Thursday, 3 October 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re the arrangements for the sitting of the House for Tuesday, 8 October, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 2, motion re the appointment of members of the Legal Services Regulatory Authority, back from committee, to be taken the conclusion of No. 1 without debate; and No. 3, statements on the beef sector, to be taken at 12.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes.
I thank the Deputy Leader. I am not sure if Senator Byrne has been Deputy Leader previously, so if she has not, I congratulate her on the role. I will try to be as helpful as possible. We may have some of the lowest ratings ever for the Order of Business today because the Ireland team is 15 minutes or 20 minutes into a rugby match at this stage. I wish them well. To be fair, we should congratulate the team and management on all the work being done out there, as well as the supporters who have gone to Japan. Senator Byrne was there for a few days supporting the team and doing her best to represent Ireland. We should acknowledge the great behaviour of the supporters in both victory and defeat in the past couple of matches. While she has left, I also acknowledge the presence of former Senator, Lorraine Higgins, and I congratulate her on becoming honorary consul of the Slovak Republic. She was appointed to the role last week.
I am also conscious that we will not meet again until after the budget. We must all bear in mind that Brexit is generating so much uncertainty for us and the Good Friday Agreement must be protected. The Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, has been working with Deputies Michael McGrath and Barry Cowen to produce a measured and reasonable budget. My party wishes the Minister and my colleagues well, as they are facilitating the Government in its minority position, subject to criteria. It is very important to acknowledge that we are facing major uncertainty. Only last night American tariffs were imposed on a wide range of European goods, which unfortunately include butter, cheese, pork, Irish liqueurs and whiskey from Northern Ireland but not the Republic of Ireland for some reason. This is because of the World Trade Organization's, WTO, understanding that the European Union has been giving Airbus subsidies to the detriment of Boeing. Sometimes we hear comments to the effect that everything would be fine if the WTO rules were in effect after Brexit but it is clear the organisation is allowing the United States to impose significant tariffs. I hope Kerrygold and others will be able to manage that as best they can.
I hope the Cathaoirleach will indulge me slightly as the Chamber is not as full as it can be. I hope everybody will pay attention to the yellow and orange wind warnings for Storm Lorenzo today and tomorrow. Wind can be very dangerous and people might think if it is not raining, it is not so bad. Wind has the potential to knock down trees and cause serious injury. Trampolines have taken off from people's gardens and landed in other gardens. I ask everybody to pay attention and batten down garden furniture as much as possible. Without wanting to sound too much like Ms Teresa Mannion, people should avoid unnecessary journeys and be careful in how they get around.
Will the Deputy Leader seek to bring the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Richard Bruton, to the House to debate broadband provision? A committee met over the summer and it produced a report. We have not yet seen a contract signed and we do not know what is happening yet. It is important that the Minister should come in and outline the next stages in the broadband process.
Yesterday, a Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Jim Daly, said he was ashamed and embarrassed, and that he is sorry he must apologise daily for the treatment of older people. There are so many people on waiting lists. The Minister for Health said 80,000 additional home help hours would be available in 2019 but that has not happened. There are 1.1 million people on the overall outpatient waiting list. We need the Minister in the House to discuss health matters in a meaningful way. September was the worst month this year for overcrowding and we are not even remotely close to winter. There are 500 vacant consultant posts and 6,000 more pensioners are going on outpatient waiting lists every month. It is an important matter and I am not trying to score points against the Deputy Leader. Health is one of the most serious matters and everybody worries about it, particularly with regard to older parents and grandparents, etc. We need to have the Minister before the House as soon as possible.
The impact of Storm Lorenzo is on some people's minds today, particularly those in the west. It is also of concern to a number of people who are homeless tonight. It is all right that the Government's message is to stay high and dry but Irish citizens all over this country today and tonight will not have a choice because of a lack of beds. Storms such as this may become more frequent and this Government must ensure that proper funding can be put in place to ensure we have enough emergency beds for rough sleepers.
The great homelessness problem is a major issue and people have a right to housing and a home. Rough sleepers in Dublin may not get a bed until 11 p.m. and they will be put out at 7 a.m. This is not acceptable at any time.However, when we have bad weather, similar to what is promised, it acutely focuses our minds on the numbers of people who are homeless and whom we continue to let down. I commend the local authorities which are preparing for Storm Lorenzo and putting things in place this morning.
We need to be mindful of the costs involved. Mayo County Council is stating it will have an overrun of €3 million this year. There is a serious lack of funding for the local authorities to engage in the core activities that need to be undertaken. When one adds the expenses necessary to deal with a storm such as Storm Lorenzo, the costs rise. We need a full debate in this Chamber on local authority funding. It is not just the case that we must rely on the local property tax, it is about much more than that. Local authorities need to be funded to carry out their core functions. They have not been funded adequately for a long time in the way they need to be.
Today's announcements on tariffs will have an impact on farming. There is almost a perfect storm hitting the agriculture sector with Brexit, tariffs and storms. We need to do everything to protect the sector and farming in coastal areas.. Farm families are absolutely living in dread because they are living on such low margins and producing produce at a loss. They are not getting fair prices, as we saw in the beef protests. We need to do much more to support the industry.
I commend local and regional radio stations. At a time like this they play an important role in communicating with people, particularly those who live on their own in isolated areas and are fearful because of Storm Lorenzo. We need to acknowledge this in funding and supporting local and regional radio stations, in particular.
I concur with Senator Conway-Walsh in her comments on homelessness. We are all worried about getting home during the storm, but one only has to walk around the streets of Dublin or Cork, with which I am very familiar, to see people living in makeshift tents. I hope they will be safe. I have just come from a briefing given by the Simon Communities of Ireland. They are operating at capacity or beyond in their shelters. When I was chief executive, there were 44 beds available. My happiest day will be when we have enough housing in order that nobody will need to be in a shelter. The shelters are overcrowded, with 50 people each night. It is catastrophic for those who have to rely on emergency services and would rather be in a house. There was a very good report published this week by Cork Simon on people getting back into work. Time was when someone had a job, it was the pathway out of homelessness. Now, owing to the unavailability of housing, people in a shelter are working. That is a shocking state of affairs I take the opportunity on the Order of Business to ask the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to come to the Chamber after the announcement of the budget to see what settlement has been made on housing, particularly for organisations working on the front line.
The all-party Oireachtas group on dementia have had three cracks at the budget and got nowhere. We have tabled Commencement matters and had meetings with Ministers. We have packed out Oireachtas venues such as the dining room and the AV room. Everybody is in agreement that dementia is a major issue. Most Members have a family member who is directly affected by it, yet we have made no progress. We made modest requests last year and promises were made, but nothing came of them in the budget. I concur with Senator Horkan in requesting the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to come to the Chamber to make a statement on the allocation to be included in budget 2020 for dementia services. People cannot wait. A modest sum of €7.5 million would bring services up to a minimum standard in providing access to home care and day services. A modest sum of €1.6 million would enable us to make a start in providing an infrastructure of dementia advisers. When people receive a diagnosis of dementia, they are sent home without any support. They do not know what to do. They are left with a significant diagnosis and no signposts or supports in dealing with it. We would like to have a network of dementia advisers in every part of the country. We want regional centres of excellence for people with Down's syndrome who develop dementia at a much higher rate and a much earlier age. We also want homecare services. There is a lack of such provision which means we are failing people all of the time.
To recap, I would like the Ministers for Housing, Planning and Local Government and Health to come to the House to make statements on housing and services for those with dementia.
I support Senator Kelleher's requests, but the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, must attend the House today. For three years an all-party committee has been raising the issue of the lack of support for people with dementia, but its requests have fallen on deaf ears. The group has met the Minister and organised several open days in the AV room which many Members have attended. Unfortunately, we have seen absolutely no progress. There was a Commencement debate last week, but, unfortunately, the Minister could not attend. We heard that services were being supported from the Dormant Accounts Fund. The funding has to be mainstreamed. There are nine dementia advisers to cover the length and breadth of the country, which is totally unacceptable. It is a postcode lottery. The dementia advisers are the key people who signpost where services can be accessed. They assist the family in keeping somebody suffering from dementia in the home for a longer period and active in their community. Without this, we would be seeing more and more people with dementia being pushed into nursing home care, which would be totally unacceptable. For three years the battle has continued and we have got little or nothing, which is totally unacceptable. We have been told at the last minute on many occasions that the provision of funding for dementia services has been pushed back to the end of the queue. I, for one, no longer accept that the citizen who is suffering from dementia and their family should be pushed to the end of the queue. There must be some acknowledgement of their pain and suffering. There must also be some acknowledgement of the work the families put in to mind their loved ones at home and some assistance must be provided for them. I fully support the amendment proposed to the Order Business that the Minister for Health attend the House today to take statements on the lack of support for those suffering from dementia.
I wish to comment on two recent issues. First, the Celtic interconnector is a game changer. The Government has received significant moneys from the European Union for this major piece of infrastructure. It is a €1 billion project and more than half of the money is coming from the European Union. It will give us the interconnector we require to connect to the Continent and will have the capability to bring power supplies to nearly 500,000 houses. It will close the loop. We are already connected to the United Kingdom and will now be connected to the Continent. It is a really significant project, about which we have been talking for a decade or two. As I said, it is a game changer and what we need for fuel security and to have lower prices.
The other issue I want to raise is Brexit, on which a significant statement was made in the United Kingdom yesterday.It is something we need to consider. It is not the basis for a deal but it is probably the basis for further negotiations. Further negotiations could be what we need to get a deal. There is a bit of Brexit fatigue now and people are getting tired of the debate, but it is important that we hold the line on the core principles we are looking for. It was a positive statement and we need to work with it and negotiate on it.
We are in the middle of a severe weather warning. I do not normally get involved in local politics as my job is to support people in local politics. I am reassured as I watch county councils prepare for severe weather. Members of the Defence Forces have spent the past 48 hours preparing sandbags and vehicles to deal with the worst the storm may bring. It is important to place on the record of this House our appreciation for the work they do, even though they may not be required at the end of the day. I am frequently asked why we need a defence force. This is just one of the tiny jobs it does, from bomb disposal through to sandbags for floods and being available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but that is what it is there for. It is important also to recognise that county council and city council workers carry out the same role and are available on a 24-7 basis, 365 days of the year in a national emergency.
I second Senator Humphreys's amendment to the Order of Business. I also wish to raise the issue of dual diagnosis. I read an article in The Irish Times today about a young man who sought help for psychiatric issues but was turned away because of addiction issues. Last year a person was in position to work on a strategy in the area of dual diagnosis but the person was subsequently let go. The job was readvertised and the person applied for it but did not get it. As far as I am aware the position remains empty while, every week, people with suicidal ideation or severe psychosis are being sent away from hospitals because of addiction. We should have got to the stage where we understand that addiction and mental health are often a chicken-and-egg situation. I would like the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to make a statement in the House on the issue. It would need to be the Minister because, by siloing the issue to Ministers of State like Deputy Daly or Deputy Catherine Byrne, we continue to accept that one Department has responsibility for the dual strategy diagnosis when it needs to be a targeted health strategy. We need to know that services can no longer turn somebody away because of a dual diagnosis. We need a care plan that addresses addiction and dual diagnosis because people are dying every week because they cannot access services.
I endorse 100% of what Senator Craughwell said about our Defence Forces and our county councillors and councils throughout the Twenty-six Counties. It is quite obvious from what the British Government, led by Boris Johnson, has been saying and by what it has submitted to the European Union that it is intent on crashing out without a deal. It is time for cool heads and I wish the Government well in the crucial coming few weeks. It is important that we look to the future and to what proposals the Government has relating to the British border on this island. I agree with Senator Bacik, who said she took exception to the Border being referred to as an "Irish border" when it is a British border imposed on this island. The British are now neglecting their duty to their citizens in the Six Counties and to the people throughout the Thirty-two Counties, as well as to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I ask the Deputy Leader to invite the Taoiseach into the House so that we have an opportunity to hear the Government's proposals for ensuring that this island is not decimated. We have heard about the tropical storm that we are facing in the next 24 hours but the tropical storm fuelled by the hot air from 10 Downing Street will turn this debacle into a typhoon that will destroy this 32-county nation.
I would like to hear what proposals the Taoiseach has for the Border counties. For almost four decades we were decimated, economically and politically, and it is important the Taoiseach outlines to the Border communities his proposals for their security, including their economic security. Down through the decades there has been a neglect of the Border region and a disconnect from it. Looking at the rail network map of the 1920s, nobody was more than 20 minutes from a railway station on the 32-county island, and this was a time when people had to use a horse and cart. Looking at the railway map of today, there is no rail line to Dublin north of Galway or Sligo. More worrying, a map of motorway infrastructure that has been constructed over the past 20 years shows a very disturbing similarity, with a total disconnect from the Border region and the North of Ireland. It is time we faced up to this and looked at the proposals to remedy it, and did so quickly.
I have had a brief meeting with parents who have taken leadership into their own hands with respect to autism units and classes for their children. This is happening throughout the country but particularly in Dublin. In Dublin 12, Dublin 15, Dublin 8 and Dublin 6, parents have commenced a parent support group because their children are isolated and alone. They have no information and no care plans, despite the fact that we know early intervention is the best approach. They have to travel miles to get an education placement outside their comfort zone and their communities. I ask for the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, to give the House an update on this issue. We need to consider putting a provision into the legislation that states that all new builds, extensions and fundamental infrastructural change to schools must provide sufficient units for children so that they do not have to travel outside their community. We want inclusion and support and we want these children to have an education within their communities, to make friends, and to become leaders of the next generation.That is vitally important. At present, they are out on a limb, on their own, frightened and isolated, and afraid to say anything to the schools to explain what their children need because they might be told all of a sudden that it is too much for the schools and that those needs cannot be met there. Children are being home tutored, which is an hour a day, if it is granted, and there is a delay in that regard. I would be delighted if the Leader could ask the Minister, Deputy McHugh, to come in and give us an update.
First, I welcome to the Public Gallery Mr. Maurice Quinn, Secretary General of the Department of Defence, his mother, Ms Quinn, and family and friends who are on a private visit to Leinster House to see the work that has been completed.
On a point of clarification, I mentioned yesterday the situation regarding the Post Office Savings Bank and the accounts of people throughout the country who have got-----
The point is not about my account. It is about the accounts that people have. Yesterday, I was under the impression that my account was dormant. It was not dormant; it was inactive for 36 months. If an account is inactive, the account holder must get it updated by producing his or her passport or identification accounts. Also, a dormant account is one that is 15 years inactive.
Yesterday, I wanted clarification. It is important when a Senator speaks in this House that, if he or she does not have 100% of the information and gets that information subsequently, he or she gives it to the House. Since I spoke yesterday, numerous people have contacted me and are now looking up the accounts that they had many years ago to see if they still exist. By the way, they still exist. I am looking for the numbers from the Department but I have not got the information back in time for my contribution today. I was in touch early this morning with An Post to find out the number of inactive accounts, the number of savings accounts and the number of dormant accounts.
The Post Office Savings Bank should reactivate its business, particularly with young people. Years ago, there were saving stamps for young people which could be collected up and lodged by them. By the way, they are only paying 0.15%, which is most unattractive. Nevertheless, it is a State bank. It is providing funding for the State at a low rate. All I am saying is that maybe it is a wake-up call for many people who have accounts there and that they should check it out. I would recommend that people save with An Post because it is a State savings account. I would also recommend that they would get a credit card from An Post.
Ireland certainly is being commended. Even after the match the other day, they stayed and clapped the Japanese. We are renowned for the way that we carry on when we are abroad, certainly, in terms of sport.
The budget and Brexit are the other matters Senator Horkan raised, and how the Good Friday Agreement needs to be protected. We are all in support of that and all in agreement.
The Senator mention Storm Lorenzo and the warning to people to stay inside and heed the warnings. There are many updates coming from both the national unit and the local units. I compliment all involved, especially the volunteers. I am aware that volunteers have been working hard to bring people regular updates.
In terms of the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, and broadband, I will issue an invitation to the Minister.
The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris is due here on 23 October, in three weeks. That is already in the diary.
Senator Conway-Walsh, who has had to go to a committee meeting, paid tribute to those working in the storm, especially in the west. I have already referred to that, including all the volunteers throughout the country.
Senator Conway-Walsh also raised the issue of homelessness. There was a briefing this morning. I was at it briefly before I had to come to the Chamber. The Simon Community and the different associations are doing wonderful work. It is to be hoped everybody will keep safe, especially those who are homeless, in the forthcoming storm this evening.
Senator Conway-Walsh also paid tribute to the local authorities, especially Mayo County Council. I join the Senator in that. She also asked for a debate on local authority funding. There is no difficulty in asking the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government with special responsibility for local government and electoral reform, Deputy Phelan, to come to the House, and I will submit that request as well.
Senator Kelleher also raised the issues of homelessness and dementia. Having been to many of the briefings, I certainly support Senator Kelleher and her committee on the wonderful work they have been doing. It is disappointing that they did not receive what they were looking, but let us hope something will come from the budget this year.
Senator Kelleher also raised the issue of homecare packages. That was something that came up yesterday at the Joint Committee on Health, where I was in attendance. I note that there was a commitment from the Minister to look at it. I hope there will be extra funding announced for it in the budget next week but there was an indication that it is something that they are looking at in a very serious manner.
Senator Humphreys asked whether the Minister was available to come to the House today. Unfortunately, the Minister is not available today but he is due here on 23 October. I hope that is acceptable to the Senator. Senator Humphreys also raised the issue of dementia. I note the Senator's great interest in it and how supportive he is of the committee.
Senator Lombard raised the issue of the Celtic interconnector, and I agree with the Senator on its importance in terms of Brexit. There was a phone call - it has been publicised - between the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister last night. The Government is taking the new proposals of the British Prime Minister, Mr. Johnson, very seriously. The Taoiseach has a number of meetings and phone calls with European Heads of State and Government planned over the coming days. Let us hope something will be resolved there.
Senator Craughwell paid tribute to the Defence Forces, the local authorities and the work they are carrying out to prepare for the coming storm. We all thank them for their hard work. They have been filling sandbags and working hard. Certainly, I hope that Ireland will benefit from the work that has been carried out by both the Defence Forces and local authorities, especially in the coastal areas they are most concerned about.
Senator Ruane raised the issue of dual diagnosis, how a position has not been filled, people are being turned away, and the need for proper care plans to be put in place. It is something on which I support the Senator because I have had contact from people who have had similar problems. It is something that needs to be raised. Certainly, it is something that should be raised here when the Minister, Deputy Harris, comes to the House on 23 October.
Senator Wilson also commended the Defence Forces and the local authorities, to which I have already referred. The Senator raised the need to keep a cool head in terms of Brexit, the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and the Border counties. I understand his frustration. We all are supportive. The Border countries are an important place. The linkages between the North of Ireland and the South of Ireland are important to all 32 counties. I certainly support Senator Wilson in that.
Senator Devine raised the issue of autism in the different areas of Dublin. The Senator met parents this morning. It is something that we discuss quite a bit. Autism spectrum disorder, ASD, units are discussed at the Joint Committee on Education and Skills. Certainly, I will commit to asking the Minister, Deputy McHugh, to come here for a debate on it.
Senator Leyden welcomed Mr. Maurice Quinn and his family and friends, who are now gone, to the Gallery. The Senator mentioned the difference between inactive accounts and dormant accounts. It is important to get that message out there because people are confused and not aware when it comes to their accounts. The Senator raised a valid point. That concludes the business of the House.
I am not talking about the match at all. The Dáil has deferred its weekly divisions on the grounds of health and safety. I spoke prior to Senator Humphreys about bringing the Minister in, as did Senator Kelleher. If he is not available today, we should consider that.
Ivana Bacik, Frances Black, Gerard Craughwell, Maire Devine, Alice Mary Higgins, Kevin Humphreys, Colette Kelleher, Pádraig MacLochlainn, Gerald Nash, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Lynn Ruane.