CRU, but I did not get an answer. There is no colder place than a mobile home in winter; we all know that. This is unacceptable for a pensioner who has no alternative but to live there. We have to find a way that they can benefit from the €600 credit.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister brought forward proposals to Cabinet this morning in the broader area of the energy credit and is looking at certain categories that fall outside the framework that can facilitate the easy mechanisms to disburse the money. I would like to talk to the Minister about that and maybe the Deputy could engage with him again. I will talk to him and highlight that the Deputy has raised this issue.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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The issue I want to raise is that of part-time retained firefighters. This is affecting all the stations in rural areas outside the main cities. It is a significant problem across Laois-Offaly. Firefighters are leaving and there is difficulty recruiting. The issues are terms and conditions, including rosters. There is a review, which the Taoiseach told me a few months ago would not be concluded until year end. That is too long to wait to deal with this. This is a real problem. There was an emergency meeting of workers on 29 September and they are considering everything up to and including strike action. They are to meet again this week on 7 October to discuss possible strike action. A recent survey showed that 60% of retained part-time firefighters are thinking of leaving the service in the near or not-too-distant future. This is a real problem. The Taoiseach knows it, as I have raised it with him many times. This issue of the retained firefighters has to be dealt with. It is a great service and one of the great successes of our local authority system but we have to deal with it.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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These are issues that need to be resolved within the existing industrial relations mechanisms, and local authorities are tried and trusted now in dealing with these issues. Again, I will talk-----

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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Time is of the essence.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I take the Deputy's point.

Photo of Marian HarkinMarian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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Yesterday, Monday, 3 October, dermatology clinics were cancelled at Sligo University Hospital, SUH. A letter was sent on 22 September by Dr. McKenna, the consultant dermatologist at SUH, to healthcare providers telling them the clinics would be cancelled. The reason we have got to this point is more than 3,500 new patients are waiting for their first appointment and there are 100 new referrals each week. That is a four-year waiting list. We have a long-standing unfilled consultant post at SUH with no locum. The straw that has broken the camel's back is that Dr. McKenna now has no secretarial or administrative staff. Despite two months' notice to the hospital that this position needed to be filled, no secretary has been appointed. I read the response to Dr. McKenna and basically it states, "We can do nothing." We now have no service because there is no administrative support.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I agree with the Deputy that this is a matter of hospital administration and management; let us be honest about it. It should never be raised on the floor of Dáil Éireann. It should not have to be raised on the floor of Dáil Éireann.

Photo of Marian HarkinMarian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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I raised it already

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I have been presented with a note that suggests a locum medical secretary has been assigned to dermatology starting today, 4 October 2022, until a permanent grade 4 has been appointed from a recently formed panel of applicants. The clinical administrative management met with the consultant yesterday to update him on the staff member being assigned to dermatology. A follow-up meeting has to take place with the consultant, new staff member and clinical administrative management supervisor tomorrow to agree what supports are needed to help to get the job done.

Photo of Marian HarkinMarian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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Perhaps raising it here matters.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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When we are down to that level of operational detail in how a hospital is being run, there is an issue.

3:30 pm

Photo of Johnny GuirkeJohnny Guirke (Meath West, Sinn Fein)
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Centralising community welfare officers across the country and in my own county, Meath, starting on 10 October is a shocking decision, as the community welfare officer is an emergency financial lifeline for many people awaiting other social welfare payments to be approved or having to cope with sudden urgent unexpected payments not covered by available income. This will represent a significant delay for them. Services in my constituency, namely, Meath West, will be taken out of towns such as Oldcastle, Athboy, Trim and Kells and moved to Navan, where there is already a waiting list of 200 people to meet the community welfare officer. That number is only from the other day.

In some cases, people will be asked to go 25 miles to meet a community welfare officer, if they can get an appointment. In they could travel 25 miles, they would not need the community welfare officer. In a cost-of-living crisis and with winter coming, people will need this service more than ever. Does the Taoiseach know what is going on on the ground? I call on him to reverse this decision.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I certainly do know what is going on on the ground. Most Deputies do; that is why they are here. They meet and engage with people on an ongoing basis. However, we do not get involved in the day-to-day operation of services either. There has to be some delegation of authority and responsibility in relation to the management of various services.

It is important that people get a timely response to any applications to a community welfare officer. I will talk to the Minister for Social Protection about the points the Deputy raised.

Photo of Christopher O'SullivanChristopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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The free school transport introduced by this Government was a wonderful intervention. It has saved many families across Ireland hundreds of euro. However, like with many schemes, there are always consequences. Unfortunately, in west Cork, there are still many students left without bus tickets. These are students who are eligible and may be concessionary and going to their second-closest school.

In most of the cases that I am liaising with the Minister, Deputy Foley on, they are deemed “late applicants”. However, they are not late applicants because they got their applications in on time. They are being told that they did not request a ticket before 29 July. They did not request a ticket because they were not sent a link. Therefore, it is a technical issue that has led to many of these families being discommoded. I ask that the extra funding allocated under budget 2023 is used to rectify the situation for these families.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Rossmore is a cultural hotspot with one of the best amateur drama groups in the country. It won many national titles and they are very creative people.

The lobbying of the Deputy’s good self and others resulted in additional funding in the budget to deal with, particularly, the concessionary students who did not get places. Basically, the idea of the funding is to increase capacity now so we can get everybody covered for this school year. I will talk to the Minister in respect of how this is playing out in west Cork.

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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This is about the fifth time I have raised this issue. There are tens of thousands of medical card holders across the State who cannot access a dentist for almost two years now. Just think about that - almost two years without access to a dentist. What other western country, or government for that matter, would allow something like that to continue? There are people with serious illnesses, cancer, diabetes or complex dental needs. There are people living in pain. Who in government is taking responsibility? It is clear that it is not being prioritised. People are left almost two years without access to a dentist. Can the Taoiseach give a date to those people as to when they will be able to access their basic right in any civil society to have access to dental care? Can he give a date? Will it be before Christmas, for example?

As I said, I raised this five time before. I ask that the Taoiseach does not regurgitate the same response that he has given €10 million extra. People cannot access dental care. That is the issue. When will they be able to do it? Will they be able to do it before Christmas?

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I ask the Deputy to allow the Taoiseach to respond.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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In the budget, the Minister has allocated further moneys for dental access, particularly for younger people. The Deputy mentioned cancer, for example, in the middle of that. Any person who requires dental work in relation to cancer of the mouth or whatever would not be waiting that length of time at all, nor should they be.

If the Deputy has cases, she could bring them-----

3:40 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I call Deputy Stanton.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister has allocated funding.

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I asked for a date

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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You know there is an issue-----

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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He has no date.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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-----between the organisation representing them-----

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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The Taoiseach should speak through the Chair.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I am sorry.

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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He has no date; he could not care less.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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That should be withdrawn.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Could I have a little co-operation because we have eaten into the time of the Deputy's colleagues?

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I am sure we have all been contacted by many small businesses that are under considerable pressure because of rising energy costs. Could the Taoiseach tell me when these businesses will get the very welcome support that was promised in the budget? If the businesses are still under pressure following that, will there be a further avenue of support? Is this being planned?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister for Finance is working out the details on how that scheme will be rolled out and administered. There could be further details in the Finance Bill also. The EU continually reviews its temporary crisis aid framework, which places restrictions on us regarding how we administer a business support scheme. In other words, we have to be close to the EU temporary crisis aid framework in terms of how much we can aid businesses and companies in difficulty as a result of the energy price increases. That work is continuing at European level, so that could inform later iterations of the scheme. For the time being, we are concentrating on getting the scheme we have announced rolled out.

Photo of Gino KennyGino Kenny (Dublin Mid West, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I want to raise an issue regarding the shortage of public health nurses in early childhood development. These are vital services for new mothers. Several parents have contacted me and other Deputies in Dublin Mid-West to inform us there are no public health nurses whatsoever. They have been told by the HSE that they will not have one for at least 18 months. This is completely unacceptable. The problem is acute, not only in Dublin. Of the 240 public health nurse vacancies, 62% are in Dublin. The services are vital but parents cannot avail of them. What is the Government doing to address these issues? The issues pertain to something that goes further than vacancies because nurses just will not take up the positions because of the cost of rent and the cost of living.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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If the Deputy could send me the details of the particular shortages and the location, I will follow it up with the Minister for Health. Obviously, public health nurses in the area of early childhood development are important. I will talk to the Minister about the points the Deputy has raised. He should feel free to send me some specifics on the matter. I will follow up of them.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Limerick City, Fianna Fail)
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Up to a few minutes ago, I had four complaints today already – now the number is up to five – about people interacting with University Hospital Limerick. The Taoiseach indicated in previous replies to me that he had some sympathy with the notion of an elective-only hospital for the mid-west along with the hospitals in Galway, Cork and Dublin. The cause of the problem is the shortage of beds. The number in University Hospital Limerick is insufficient to meet the needs of the population. I want to find out whether there has been any discussion on this and when there will be a decision on it. Could the Taoiseach contact the Minister for Health and revert to me in writing? The crisis at University Hospital Limerick continues unabated and is causing a great deal of suffering and misery in the area. It is also generating a huge amount of anger.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Yes. As I said earlier today, the HSE did send a team to Limerick. It has had some impact. It illustrates the importance of governance, management, patient flow and all of that. This issue has been featuring for quite some time. The Government has accelerated what was being planned for Galway and Cork, in particular, in terms of elective units. In the past six months, in particular, Deputy O'Dea and others have brought forward the idea of an elective hospital for Limerick. I support this but what concerns me is the degree to which we can get it through the health system more generally and more quickly. However, I believe the elective hospital route is the way to go. It takes pressure off the main hospital and gets waiting lists dealt with more expeditiously and efficiently for patients. I will talk to the Minister for Health about how we can fast-track that and have a proposal made on it.