I beg the permission of the House to share my time with my colleagues Deputies Browne, Hogan and Enda Kenny.
Private Members' Business. - Care of the Elderly: Motion.
I am sure that is agreed. Agreed.
That Dáil Éireann, mindful of the importance of carers in the provision of care to the elderly, deplores the recent comments of Deputy Emmet Stagg, Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, wherein he described nursing homes as "corrals of death" and calls on the Government to recognise, encourage and support the carer and the dependent in this, the European Year of Older People, by reforming the carer's allowance and introducing a charter for carers to ensure appropriate assistance to the dependent and by guaranteeing institutionalised care where families can no longer cope.
The reported comments of the Minister of State at a function in Knock, County Mayo, last week as well as being an unwarranted attack on nursing homes, their staff and patients, also focused attention on an area of Government policy in need of reform and review. The substance of the remarks must either be withdrawn or substantiated. In this regard, I am pleased that the Minister of State is present in the House and tonight I offer him a direct challenge to explain his remarks to the House. On two occasions last week, during Question Time and again at the commencement of business, I asked that the matter be clarified but on both occasions the Minister of State and the Government remained silent.
Thousands of carers and the elderly community have been frightened and angered by the Minister of State's statement. The fact that he chose the closing days of the European Year of Older People to record his outburst is even move damning.
The Minister of State has cast a most unfair and unjustified slur on nursing homes. I want the House to acknowledge the role of the nursing home in the State and the valuable care and attention being provided by them to old people who can no longer look after themselves. I ask the House to consider if there is a more vulnerable group in society than those who for a variety of reasons are unable to look after themselves.
Nursing home staff have a most important role in the creation of a homely environment within the nursing institution which for many old people is their home, their only residence. What message has the Minister of State sent to these people, their families and friends? Of course, there is a need for the nursing home in our society and this requires recognition in State policy.
People go into care for a variety of reasons. Studies show that usually a number of factors arise over a number of years. The final decision to go to a home is often related to an incident in the life of the older person which makes it too difficult for him or her to continue to live in the community. Health, homelessness, lack of security of tenure, death of a companion, convalescence, fear of living alone, feebleness or a planned decision are the reasons people opt for residential care in a nursing home setting.
The importance of the nursing home is underlined when we look at the demographic structure of this country today. The elderly account for 11.2 per cent of the population. By the year 2006 that percentage will rise to between 13 per cent and 16.5 per cent. More seriously, in regard to the so-called "old elderly"— those over 75 years of age — there were 143,900 such persons in 1986 and they accounted for 37 per cent of the elderly population. This figure will rise to 163,400 by the year 2006 by which time those aged 75 years and over will constitute 44 per cent of the elderly population. This increase poses a huge problem for policy makers and service providers.
The distinction between the elderly and "old elderly" is important in the context of the Minister of State's remarks as it is those aged 75 years and over who benefit most from nursing home care. I should say however that Fine Gael is supportive of the shift away from long-stay institutional care towards community care as outlined in the policy document "The Years Ahead". The main objects of this document which appear to have been forgotten by the Government are worth recording: to maintain elderly people in dignity and independence in their own homes; to restore those older people who fall ill or dependent to independence at home; to encourage and support the care of the elderly in their own community by family, neighbours and voluntary bodies in every way possible and to provide high quality hospital and residential care for older people when they can no longer be maintained in dignity and independence at home. The Minister of State, Deputy Stagg, appears to have a problem with these objectives and I would like to know if his view is shared by his colleagues in the Labour Party or, indeed, their partners in Government.
Policy objectives in caring for the elderly must provide for a genuine partnership between family and State. The Minister of State's comments dealt a serious blow to this partnership. In 1990 when the Nursing Homes Bill was introduced it was welcomed on all sides of the House and it was regrettable that it did not take full effect until September this year. The regulations in respect of the subvention to private nursing homes while helping some people are nevertheless most discriminatory. The means testing is unfair and causing severe problems. Many elderly people are ruled out because of means testing of family members who may be taking no interest in them. Under the Fianna Fáil-Labour Party Coalition the very young and the very old are the only groups who are means tested on other family members' income; they are not means tested on their own income or assets alone. This concept of ageism is creeping into Irish society with the direct support of the Minister of State and this causes a problem for us in Fine Gael.
Does the Government realise the extent to which caring for the elderly in nursing homes can be a drain on family finances? Some families pay in excess of half the family income to keep an elderly relative in care. These are the people the Minister of State accused of "dumping old people in homes". Moderate and middle income families are again being singled out for the big stick of this Fianna Fáil-Labour Party Coalition Government. When will the Government accept that the difficulty in meeting nursing home fees along with college fees is one of the major financial worries of moderate and middle income families? As the Minister of State will be aware, £500,000 of the much talked of £4 million to implement the Nursing Homes Act was siphoned off immediately for Beaumont Hospital. In effect, this sum represents £2.50 per patient per day as against a cost per patient per day of between £35 and £40.
Delays in making payments of money due by health boards to nursing homes are a source of serious concern and should be addressed without delay. In another debate recently the House was told that there were long delays by health boards in making payments to suppliers threatening to put many small businesses to the wall and bringing health boards into disrepute. We must ensure prompt payment of subventions to nursing homes from the State. Some nursing homes had to wait for up to six months for the appropriate grant aid earlier this year. This must not be allowed to happen again.
In view of the fact that 95 per cent of the 400,000 elderly persons in this society reside in the community the policy on community care must be reformed urgently. The role of the carer must be recognised and supported by the Government. The integration of the marvellous work of voluntary organisations into a partnership of care is of paramount importance.
Voluntary groups play a huge part in providing service for older people, including day-care services, transport, respite care, sitting services, home help, meals on wheels and support groups. Care-providers are not accorded an appropriate recognition by the State. Research clearly shows that care-providers are struggling on their own to provide care for those in need. There is no great network of caring here as carers act independently to provide the service for the weakest and most vulnerable in our community.
Who are the carers? Carers, are, in effect, individual women and, having regard to the fact that community care is so reliant on the contribution of women, greater prominence must be given to the role of carers. The cost of care and the supports appropriate to enable women to provide care without the burden becoming intolerable must be addressed as a matter of urgency.
The carer's allowance, introduced in 1990, is far too restrictive in its application to make sufficient impact. The present sum of £59.60 is totally inadequate; it represents a sum less than that which is considered to be the official poverty line, something which the Labour Party Members were renowned for opposing in the past before they became silenced by the troikas of the Mercedes Benz one of which transported Minister Stagg to Knock to make his infamous comments of a week ago.
I drive my own car.
The Minister has a member of his family driving it.
Let us not personalise matters too much.
The person being cared for — I am not talking about the Minister or another person who is being well-cared for under the present regime, Deputy Ferris — must be in receipt of a social welfare payment or a disabled person's maintenance allowance. This immediately rules out old people who may be in need of care but whose income, however small, is from a source other than the Department of Social Welfare. This is a problem which I hope will be addressed by the Minister and his ministerial colleague, Deputy Woods, in the forthcoming budget. The condition that the carer must live with the person means that the old person living alone loses the living alone allowance or loses out on the carer's allowance.
Fine Gael proposes to lift these unfair restrictions and develop and expand the carer's allowance. Means-testing will be such as to allow a person to have a weekly income which will not be taken into account by the Department when assessing applications. A recent report, "Caring without Limits", produced by the Alzheimer's Society of Ireland puts the matter in context. I should like to quote briefly from a book I would certainly recommend as essential Christmas reading for Minister of State Stagg, because if the Minister thinks that patients with Alzheimer's disease can be cared for at home and that if they are placed in residential care they are being dumped there, he can think again. I urge him to read this very fine book published earlier this year. The following is the quotation:
The report emphasises that if carers are to be enabled to continue giving care without intolerable cost to their own lives then a community of caring has to be established where the carers are not on their own but work together with other family members, friends, neighbours, local community and voluntary and statutory service-providers... The report recommends that a particular service-provider should be designated as case manager who would take responsibility for assessment of need and the planning and delivery of a package of services and supports which would be tailored to meet the particular needs of individual carers.
There is much in this report that requires the attention of the Minister and his Government colleagues.
Fine Gael proposes to increase the dependent relative tax allowance to £1,000 to support the concept of home caring and reduce the financial burden on many households. I hope the Government can act on this in the forthcoming budget. We urge the setting up of a carer's charter along the lines of the 1991 model compiled by Professor Joyce O'Connor which will amount to a clear and unambiguous statement of the rights of carers, something that is long overdue. It is interesting to note that the Department of Health supported the concept of the charter but this acknowledgement needs firming up and incorporation in the Bill. What the people of this country and its thousands of care-providers want is encouragement, recognition and support, not the type of ideological baggage of "private versus public" that is behind the Minister's scurrilous remarks of last week.
Inherent in the Minister's remarks was that private nursing homes have no role but that the public institution, in the form of a hospital for geriatrics, should be the provider of care for the elderly in the community. That is all very fine until one looks at the record of this Government and its immediate predecessors, Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats or Fianna Fáil on their own, and sees the manner in which hospitals for geriatrics here have been underfunded and under-resourced for many years. The attitude of Minister Stagg is insulting, offensive and unjustifiable. I hope he will avail of the opportunity to apologise to the old people in the community, to their families, relatives and friends, and that this Government can acknowledge the role of the care-provider, inclusive of the private nursing home, to a degree far greater than heretofore.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): Before the last election Deputy Stagg strongly attacked his very affable colleague, Minister McCreevy, as he now is, and accused him of introducing the famous dirty dozen. In Knock he came out with that other slogan, the corrals of death. Right through his Ministry he has said many words on the environment. The Minister would do better to try to be remembered as the Minister for action and forgotten about as the Minister for slogans. If the Minister were to provide money for housing and repairs instead of talking about it, many elderly people could live at home in comfort. Nursing homes do marvellous work, and if people have to pay their way in nursing homes that is a reflection on the Government for not providing care for the elderly. I know of no other cause that should be supported as much as caring for the elderly, and casting aspersions on those who provide that service or insulting them does neither the Minister nor his office any good. I hope he will rectify the matter when he comes to reply. If the Minister for Social Welfare were to increase the free fuel allowance from the £5 it has been since its inception it might encourage the elderly to stay in their homes.
My colleague, Deputy Flanagan, has mentioned the increase in the number of elderly people. In the 20 years between 1991 and the year 2011 it is projected that the number of people over 80 years of age will increase by 9,000 and the number aged 85 and over will increase by 14,000, such is the increase in life expectancy. These people will need care, at home if that is possible. For the Government to take credit for introducing a carer's allowance when one is allowed to have an income of a measly £2 before the allowance is cut makes a mockery of the old concept of asking people to look after the elderly. The elderly themselves would like to stay at home and 99 per cent of families want to keep them at home. When one considers that some short time ago only 1,500 people were getting the full carer's alowance, one sees how ridiculous the conditions for qualifying for it are.
In the context of the amendment tabled by the Minister for Health, I am becoming mesmerised.
Last week I spoke on the financial crisis facing the parents and friends of the mentally handicapped in respect of the cost of schools and so on. The Minister for Health replied in respect of his role— which I was not interested in hearing. Today the Minister for Health tabled an amendment to the motion and the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Deputy Stagg, is alone and must defend himself and speak on behalf of the Minister. The Government is taking credit for introducing the nursing home Bill as if that was a marvellous achievement.
Last week a survey carried out in the South-Eastern Health Board area revealed that in Waterford there are eight nursing homes; of these, five submitted registration forms, two have been visited and one has been registered. In South Tipperary there are 15 nursing homes, five submitted registration forms, two have been visited and none has been registered. In Wexford there are 11 nursing homes, eight submitted registration forms, two have been visited and none has been registered. In Carlow-Kilkenny there are seven nursing homes, three submitted registration forms, two have been visited and one has been registered. There is one registered nursing home in the south-east at present.
The Government is claiming credit for introducing the nursing home Bill but it has not cost it a great deal of money so far. No money has been invested in supporting the elderly. The Government has caused a crisis because there is a two year delay on new patients being admitted to hospices or nursing homes. The Government is bragging about what it is doing, but I would say to the Minister that if words meant anything the Government would be a marvellous one. Unfortunately, words without action are not worth uttering.
"The Government is committed to improving services for those most in need and one of the most vulnerable groups in society today is that composed of dependent elderly people". Those are the words of the Minister for Health, Deputy Howlin, when recently he performed the official opening of the annual conference of the Institute of Community Health Nursing. This is a noble statement by a Minister for Health and one to which Members of the House and those working in the Department of Health could easily subscribe. However, it would appear that he has failed to convince the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Deputy Stagg, regarding this noble Government objective.
It is disgraceful that a Minister would denigrate nursing homes during an interview on national radio and be convinced they are corrals of death and, thus, frighten elderly people out of their wits. That is all the more disgusting in this European Year of the Elderly. Nursing homes have a major contribution to make to the welfare of our elderly population and have contributed greatly to the care of our elderly in the past. A small number of nursing homes may not have implemented the appropriate procedures up until now, but under the Nursing Home Act they will have to implement them in a more enhanced fashion. Nevertheless, nursing homes have provided the opportunity for older people to convalesce and have taken enormous pressure off their families at a time when those elderly people were in need of medical attention and their families in need of respite. Consider the institutional care expenditure that would be required by the Department of Health in already overcrowded geriatric hospitals if patients were not able to avail of the services of nursing homes.
I assure the Minister for Health that nursing homes are not corrals of death but rather caring homes for the elderly located at reasonable distances from their relatives. Perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy Stagg, would prefer if this country reverted to the regime that unfortunately existed far too often in the past where elderly people were admitted to psychiatric institutions and forgotten about by their relatives.
I am surprised that the Minister of State does not understand that changes are taking place in society, that there is a change in policy in the Department of Health to deinstitutionalise patients and bring them back into the community. This policy prevails throughout the European Union and lends itself to a more caring and Christian response to the problems of vulnerable groups to which the Minister for Health referred.
I take this opportunity to call on the Minister to review the carer's allowance scheme so that more people could be cared for by their relatives at home. Many relatives respond to the call of duty around the clock without any financial recognition from the State, and far too often this creates financial hardship for the family. It is stressful enough to have demands made on a family due to a member of the family being ill, but it is traumatic to have a financial burden placed on those relatives in addition to that illness. A flexible regime that could be applied to the carer's allowance scheme would eliminate this problem and continue to allow the patient to be treated by relatives at home rather than confined to institutional care in an environment in which there is great expenditure, that of a geriatric or acute hospital.
The Minister of State denigrated the health service, frightened our elderly people and misled the public about the grant-aid available to assist the accommodation requirements of our elderly. He stated that £8,000 of grant-aid was available to provide accommodation as part of reconstruction works for elderly relatives. He failed to outline the conditions that apply to that scheme. He failed to say that that scheme was confined to people who are handicapped or disabled. Public representatives have been inundated with calls to establish if the Minister told the truth during his interview on national radio or if the truth about the scheme was told by people on "The Pat Kenny Show", or by the officials of the Department of the Environment since his interview. I call on the Minister for Health to disassociate himself from the remarks made by the Minister of State. I am disappointed the Minister is not present to make a statement in that regard but he may be present at a later stage of this debate. The Tánaiste and Leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Spring, should ask the Minister of State to review his position in view of his despicable and outdated philosophy.
If the Minister of State has a morsel of shame he should take the honourable course. It is an indictment on the type of society with which the Minister might feel comfortable, that he should make a speech to the effect of designating nursing homes, the places that provide our elderly with respite and great care with the help of the State, as corrals of death. Is this now Government policy as enunciated by the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment? It is, perhaps, too much to expect that the Minister of State would take the honourable course in view of his many somersaults from the time he was converted from being a very vocal socialist in opposition to a modern radical conservative as part of this "smoked salmon socialist Government".
I recall the late Siobhan McKenna, with a shawl around her head, in one of her performances of The Playboy of the Western World repeating the famous lines, “they are all gone now and there is nothing more the wind or sea can do to me”. I was surprised by the glaring media headlines that a fellow Mayo man would use the language that was reported. I know the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, who comes from our mutually beloved county, understands what rural life is like. He understands the dependence of the elderly on the not so elderly. The first thing he should do in response to this debate is to clear the air and clarify exactly what was meant by the words he is reported to have said.
It should be noted that there is not one member of the Fianna Fáil Party in the House at this time.
The fact that the Government is hiding behind a plethora of programme managers and the blinding light of the £8 billion to be spent in the next number of years calls into question its commitment to the population to whom it has pandered for the last 50 years. At polling stations around the country, long before the former Minister, Commissioner Flynn, banned people from standing outside polling stations, Fianna Fáil was the expert at resurrecting the elderly and the dead. I am surprised there is not a single member of that party in the House to hear this debate. At least the Minister of State, Deputy Stagg, had the gumption and forthrightness to come in here to answer this motion, which, after all, is not a stag hunt. It is because this is the Year of the Elderly and because this party always has been genuinely concerned for the elderly that we raise this matter at this time.
In the Official Report of 11 July 1990, column 1456, the then Labour spokesman on Health, Deputy Brendan Howlin, now Minister for Health in this ill-fated Government, said when speaking on the Health Estimates: "I feel a certain weariness in rising to speak on what for many is an annual ritual". In the same debate he went on to say:
We are a caring people. It is part of our uniqueness that we care for one another and particularly for the weak and the sick. It is a tribute commented upon by people who visit this country. If we have a national consensus about anything it is that health care above all else is a basic human right.
These words mean nothing if they are not backed up by action. We can all recall the Fianna Fáil element of this Government promoting the old, the sick and the handicapped.
Comment has been made on the carer's allowance and the rigidity of the regulations governing that allowance. Not very far from where the Minister of State, Deputy Stagg, was born sits an elderly lady in a wheelchair. This person is incontinent and is confined to bed and to her wheelchair. She is looked after by her daughter-in-law. The lady in question has five children of her own. Her husband is a PAYE employee and she has been denied the carer's allowance because her spouse works. This woman's daughter-in-law, because she is a very close and dear relative of the family and because of her love for her mother-in-law, takes care of her 24 hours a day. If this elderly lady, in the closing years of her life, was confined to an institution the cost to the State would be huge.
I reject any remarks about the degradation of people who run, above board, nursing homes. The expense and the extent to which they go to make their premises as near as possible to a living home for elderly people has to be seen to be believed. I wonder what legacy will this Government, particulary the Minister of State, Deputy Stagg, leave at the end of this year, the Year of the Elderly. What mark will he make to contradict the slogan "corrals of death" which has been hung on his shoulders? How far down the road will he go in terms of Government action in providing necessary facilities for the elderly so that those who care for them can do so with a degree of comfort and dignity.
The Minister of State is charged with this responsibility. Whatever time is left to this Government, be it two years, three years or less, the Minister of State should devote all his actions and energy to this matter. As Deputy Flanagan has pointed out, by the year 2006 a substantial number of the population will be deemed elderly or old elderly. In the province of Connacht in the last 50 years more than 600 townlands have been wiped off the census of population documentation due to the natural decline in the birth rate and emigration.
The Minister of State knows that throughout rural Ireland tonight, at the end of long, dark laneways, people sit huddled in their houses afraid to turn on the electric heater lest they might use more than the number of free units allocated to them. These people's sons, daughters and other relatives are given no allowance for looking after them. They have to be put into what are termed modern granny flats with separate entrances and separate light meters. Thousands of people return from the United States and Great Britain on an annual basis through Knock Airport and other ports of entry to visit their relatives and to work on the family farm but as soon as they arrive their relative's living alone allowance is terminated, causing great confusion and depression. Deputy Stagg, in his capacity as Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, should ensure that these people live in dignity and that their just and valid claims are backed up by Government action. If the Minister does not use EC money and this Government authority for the benefit of the elderly he will be deemed a failure in that Department.
I have had occasion to have words over the years with Government Ministers from my own county and province and I appeal to the Minister of State, as a fellow Mayoman, a person who understands rural life, to ensure that the homes referred to by Deputy Browne are registered. These homes, which are well run and properly managed and which provide a great deal of care for elderly people, should be promoted so that those who spend time in them can live the remaining years of their lives in dignity. We hope we will not have to say, as in the words of Synge: "They are all gone now" and this Government has not cared for them. The Minister has a golden opportunity to ensure that for those in the golden years of their lives the horizon is not black. They should receive strong support from the Government. Otherwise, in the remaining weeks of this year, the Year of the Elderly, the Minister will be decried across the country as having been a failure in terms of implementing the mandate given to him by the Taoiseach.
I urge the Minister of State to take cognisance of the terms of the motion put down by Deputy Flanagan. He should ensure that the elderly, who have given a lifetime of valuable service to the country and who are now unable to fend for themselves, are given a lifeline of political support. They should not be moved to "corrals of death", rather they should be moved to an area where they can look out from their humble homes or rooms to brighter days ahead.
I wish to share my time with Deputy Ferris.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:
"Dáil Éireann commends the Government for the broad range of activities which were initiated to mark the European Year of Older People and Solidarity between Generations; in particular, commends the Minister for Health for the introduction on 1 September 1993, of the Health (Nursing Homes) Act, 1990, which provides a framework for the registration of nursing homes and a new system of subvention towards the cost of nursing home care for those who need such care and cannot afford the cost and for his commitment to introduce a Health Charter for the Elderly; and further commends the Government and the Minister for Social Welfare for their continued support of the carer's allowance, for the commitment in the Programme for a Partnership Government to maintaining the real value of social welfare payments and to protect the income of pensioners and for their support of the elderly generally.”
I welcome the opportunity to reply on behalf of the Government to the motion tabled by Fine Gael.
As the House is aware, the European Community designated this year to honour its older citizens, to focus on the challenges and opportunities of an ageing Europe and to reinforce links between the generations. This special year had its origins in the European Parliament. Some MEPs, the Irish members being prominent among them, because aware of the need to plan for the growing elderly population in the community. They persuaded the European Commission to propose a three year programme for the elderly, culminating in this specially designated year. During this year the Community and the member states have tried to heighten the awareness of the position of the elderly and of the challenges which an ageing population holds for society.
It is gratifying to see that so much has been done in this country to highlight the position of older people and to promote and encourage intergenerational solidarity. In each member state a national co-ordinating committee was established to ensure the success of the year throughout the Community. The co-ordinating committee in this country is representative of the social partners, of voluntary bodies representing or providing services to the elderly and of the statutory bodies with responsibilities for services for the elderly. As a mark of support for the objectives of the European Year, my colleague, the Minister for Health, Deputy Brendan Howlin, made £440,000 available to the national co-ordinating committee to fund its programme of promotion and sponsorship of activities to celebrate the year.
The themes which the co-ordinating committee were promoting during the year are: the positive contribution which older people make to our society; all ages working and playing together and meeting the challenges of older age. The European Year is an occasion to remind ourselves about the positive contribution of older people to Irish life — in politics, literature, music, amature drama, voluntary work, community development and family life. Despite this contribution, many people still have negative attitudes to old age and older people. It is not always appreciated that over 80 per cent of elderly people are healthy and active and leading independent lives.
The Age and Opportunity Organisation has established a nationwide network to promote positive attitudes to ageing and to highlight the positive contribution of older people to society. A sign of the times is that more and more older people are joining organisations which focus on the issues and interests of older people. These include the Federation of Active Retirement Associations, The National Federation of Pensioners Associations, The Irish Association of Older People and Age Action Ireland. Although the rate of participation of older people in groups involved in charitable work, education, the arts, the environment, human rights and consumer affairs is estimated to be as high as that of younger people, there is scope for greater involvement of the elderly in shaping every aspect of our society.
Economists sometimes portray old age as a burden on the younger generation because of the taxes and social security contributions which must be paid by those in employment to fund pensions and health care of older citizens. Of course, there are economic and financial consequences of everyone living longer; but each generation of people in their active years must accept a responsibility towards the support of the elderly so that when they in turn grow old younger people will support them. The elderly have so much to give in return to the younger generations, gifts which may never be quantified on a slide rule or calculator. How does one measure wisdom, spirit, experience or stamina? We know the influence which grandparents have on the upbringing of children, should the latter be lucky enough to know them. Rooted in memory, the young person's values and beliefs will always reflect the moral influence of the older generation. Many Deputies will also be aware of the successful mentor scheme whereby retired people with particular skills offer their assistance to new and expanding firms. There is scope for broadening the opportunities for people with skills and expertise acquired over a lifetime to give tuition and advice to the younger generation in developing our economy and reducing our high level of unemployment.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the 1993 committee, chaired by Mr. Larry Tuomey, for the role it has played in stimulating action and provoking reflection. Thanks to the work of its members and director, Catherine Rose, and the co-operation of the many statutory and voluntary bodies involved with older people, attention has focused in an unprecedented way on ageing and the needs and concerns of older people. The 1993 committee has built on the work of many organisations over the past decade which have helped change attitudes and policies towards older people. The year has also helped many in this country to realise that their work is part of a much wider European movement and that while we have much to learn from our fellow member states, we also have much to offer.
In quantitative terms the committee has approved grants to 170 groups and organisations, mostly voluntary, which are running suitable events to celebrate the aims and spirit of the year. Over 5,000 events were organised as part of the year in villages, towns and cities throughout the country. The year has stimulated many groups to examine the issue of ageing for the clients with whom they work. Conferences have been held on the implications for service providers of the ageing mental handicap population, on the care of the elderly in long stay hospitals and homes, on the need to expand dementia services, on how best our general hospitals should respond to the needs of our growing elderly population, on measures to promote the health and autonomy of older people and on combating age discrimination, to name but a few.
The year has also helped to strengthen links between older people on both parts of this island and between organisations working on their behalf. These links will, I believe, be one of the lasting benefits of the year. The exchange visits by groups of older people——
On a point of order, I do not wish to interrupt the Minister but I think you will agree, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, that it is the tradition of the House that Members of the Opposition are give a copy of the Minister's script.
I will see what can be done in that regard.
I do not have a script. I have notes and some script, but I do not have a script as such.
The Minister might address the effect of his remarks——
Deputy Shatter should not speak from a seated position.
The Minister might consider departing from his script and apologising to the elderly people of the community whom he insulted.
As I was saying, the exchange visits by groups of older people, the Come and Go Week, which encouraged older people to travel North and South, and participation in conferences and workshops on issues relating to older people have helped to remove barriers and build friendships.
(Limerick East): On a point of order, does the Minister seriously think we believe he is not reading from a script? The Minister has had his head down reading a script since he started his contribution.
We can see the typing from here.
Deputy Noonan will know that that is not a point of order.
(Limerick East): It even sounds like the first time he read it.
You have made your point, Deputy Noonan.
It is known that many people had difficulty with the subtitle of the European Year — Solidarity between Generations — but the concept of linking the generations together is a simple one——
I have never heard so much fatuous nonsense in my life. Fatuous bullshit is what we are getting.
——and it is an idea which has really caught the imagination of many during this year.
On a point of order, the Minister has been asked to supply copies of his script, the usual procedure in this House since I became a Member, but he has not done so. Furthermore, he has compounded the situation by telling us he does not have a script, which, to put it mildy, is misleading the House. Apart from the apology demanded in his motion, the Minister should apologise to the House for misleading it. Where is the Minister's script?
The Minister has indicated that he does not have a script to distribute.
(Limerick East): When is a script not a script?
He has a very comprehensive script.
The Minister has indicated that he does not have a script. Can we continue, please? Private Members' time is very precious.
All time is precious——
The Minister without interruption, please.
It is a great pity the Minister does not address the issue he has been asked to address.
He is afraid to raise his head.
The Minister without interruption, please.
Is he standing or sitting?
One of the great achievements of western society in this century has been the opportunity provided to the majority of citizens to live to old age. While recognising that increased longevity usually bring more active years of life, plans must also be formulated to meet the needs of the more dependent elderly. The Minister for Health is very fortunate to have the National Council for the Elderly as an advisory body. Without this council, very few of the research projects, reports and seminars on a whole range of important topics pertaining to the elderly would have been undertaken. These reports have been very useful to the Department of Health in determining policy and priorities for the elderly and in informing a wider public of the challenges of ageing and an ageing population.
I am very glad to have this opportunity to put paid to some of the misconceptions going around — these were deliberately and mischievously created by the Fine Gael Party in particular — relating to my recent comments about the elderly. I would also refer to their deliberate out of context quotation of my remarks in the motion before the House.
I heard the Minister on the radio. His remarks were outrageous.
Abuse from that quarter over there——
I would take abuse from that side of the House at any time as a dear compliment, particularly from Deputy Shatter, the most loved man in the House, who has just rambled into the Chamber. I would take abuse from him as a compliment.
I must be getting to the Minister of State. The Minister of State contributed to the housing crisis.
I can assure the Deputy that if he wants to start a "Stagg" hunt he will need to have his hounds well trained before he proceeds.
(Limerick East): On a point of order, could the Minister assure us that the script from which he is not reading has not been circulated to the press? The Minister of State circulated a script to the press.
I have not.
Who circulated it on the Minister's behalf?
Which programme manager has done so? The Minister of State is reading from a script. He is treating the House with contempt and he is treating the motion with contempt.
Please allow the Minister to continue without interruption.
This is European Year of the Elderly and Solidarity Between Generations.
On a point of order, Sir, in all my experience in this House a Minister has never told the House a script that has been distributed has not been. The Minister is reading from the script that he has distributed. He does not have the courage to justify his remarks——
The Deputy knows that is not a point of order. I am asking Deputy Shatter to resume his seat please.
——by giving an explanation of what he really meant when he was talking last week.
The Minister without interruption.
This is the European Year——
Can I ask you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle——
The Chair has no control over whether a script is distributed.
You do, Sir, under Standing Orders.
Can I refer you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, to Standing Orders and a long standing tradition of this House?
It is a year in which we in the Community will expect to achieve something positive in our relationship with our senior citizens.
The Minister is incapable of telling the truth in this House.
However, it seems to me that instead there is increasingly in our society a mentality which tends to marginalise the elderly, to ignore the contribution they are still capable of making and not deny them the dignity they are entitled to in their later years.
The Minister denied them that in his remarks.
The man with no script.
My concern was and is that the respect that is the right of the elderly is slipping away. We live in a world that is changing at a rapid rate. That rapid change, however, brought an increase to the pace of life leaving people with less time for the things that were once central to every day existence. In some cases the elderly are paying the price for this new style of living. I feel strongly about the erosion of the extended family concept that once ensured a place in the home for everyone and about the increasing trend to think only of our own convenience.
I could have expressed these sentiments in a more bland fashion and that might have suited the people on the opposite side of the House. The elderly would then have been forgotten about immediately——
The Minister could have met his own ministerial responsibility.
——indeed, if they were ever heard. How many of us have tried to get a message across only to see it sink quietly into oblivion because it was not "newsy" enough?
It is a different message now.
Therefore, I used strong words, words that stopped people in their tracks.
Outrageous and outlandish.
They have had the desired effect, they have opened up a debate on this issue. The elderly are being discussed in the media. We are here in the national Parliament today talking about them. I hope this will lead to a reappraisal of our attitudes towards the elderly.
What effect did they have on the elderly in nursing homes?
The Minister should apologise.
I want to reiterate that I have nothing against nursing homes nor was I condemning them or even discussing them when I made my comments.
What effect did they have on the elderly in nursing homes that had to listen to the Minister on the radio?
While I used some strong language to get my points across, nevertheless if the phrases I used caused offence or distress to anyone, I want to state clearly that that was not my intention.
I was not condemning the existence of nursing homes or the fact that people sometimes have no option but to use them; my concern is about the attitude that as soon as somebody becomes old, creates any inconvenience or causes any small amount of additional work, they should find their way to institutional care. It is that tendency, and not the institutions, that are at fault and it is that attitude I would like to see reversed.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): If the Minister paid a proper carers' allowance they would not be there.
I am not suggesting that everybody can look after their elderly relatives and I never did so.
The Minister wants the best of every world.
There may be no spare accommodation or there may be nobody at home or nearby during the day to do the caring if the elderly person is not fully fit. In other cases there may simply be no alternative to full time professional care facilities which, with the best will in the world, cannot be provided at home. Nursing homes, private and public, have a clear and essential role in serving this type of need. However, my concern is that they should not be the first and only option when an elderly person can no longer continue to live on their own or may need a little help to retain their independence. While most nursing home residents are happy that they are being well cared for, and for others it may be the only realistic choice, the people I am concerned about are those who want to live in their own homes or with their families and who, for the lack of a little consideration, cannot do so. These are the people to whom I referred in my comments at Knock, people who are in institutions that they do not wish to be in and who are denied any future useful role in society. It was to those people I was referring in my speech at Knock and not the generality as has been referred to here.
The Minister has made a bags of it.
The collective wisdom of our elderly people in that situation is no longer available to their communities, to their families and, most importantly, to their grandchildren. There is a definite trend in this direction and I want to see it reversed.
Like everywhere else in Europe the ageing of the population is an issue which will have to be faced up to here also. Housing policies will have to be developed and adapted to meet changing needs. For its part my Department already has a number of schemes in operation that can help the elderly continue to be accommodated in the home. There is a scheme of grants for adaptation works or for the provision of extra accommodation in a house to help households caring for persons who are either physically or mentally handicapped.
How much is the grant?
The Department contributes up to half the amount of the grant in these cases with the grants being paid by the local authorities.
How much per year?
Earlier this year I increased the Department's maximum individual contribution from £2,500 to £4,000 recoupment making grants of £8,000 available through the local authorities.
(Limerick East): A four year waiting list.
In addition, we found the scheme of improvement works in lieu of rehousing under which substantial improvements or extensions can be carried out to private houses. The programme of special housing aid for the elderly continues to be financed by my Department and allows necessary repairs or facilities such as water and sewerage to be undertaken for elderly persons living on their own in unfit housing. They can then retain their independence and continue to reside in their own neighbourhood alongside their friends. There are, therefore, a variety of home based options available and when the day comes that an elderly person cannot reasonably be expected to go on as before, these options should be considered.
It should not be forgotten either that much has also been done by the State in the provision of new housing for the elderly. They are recognised in housing legislation as being a special category of housing need and local authorities are required to take particular account of this in their housing programme. Indeed, a substantial proportion of those programmes is made up of new dwellings for elderly persons. In addition, considerable support is given to the voluntary sector to cater for the housing needs of the elderly. Grants of up to £22,000 per unit are available to voluntary groups promoting such projects. Indeed, it was at the opening of such a scheme in Churchfield, Knock, County Mayo that I made the comments that have been the subject of complaint.
Essentially, however, it is the community and society rather than the Government which will shape future policies towards the elderly. In this respect we are currently at a crossroads; we have to decide now whether we are to retain the traditional role and place the elderly have enjoyed in society and in the family or move increasingly towards institutional solutions. My view is that we must strive for a situation where human dignity rather than personal convenience is the prize. What message do we want to give to the elderly? Our answer now will one day come to bear on how we are looked after in our old age.
I hope that what I have said has given some food for thought. If so, it will have been worth the slings and arrows of those who have chosen to misrepresent what I said and my intentions.
The Minister should be so ashamed.
The Minister for Health is attending a Council of Ministers meeting in Brussels and apologises to the House for his absence——
The chief apologist of the Labour Party; the Deputy apologises every week.
Do Members on the benches to my left want to listen or not. This is the amazing thing about a party who come in here and criticise everybody, but never want to listen to any contribution unless it originates from them. Apparently they are the source of all intelligence. Indeed their spokespersons on Health and Finance complained bitterly about our spending so much on this, that and the other. Today they were criticising Supplementary Estimates. A week ago they were criticising overspending on the health services.
That is not true.
Let me attempt to put some of the record straight. I am quite sure the Minister for Health would like to have been present because he has something of which to be proud in the delivery of our health services since he assumed office 11 short months ago. He has introduced regulations which will establish a legal framework for nursing home care in Ireland. This motion deals specifically with two different sectors.
On a point of order——
I too would like to ask, on a point of order——
Just a moment, Deputy, please.
On a point of order, Sir, may I just congratulate the Minister of State on providing his script to the Official Reporters from which he did not read and which was not provided to Members of this House.
I suppose we could also ask Deputy Shatter to withdraw the most ridiculous remark he ever made in describing somebody in this House in vulgar language that is not becoming a front bench member of the Fine Gael Party who in addition has a legal background.
The Minister of State's comments were entirely inappropriate.
Deputy Shatter can come in here, as smart as he likes, and make the most insulting remarks, using filthy language. Indeed I am surprised at him using such language.
Is Deputy Ferris now defending the Chair?
Deputy Ferris without interruption, please.
The trouble about Deputy Shatter is that he also has this kind of predominance about him in expressing anything.
Deputy Ferris without interruption.
In fact the Minister for Health has brought into being——
On a point of order, I just wondered whether it was a script or a hymn sheet they wanted across the way?
I was saying, before being interrupted by so many people who have tabled a motion here in Private Member's time, they do not want to listen to a response from a Government that since assuming office, has implemented the Health (Nursing Homes) Act — which has been on the Statute Book since 1990, following on the policy document "Care of the Elderly", legislation supported by Members on all sides of the House — when a Labour Party Minister for Health put £4 million into a scheme that enables people to be subvented in private nursing homes. That is a fact. If Fine Gael want to listen to some of the facts, that is grand, because I am as good an anybody else at outshouting them. I shall have no problem doing so, and will keep my language clean, unlike Deputy Shatter. Our senior citizens constitute one of the most vulnerable groups of people in our society——
The Deputy comes from a very privileged background.
——a fact that must be given due recognition whether on the part of a Minister in quotations, misquotations or whatever. We must be extremely sensitive. I might say this to the Opposition, lest they think they are serving the public by compounding something that has already offended people.
A major embarrassement on the part of the Government.
You are compounding it because you have nothing whatsoever to offer old people in homes, institutions or indeed in their own homes. Any time the people opposite open their mouths they complain about expenditure.
Order, Deputies, please.
Earlier this year the Minister for Health brought into being a set of regulations which has been part of the provisions of the original Act. The provisions of that Act ensure, first of all, that all nursing homes which care for the elderly maintain a high standard of accommodation and care. Indeed Deputy Flanagan accepted that, as we did.
We know what the Minister of State thinks of them; he says they are corrals of death.
Let me complete what I am endeavouring to say. We accepted that a high standard had to be maintained in all nursing homes nationwide.
If we were sufficiently foolish to think that all nursing homes provided an excellent standard of care, obviously Members who have had any recourse to their constituents must realise that some do experience difficulties. That is a sentiment I share with Deputy Browne who was very specific. Some nursing homes have found it impossible to comply with the regulations made under this Act because the restrictions are tight. Indeed I brought to the Minister's attention the legitimate point that there are no nursing homes, with the exception of two in the south-east, which have been approved under the provisions of that Act. The money is there to help people but, because the regulations are interpreted by health boards as being very restrictive, it is almost impossible to produce any kind of an engineers' report that will satisfy health boards.
I have discussed this matter with health boards and with the Minister. Indeed the Minister has issued instructions to health boards to interpret these regulations — which the Minister did not write — in a manner that would ensure that existing nursing homes, already registered and-providing a most useful service to the community, could benefit under the provisions of this scheme in the care of elderly. It should be recognised that at present nursing homes are unable to benefit from the scheme. Indeed the people whom all of us represent are unable to obtain subvention because the regulations are too strict.
That is the Government's fault.
All right, the regulations were introduced in an endeavour to ensure that the standard of health care, fire regulations and health and safety regulations would all be implemented. Without private nursing homes the State would be in a sorry position in the provision——
Tell that to the Minister of State opposite.
The people opposite do not need to tell me.
Corrals of death. If you were living in a nursing home and someone told you that you were in a corral of death, how would you feel about it?
Out of the total number of people in nursing homes, geriatric or welfare home care the State provides approximately 10,000 beds, voluntary hospitals provide approximately 3,500 beds and private nursing homes provide approximately 5,000 beds. Therefore, if we did not have private nursing homes, people who need help would be in difficulty. Tomorrow morning, if this Government endeavoured to introduce a Supplementary Estimate to ensure that we could look after all our old people, these same people opposite would be the first to object——
Try us out.
——because of their self-righteous, conservative attitude to the spending of any money for health care, particularly on old people.
The Deputy should not be silly.
I am not being silly, I am being factual. Have the people opposite listened to Deputy Yates recently?
The Deputy has two minutes remaining.
Have I any injury time?
Two minutes, Deputy.
I wish Deputy Michael Noonan would stop singing the same old song every day of the week. If somebody's life is in danger I have no apology to make to Deputy Noonan for endeavouring to help in such circumstances. I do not condone anything else. Indeed his inferences on the floor of this House all the time are an indication of the narrow mind he has brought here from Limerick, wanting to make a political accusation across the floor of the House whenever it suits him. That is about all he is good for and Deputy Finucane is no better.
Order, Deputies, please.
This Government and the Minister should be proud of what they are endeavouring to do in the care of the elderly. I want to ensure that the progress made by this Government and the programme initiated by the Minister will be brought to fruition irrespective of the Opposition's totally negative attitude to everything proposed particularly by the Labour Party. They feel they have nothing else to do but condemn us. That is why they are wailing as they are; they are as negative as an electric light switched off.
I should like to share my time with my Fine Gael colleague if that is satisfactory.
Having listened to what the Minister of State, Deputy Stagg, had to say here this evening, all I can say is that it took some brass neck to come into this House and say what he did this evening. I would prefer to refer to some other part of the anatomy but, in deference to Deputy Ferris's sensitivity, I will confine myself to the upper body here this evening. I can tell the Minister of State that he treated not only the people about whom we were supposed to be talking here this evening, that is the elderly, but this House with the greatest contempt I have witnessed on the part of any Minister in my time here. He came in with his Civil Service script, put his head down, and did not care a jot what he said. I doubt if the Minister knows what he actually said in this House this evening never mind being capable of making a comment on it.
The statement he made describing the nursing homes as corrals of death without having the courage to come in here and apologise to the people for making such an outrageous statement is beyond my comprehension. As he represents the Labour Party I am not surprised that it would remain in place and that he did not have the courage to offer an apology. The comment was the most disturbing, hurtful and ignorant made by a Minister in recent memory. It deeply wounded the patients, staff and owners of nursing homes. The Minister put on public display the dark side of what the Labour Party in Government is. It concerns itself more with the trappings of office than——
On a point of order, may we have a copy of Deputy Cullen's speech?
That is not a point of order.
Deputy Ferris is now entering the fray.
Deputy Cullen without interruption, please.
The people of Clonmel are still looking for the script he issued that cost him 1,300 jobs down there. That is the script we would all like to have a look at. Single handed, Deputy Ferris cost the south-east 1,300 jobs and the people in Limerick are benefiting. We all know about the script the Deputy is capable of issuing. I would ask the Deputy and his colleagues to cop themselves on. They are all sitting around this evening like merrymen with bland faces.
Tell us about Waterford Glass.
The trappings of office are the greatest concern of the Labour Party. They projected an image of a caring party in Opposition but the caring policies of the Labour Party which were supposedly strengthened by a backbone of integrity are now no more than a faded memory, lost in the myths of time. The very least the Minister — who has left the House — could have done this evening was to unreservedly apologise for his appalling comments.
Private nursing homes, provided they are run well and regulated, which the vast majority are, offer a service to the community which could not easily be replaced by State activity. It is the job of the Minister of Health to ensure their regulation. The Minister of State, Deputy Stagg, would have been much better advised directing his comments, if he believes they are true, to his colleague in Government.
My view is that the State is not providing sufficient support for carer's of the disabled or, indeed, the elderly. At present there are over 66,000 elderly people in Ireland and yet only some 2,100 people are receiving the full carer's allowance; some 2,000 are in receipt of a reduced carer's allowance. The majority of carers are women in the home who are unable to avail of the carer's allowance as it is means-tested on the basis of their husband's income. That is the reality. I firmly believe that the allowance should be means tested to the means of the person being cared for. Without such support for the carer we cannot realistically expect families to be able to cope with the strain an elderly — sometimes infirm — relative can place on them.
I should like to quote from the budget submission — a copy of which I am sure the Minister has received — from the Disability Federation of Ireland. One of the points of view put forward, which I think has great merit, is the following:
the allowance be paid, if desired, directly to those individuals, in particular, those with a physical disability who receive care/personal assistance. This places control and responsibility for care with the disabled person and does much to reduce the concept of dependency. The allowance should be recognised as an essential component in the helping people with physical disability to live independent lives. Many disabled people can and want to live non-institutionalised lives in the community but require varying degrees of help to do so.
The Minister for Health, who unfortunately cannot be with us, in looking at the carer's allowance in the forthcoming budget should speak with his colleague the Minister for Social Welfare and examine the issue of giving dignity to people who want to have independent lives in society. Provision must be made for the allowance to be made available directly to the person in need of care. They should be allowed, if they have the capability, to be the arbiters of the type of care they require. Leave it to them to go in the marketplace and seek and pay for assistance. They can do it in a way that will best suit their needs. Why should we put the responsibility on somebody else when in many instances the person in need of care may only have a physical disability, may be in full control of their mental faculties and would like to sustain an independent existence for the remainder of their lives. Surely that is the direction in which we should be proceeding when dealing with community care.
If the Government is serious about shifting the emphasis from institutionalised care to community-based care around families and homes one option is to look at the support framework in the context of how carers are paid and to whom that payment is made. It is clear that the burden on the State would be much less than it would otherwise be if people remained outside institutions.
I appreciate that this country spends, per capita, one of the largest sums of money in the health area in comparison with many of our colleagues in the European Union. I fail to understand why we are not getting value for that money in the areas to which that money is applied. It is a source of distress to politicians and political parties in general and, indeed, to front-line staff in the delivery of medical services in this country. Great emphasis has been placed on the Government amendment which refers to the Nursing Homes Act which was finally regulated for in September. The reality on the ground is that that Act is having little effect because very little is happening.
Deputy Ferris correctly referred to the ludicrous situation regarding the fire regulations in nursing homes. Individuals who did not do any of the work in existing nursing homes will not sign the safety regulations because they were not responsible for the work on the buildings in the first place. Their insurers are telling them not to sign because they cannot guarantee insurance if something goes wrong down the line. That is one of the reasons very few of the nursing homes in this country are registered. The other reasons is that of the £4 million made available in 1993 as the first step towards providing the subventions to people who require care in private nursing homes — I wanted the Minister for Health to be present to hear this — two thirds is absorbed in the administration costs by the health boards. Less than one-third of that money is made available in subvention to the people who require it. That is absolutely appalling. We have in microcosm one of the great problems within the health services in that the front-line people delivering the service and the people in need of the service are the last to receive full value from the resources being made available.
The example I can give and which I believe pertains throughout the country, is that approximately £340,000 would be the share to the South-Eastern Health Board region. I believe the exact figure is £331,000. Based on 8.5 per cent of the elderly population living in the region the figure is reasonably accurate. The sum that will actually be made available for subvention is £117,000. In other words, more than two-thirds of the money, about which we have heard great praise this evening, is absorbed in administration costs by the faceless bureaucrats in health boards, or whatever, once again. That is beyond comprehension and again highlights the major question of the delivery of health care. This is not just in relation to this issue, the sums of money made available to the health service, which in many respects are generous, are not going into the delivery of the service because so much is lost in bureaucracy. The health board bureaucracy is interwined with the delivery of the service at local level and the Department's bureaucracy is also imposed on the health service. Some time ago I questioned the real value of health boards during a debate on health. I know the question of local democracy comes into the picture, but the time has come for a sharp analysis of the delivery of the service by the health boards and a cost effective analysis of their work. Indeed, I wonder if that structure should still exist or whether the Department should not be capable of putting in place a more streamlined method of delivering health care.
If it is the Government's desire to see a shift to community care as the most beneficial way to deliver the services — far more beneficial to the patients and more cost effective for the State — it will certainly not be brought about by the health boards if, when people are looked after in nursing homes or at home two thirds of the cost is absorbed in administration. That is ludicrous. In next year's budget funds should not be made available to the health boards until that question is answered and somebody made accountable for their disbursement at local level.
The Progressive Democrats Party fully supports the motion tabled by Fine Gael. The first element relates to the behaviour of the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Deputy Stagg and I hope he will apologise. Earlier he said he did not mean to offend anybody but I wish he had gone the full mile and apologised to those offended. Once again the Minister of State will not act honourably, which I regret. It is extraordinary that someone who used to lecture us during the past five years should do so many somersaults since taking up office.
The second element deals with the carer's allowance on which I have already spoken. This problem must be solved by the Department of Social Welfare and the Department of Health and there is an opportunity to make enormous strides.
The third element deals with the Nursing Homes Act which is laudable in content and supported by the Progressive Democrats and the Fine Gael Parties. However, in its practical application it will not achieve its aims. One of the reasons for this is the heavy — if not the dead — hand of the health boards.
As Members on this side of the House indicated, the motion is in three parts. The first part deals with comments reported in the Irish Press, as follows:
A Government Minister has condemned the trend of leaving elderly relatives in nursing homes, or "corrals of death" as he described them.
Mr. Emmet Stagg, who has responsibility for housing at the Department of the Environment, said the elderly should be regarded as valued members of society and should not be confined to homes where they served no useful function and where they remained until death.
The phrases the Minister used are unfortunate but he had an opportunity to withdraw his remarks and I regret he did not. He could have listed his successes in the Department since his appointment as Minister of State with special responsibility for the elderly during this European Year of the Elderly. For instance, he could have stated his intention of increasing the number of inspectors to carry out inspections of granny homes or grants for handicapped persons' accommodation. Is it not true that there are only two such inspectors and that the elderly are marooned because the Department cannot get around to carrying out the inspections?
I have heard this claim publicly.
The Department is not at fault and the Deputy knows it.
I have heard this claim made.
The Deputy knows my Department is not involved. He knows who is involved — his own council.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): We have no money.
In the course of the debate this evening Deputy Browne read out a list of places in the south east where inspections had not taken place. Was it the Minister's intention to criticise people who were not carrying out inspections? I think that was the real reason he raised this matter, and that was what I took from his interjections. I do not think the Minister has a new agenda for the care of the elderly, he was at odds with the "caring" Departments when he made this statement as he felt that the Department of Health was not doing its duty. That must be the reason no official from that Department came to listen to this debate and take a note of what is happening. His party's unfortunate Whip, Deputy Ferris, has to come in here every Tuesday and Wednesday night to defend the Labour Party in Government. The Minister got an opportunity tonight to make a reasonable contribution and failed but then Deputy Ferris jumped in to defend him.
Cold War socialist baggage.
I do not understand this.
Socialist baggage brought to Knock.
We know where Deputy Flanagan comes from — seed, breed and generation. No change.
I listened to the debate but the most disappointing aspect is the lost opportunity to do something for the elderly during this European Year of the Elderly. The Minister had an opportunity to list his successes but I did not hear Deputy Ferris mention any successful achievement. For example, the Minister for Health would usually list all his achievements and he is not behind the wire in doing that.
The junior Minister was left alone.
The Minister is abandoned, and a great many people will not be sorry.
Especially the Fine Gael Party.
The Minister of State is an asset to us because the more he keeps opening his mouth the happier we will be. It has been a great lift to us.
It will stay open.
It is a great lift to find out that the Minister still has his socialist soul.
It is very disconcerting, when a motion is tabled to the Department of Health, that neither the Minister nor his Minister of State can be here. They do not care about this House either. This almighty majority of 101 can jump on the lot of us — is that it? They can ignore democracy.