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Committee on Public Petitions debate -
Thursday, 20 Jan 2022

Decisions on Public Petitions Received

We have six petitions for consideration today.

Petition 115/21, "Respectful Dialogue", is from Mr. Des Lafferty. The recommendation is that this petition be closed as the Joint Committee on Public Petitions has exhausted all avenues in trying to assist this petitioner. The previous response from the Department of Foreign Affairs was comprehensive and advised that the Ombudsman commenced the review of this case in 1996 but indicated to Mr. Lafferty in 1997 that it was not in a position to rule on a matter as the Agency for Personal Service Overseas, APSO, is a public body specifically excluded from its remit. It appears from the files that every effort was made by both APSO and the Department to engage with Mr. Lafferty to resolve his concerns. Do members have any views on this or is the recommendation agreed?

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Petition 26/21, "Urgently support Tunisia in the Covid-19 Crisis", comes from Mr. Mr. Fakhri Selmi. The recommendation is that a copy of the correspondence from the Department of Foreign Affairs be forwarded to the petitioner for comment. Do members have any views?

On my own behalf, we have looked at the case. There was €600 million set aside to send vaccines to Tunisia. A total of €300 million of that has been spent and there is still €300 million to send more vaccines. I am recommending that we take the recommendations of the secretariat. Is that agreed?

Agreed. Petition 40/21, "Petition for Nationwide Public Recycling Bins" is from Ms Kezia Wright. The recommendation is that the correspondence from the Environmental Protection Agency be forwarded to the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications along with the petition details and that correspondence from the Environmental Protection Agency be forwarded to the petitioner for her information. Do any of the members have views on this or do we take the recommendations of the secretariat?

I agree with the recommendations of the secretariat.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Petition 41/21, "Maternity, paternity and parental leave in the case of multiple births" is under the name of a Mr. Christopher McCann. The recommendation is that the correspondence from the Department of Social Protection be forwarded to the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth along with the petition details and that the correspondence from the Department of Social Protection be sent to the petition for information. There was a comprehensive reply given. Do the members have any views or are they in agreement with the recommendation of the secretariat?

I agree with the recommendations of the secretariat. It has been extremely comprehensive. There is a strong reply there from the Department as well and it is fairly clear and clarifies everything that the petitioner is looking for.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Petition 44/21, "National Youth Justice Strategy" comes from Mr. Liam Doran. The recommendation from the private session was that correspondence from the Department be forwarded to the petitioner for comment.

One of the concerns raised yesterday relates to programmes for 18 to 24 year olds but if we wait until young people are 24 before providing help, we will lose them. It was mentioned yesterday in private session that intervention needs to take place at primary school level. I suggest that the need for earlier intervention be included in this petition. I propose that the committee write to Mr. Liam Doran and suggest that he include in his petition the need for intervention at a younger age, at primary school. It has also been suggested previously that the proceeds of crime that are obtained by CAB could be used at local level to help youth clubs and other organisations that are dealing with families and young people at an early age. Would any committee members have a problem with that also being included in Mr. Doran's petition?

I agree with that proposal.

As nobody objects to the proposal, I will ask the secretariat to contact Mr. Doran in that regard.

Petition No. 48/2021 from Mr. David Dunne relates to saving St. Brigid's Hospital. The recommendation is that correspondence from Mr. Ray Mitchell, assistant national director at the HSE, be forwarded to Mr. Dunne for comment. Do members have any views on that?

I agree with the Chairman's recommendation and look forward to hearing Mr. Dunne's response. The issues he raises are similar to the issues raised in the petition regarding the Owenacurra centre. I am interested in his response because the situation at St. Brigid's Hospital seems to mirror what is happening with other institutions that are old and archaic and in which no investment has been made over the years. I agree with the recommendations of the secretariat and await Mr. Dunne's reply.

I am familiar with this situation because the hospital is in my constituency. As Deputy Buckley said, some facilities are archaic and there has been no investment in them. The local community has raised a massive amount of money over the years and was willing to do so again. I suggest that after we get a response from Mr. Dunne, we bring in representatives of the HSE to discuss this matter. The committee asked for an engineer's report but it is not clear from any of the correspondence which report is being used as a basis for closing down the facility. Promises were made on the floor of the Dáil about St. Brigid's Hospital opening up. I totally agree that Covid-19 has been used to start closing down a lot of these facilities. I agree with Deputy Buckley that we should await Mr. Dunne's response but we should also consider asking the HSE to produce the report that was used to close the hospital down. I know the hospital and as far as I am concerned, there is no great difference between it and other places that remain open. In fact, it is in much better condition than most hospitals. We will send the HSE reply to Mr. Dunne and ask him to respond but we should keep an open mind about inviting the HSE and the Minister to appear before us, if needs be. Is that agreed?

That concludes our consideration of public petitions this afternoon. I invite members of the public to submit petitions through our online portal. A petition may be addressed to the Houses of the Oireachtas on a matter of general public concern or interest or an issue of public policy. The next item on our agenda is any other business. Does any member wish to raise anything or make a final comment?

I wish to mention a petition relating to a housing estate in County Kildare. I ask the committee to agree to the secretariat writing to Kildare County Council requesting an update on the estate. I will not mention its name right now but I suggest we should find out the latest position in regard to the estate. Is that agreed?

Agreed. Briefly, I wish to refer to petition No. 42/2021 relating to saving the services at the Owenacurra centre in Midleton. We have not received much of an update, even through parliamentary questions, on this matter. It has been discussed by this committee and also the Joint Sub-Committee on Mental Health. We still have no clarity on what is actually happening with the premises and I fear the issue will get lost. I intend to submit further parliamentary questions on the issue but if we are going to invite the HSE in to discuss St. Brigid's Hospital, we might be able double-job, so to speak, and ask some questions about the Owenacurra centre too. Could that be facilitated?

I agree with Deputy Buckley. It seems that the same criteria are being used to close both facilities. There has been very poor communication from the HSE in terms of producing engineers' reports that have been requested by groups in Midleton and Carrick-on-Suir. I do not see any problem with combining the petitions and putting questions to the HSE on both facilities. The petitions are very similar and the closure of the facilities referred to will be a massive loss to local communities. Does anyone have an objection to that? As there are no objections, I will ask the secretariat to follow up on that.

Deputy Pat Buckley: Thanks.

As there is no other business, the committee will adjourn until 11.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 2 February 2022, at which point we will have a virtual private meeting. We will have a public meeting on Thursday, 3 February 2022 at 11.30 a.m. Just before we finish, I want to welcome Deputy Emer Higgins-----

My apologies, Chairman. I had to attend a meeting of the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Are you wrapping up now?

The Deputy is welcome.

Deputy Higgins is replacing former Deputy Eoghan Murphy on this committee. We welcome Deputy Higgins. She is the only female member of the committee, more is the pity. All of the parties need to look at the committees across the House and try to ensure a more even gender representation on them. I welcome Deputy Higgins and assure her that the secretariat of the committee, including Leo, Margaret and Susan, are brilliant. They work extremely hard on our behalf. The Deputy is welcome on board.

Thanks very much. I really appreciate that. I thank Leo for all of the documentation he sent me in advance of me joining the committee this week. He provided a hugely helpful induction which I really appreciate. I am glad to be flying the flag for my gender at this committee. There were only two committees in the Oireachtas that did not have a female member but we have righted that for this committee. All we have to do now is get the other committee to join us. I am looking forward to working with the committee and thank the Chairman for his very kind welcome.

We are also looking forward to working with Deputy Higgins. This committee affects people in all communities, small and big. People are depending on us to run a good committee and to date, we have done so. All members have worked really hard, together with the secretariat. We have a very strong but very busy secretariat which we share with the Joint Committee on Key Issues affecting the Traveller Community. We have asked for a separate secretariat and will keep working on that.

The committee adjourned at 3.20 p.m. until 11.30 a.m. on Thursday, 3 February 2022.