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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 13 Dec 2005

Vol. 612 No. 2

Adjournment Debate.

Care of the Elderly.

I raised this issue a few months ago. The MacBride community nursing home in Westport, County Mayo, got planning permission for an extension. The nursing home has 49 full-time residents and 20 to 25 day patients. I compliment the matron and the staff on the excellent job they do. This badly needed extension is for the extra services that they want to provide, but also for the extra beds for people in the adjoining area who need full-time care in the home.

We are not talking about a lot of money, only €1.6 million. Last week, a major announcement was made in the subvention of home care packages and we were told that plenty of money would be made available for the elderly. Tonight, I hope the Minister will tell me that the MacBride nursing home will get funding for the extension that it badly needs. The staff are working under difficult circumstances. There is a health and safety aspect regarding the equipment in the home and it is time that the funding was provided for this facility. The facility is well used, as is the day care facility that is part of the home. The staff are doing an excellent job, but the funding needs to be put in place to provide the badly needed facility. I hope the Government will make that money available immediately. The planning has been done and the staff are still working under difficult circumstances. I raised this a number of months ago and I am disappointed that the money was not provided. The staff are disappointed and the people of Westport are disappointed, as are the patients who have their names on waiting lists.

There seems to be a new onus on community care organisations within the county. The first thing that happens when elderly people wish to go into a home is that they are handed a subvention form. They are forced to go outside their area and into private nursing homes. This is a publicly built nursing home and it has been very successful. The people in and around Westport like it and it is badly needed. The necessary funding is required for the extension so that the required equipment can be put in place and the extra services can be delivered. In the overall context of the health budget, €1.6 million is a very small amount of money but it is needed for this project so that the people can continue the excellent work they are doing in this nursing home.

I am replying on behalf of my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney.

The Government has made services for older people a priority and is fully committed to the development of a comprehensive health service which is capable of responding quickly, fully and effectively to the health service needs of older people. An investment package of an additional €150 million has been put in place for 2006 and 2007, which is the largest ever increase in funding for such services and is evidence of the Government's commitment to develop such services. The investment package is focused on caring for people in the community and is a major step in focusing new resources on home and community care, while still supporting appropriate residential care.

Day care centres are recognised as an important service in the continuum of care necessary to support older people to remain living at home and to support their carers. This is clearly shown by the fact that €9 million of the €150 million investment package is dedicated to day care and respite services. Day care centres provide older people in the area with a facility where they can meet new friends and enjoy recreational activities, promoting social contact among older people with the intention of preventing loneliness. They also provide a break for carers as well as social and physical stimulation in a safe environment for the older members of the local community. Older people deserve first class facilities and recent years have seen dramatic changes in both the concept and practice of services for older people, and enormous strides have been made, and continue to be made in developing a comprehensive, community-based service that is integrated with other health services.

MacBride community nursing unit is a 40 bed Health Service Executive western area facility located in Westport, County Mayo. The existing services include residential, respite, day care, physiotherapy and occupational therapy outreach services. The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services, including its capital programme. The progression of the proposed day care centre at the MacBride nursing unit is therefore a matter for the HSE.

The HSE has advised that the project involves the construction of an extension to the unit to cater for day care services due to the ever-increasing demand for this service. It has also advised that it has cost €20,000 to bring the project to the planning stage, exclusive of upgrading works to the existing nursing unit, and that the total cost of the finished project would be in the region of €1.01 million. The HSE has also advised that this project is included in category two capital projects for 2006, which means that the project is at design stage and it is included as a priority in the HSE's 2006 capital plan.

Industrial Disputes.

I would like to raise a matter on the adjournment which is very close to my heart. It concerns the 35 Dairygold workers who are on strike in Mallow. They are being forced to accept the minimum wage, which is nearly half their existing wage packet. This is not acceptable to me, nor to the vast majority of the community. Dairygold workers have suffered heavily in the past few years as 1,000 jobs have been lost. Many workers have been forced to accept this in other sectors of society. When Deputy Martin took over as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, he came to the rescue of Dairygold workers in my area. If he was there at the beginning, when this rationalisation programme was being put in place, there would have been a different outcome. He has an understanding of the need for the working people and this is about passion rather than economics.

Globalisation is mentioned. Globalisation is a new form of communism. It is a right wing way of doing things and that is part of the problem. There is outsourcing and many workers have suffered due to that. I come from a party that always represented the middle ground in Irish society and life. The same situation is evident in Irish Ferries. In my area, it is not good enough. North Cork has been destroyed by this organisation, which is the economic driver of the area. This is a bread and butter issue and these people cannot accept this level of wages. I ask for the intervention of the Labour Court or some labour organisation that can identify the problem and sort it out.

This organisation recently lost approximately £20 million when it purchased Aeron Valleys in Wales. Must we ask the workers of north Cork to pay for this error of judgment in the investment strategy of this organisation? What effect does the 1990 labour Act have on this organisation? The workers told me that they cannot picket other businesses because of that Act. These include Galtee Foods, the bottled milk division, the consumer food division and the feed division, working within one organisation. I am not aware that the 1990 Act put any impediment in place where people cannot picket legally wherever they like. They have been told that they cannot go to the gate of the other areas. In the balance sheet of the company for 2004, the management was proud to boast that it reduced the payroll by 19.5% against the background of the national wage agreements. That is a good boast, but it is not good enough for me. It also consolidated two cheese plants into one, a further saving of the workforce. This is a sad scene.

Dairygold is about to be privatised. Does the management want to go on the stock market at the expense of its workforce? That will make the rich richer and the poor poorer. The management will go off with many millions in options, while the ordinary worker will be left with little or nothing. They will be offered a pittance in the share adjuster. This is not good enough in Irish society, nor in the party to which I belong. I ask that action be taken.

Irish workers are now the pawns of globalisation and outsourcing is rife in all sections of industry in this country. This is not good enough and it is a matter for Government to look after its people and all sectors of society. We are dealing with human beings.

We are approaching Christmas and the festive season. I want this matter of Dairygold to be sorted out. I ask for the immediate intervention of Mr. Kieran Mulvey and the Labour Relations Commission to put this matter right. The Dairygold organisation is at fault here, not the workforce. I met the workforce on Sunday and I was appalled at what I was told. I am not from a trade union background, but I am from a background of fair play and honesty and that is what I seek.

I thank the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, for taking this Adjournment debate. I am proud that a Cabinet Minister is present. In her short time in the Department of Education and Science she has made a serious impact on that sector of Government. In her reply I hope she will use her influence in helping the workers in my area.

I thank Deputy Ned O'Keeffe for his comments. I am taking this Adjournment debate on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

I should put on record the fact that the Minister does not have a direct role in the resolution of this or similar disputes. I can, however, understand Deputy Ned O'Keeffe's concerns about the restructuring proposals at the Dairygold Co-Operative Society Limited milk powder plant in Mallow where the company has announced that 35 full-time positions will be affected from January 2006. From then, work will only be available on a seasonal basis for these staff. It has been reported that the company's proposals for the Mallow plant could result in a reduction in the number of working weeks per worker to between 26 and 30 weeks per year. The milk powder plant at Mallow is one of three operated by Dairygold. The other two are located at Mitchelstown and Mogeely.

Dairygold Co-Operative is one of the major employers in the south and is Ireland's largest farmer owned food company and multi-purpose agribusiness. As well as dairy production, its business interests include meat processing, animal feed manufacture, grain trading, the supply of farm inputs and the provision of farm services, including animal breeding and livestock marketing. It also provides retail services. Dairygold Co-Op employs approximately 2,000 people and has an annual turnover in excess of €1 billion.

The union claims that management tried to introduce new shift arrangements in November, four weeks ahead of schedule. When the workers continued to work the old shift pattern, they were issued with written warnings and a number of workers were suspended. SIPTU served seven days' notice of industrial action on the company. At meetings up to and including 6 December 2005 with the company and SIPTU, the Labour Relations Commission succeeded in facilitating the resolution of some of the issues in dispute and others were referred to the Labour Court. On 6 December, the Labour Relations Commission made proposals for the resolution of some of the outstanding issues in dispute between the parties. I understand that both the company and the trade union representatives agreed to recommend the LRC proposals to senior management and their members, respectively. However, the SIPTU members rejected elements of the proposals and industrial action began on Thursday last, 8 December 2005.

The Labour Relations Commission has continued to maintain contact with the parties and has invited both sides to conciliation talks to explore ways of resolving the outstanding issues. I understand that the LRC is meeting the parties in Mallow this evening to seek a resolution of the outstanding issues. I encourage both sides to engage constructively with the LRC in an effort to find a resolution to the dispute.

The system of industrial relations in Ireland is essentially voluntary in nature. For cases where the parties have failed to find a solution to outstanding issues, however, the State provides the dispute settling machinery of the Labour Relations Commission and the Labour Court. The experience and expertise of these services are available to the parties. Ultimately however, responsibility for the resolution of issues in dispute lies with the parties concerned.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.

I welcome the opportunity to raise this issue and thank the Minister for Education and Science for being here to respond to the debate. She will be aware that this issue has been raised by a number of Deputies by way of parliamentary questions and on the Order of Business. Today on the Order of Business, three Opposition party leaders raised the issue of Ms Marie Therese O'Loughlin who is outside Leinster House on this very cold night. She has been out there for the past two months because she strongly believes that the institution she was placed in, namely, the Morning Star mother and baby home, should be included in the Residential Institutions Redress Act.

I realise that the window of opportunity is very short and that the deadline is this coming Friday, but I ask the Minister to take a final look at the two particular institutions I refer to in my Adjournment motion, namely, Bethany Home and Morning Star. I know a few others have been brought to the Minister's attention and mine as well. If the Minister decides to introduce a further order under the Schedule, I can assure her the Opposition will facilitate her fully before the end of this session. I understand the redress board has the power to extend its time should it need to.

The Minister has said she believes it is not legally possible to add these institutions. However, I again ask her to take a final look, because section 4(1) of the Act says:

The Minister may, by order, provide for the insertion in the Schedule of any industrial school, reformatory school, orphanage, children’s home, special school which was established for the purpose of providing education services to children with a physical or . . . mental disability or mental illness in which children were placed and resident and in respect of which a public body had a regulatory or inspection function.

I understand the reason the Minister says these institutions cannot be included is that there was no evidence of inspection or regulation. However, I understand that a function does not necessarily mean there has to be evidence. There could, however, be a power, duty or function that did not necessarily have actual evidence of inspection. When we were debating the matter of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, there was evidence that the Department of Education and Science did not have full records. There may have been documents in the Department that could not be found when the commission was doing its work. I suggest that just because records were not found does not mean that there was not a regulatory or inspection function.

I find it hard to believe that the Morning Star mother and baby home was never inspected by any arm of the State, and similarly with the Bethany home. I believe there may have been evidence of inspection and I do not know whether any has been given to the Minister. Should anything be produced or if the Minister might be able to accept that there could have been a function, I ask her, even at this late stage, to include these institutions.

Another home that was brought to my attention was a residential one in Kill o' the Grange. I understand people have initiated High Court proceedings and were placed in this particular institution by the relevant health board. That suggests the State had a direct hand in that institution. As for the Morning Star, people moved from that institution to Goldenbridge, which is included under the Schedule. People from Bethany home moved to the Smiley homes which are included as well under the Schedule. It seems that if those institutions are included, surely the feeder institutions could be.

Two other pieces of legislation might indicate the State had a function. One dates from before the foundation of the State, namely, the Children's Act 1908, section 25 of which says:

The Secretary of State may cause any institution for the reception of poor children ... supported wholly or partly by voluntary contributions, and not liable to be inspected by or under the authority of any Government department, to be visited and inspected from time to time by persons appointed by him for the purpose[.]

That legislation, which presumably could still have been used, seems to indicate that even where an institution was not directly listed or funded, perhaps, by the State, it could still be inspected. Similarly, the Registration of Maternity Homes Act 1934 suggests that mother and baby homes could have been inspected by the State as well. At this late stage I ask the Minister to reconsider, particularly in respect of the two institutions I refer to but also in respect of any others that might be relevant.

I thank Deputy O'Sullivan for raising this matter. Every Member of the House will share the concern that anybody is sleeping outside Leinster House as a protest on these terrible evenings. It is not easy to resolve the issue, unfortunately. If it had been, it would have been done long ago. A number of people, including myself, spoke to Marie Therese and I explained the situation to her. The Department took the opportunity recently to double check in light of issues raised in the House by way of parliamentary questions, on the Adjournment tonight and on the Order of Business, whether anything had been missed. However, the situation remains that there is no evidence of the State's role in this home and it is therefore not possible to include it in the legislation.

I will set out the background to the case. I thank the Deputy for raising this matter on the Adjournment as it gives me an opportunity to clarify the position. The Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 provides a statutory scheme of financial redress for persons who, as children, were abused while in residential institutional care. The scheme applies in respect of institutions specified in the Schedule to the Act and the Act allows a three-year period for submission of applications to the board. This three-year period ends this Thursday, 15 December 2005. I again urge potential applicants to the board to ensure their applications are submitted prior to that date. Applications will be accepted up to midnight on 15 December 2005. To date the board has received approximately 12,000 applications and has made approximately 4,500 offers of awards at a cost of €332 million. My Department is making arrangements to extend the terms of office of the members of the board and the review committee for a further period of two years to allow the board to deal with the remaining applications.

Section 4 of the Act provides that the Minister for Education and Science may, by order, insert additional institutions in the Schedule to the Act. This section is quite specific in relation to the type of institutions which can be considered for inclusion. The institution concerned must be an industrial school, a reformatory school, an orphanage, a children's home, a special school for children with a physical or intellectual disability or a hospital providing medical or psychiatric services to people with a physical or mental disability or mental illness. It must also be one in which children were placed and resided and in respect of which a public body had a regulatory or inspection function.

A total of 128 institutions were originally listed on the Schedule as enacted in April 2002. Since enactment of the legislation, my Department has been contacted by individuals and-or solicitors in relation to a large number of institutions not specified in the Schedule. Following consideration of the matter and consultation with the relevant bodies, I signed an order on 9 November 2004 which provided for the inclusion of 13 additional institutions in the Schedule. A further order was made on 1 July 2005, adding three institutions to the Schedule. This demonstrates we were all anxious to ensure that as many of the institutions as possible would be included on the list, in the interests of those who had suffered abuse while living in them.

The redress scheme applies to industrial schools, reformatory schools and other such institutions for children where the State's duty of care arose from the fact that the children were separated from their families and were placed and resident in institutions over which the State had a regulatory or supervisory responsibility. On the two facilities specified in the Deputy's motion I make the follows points.

My Department was requested to place the Regina Coeli hostel on the Schedule of the Act. As hostels do not satisfy the terms of section 4 it is not possible to consider the placement of this facility on the Schedule. When this was explained, a further request was received regarding an institution called the Morning Star mother and baby home at the same address as the Regina Coeli hostel but described as a separate unit from the hostel. Officials from my Department raised the matter with their counterparts at the Department of Health and Children and other relevant bodies. No records were identified to indicate that the State was responsible for this home or unit. The majority of these types of homes were privately operated and not subject to State inspection or regulation. As a consequence, it is not possible to give further consideration to the inclusion of the Morning Star mother and baby home or unit in the Schedule.

The Regina Coeli hostel was established by the Legion of Mary in 1930 to provide shelter for homeless women, with or without children. A person who stayed at the hostel did so on a voluntary basis and usually paid a small fee for the accommodation.

Regarding the Bethany home, my Department has consulted the Department of Health and Children and no records have been identified to indicate that it was responsible for inspecting or regulating the facility. As a consequence, I trust the Deputy will appreciate that it is not open to consider further the placement of either of these facilities on the Schedule as it has not been established in the first instance that a State party was responsible for the care of the residents at these homes.

Surely where babies were born in these places, there had to be some responsibility on the part of the State.

We must move on to the next matter.

The reality is there probably was no responsibility. People today still highlight the fact that there are not sufficient inspection facilities and they are talking about 50 years later. It was a different time. I assure the House if there was evidence of the State having placed people in these institutions or of having an inspection role, I would have liked and wanted to have them included in the interests of the people who were abused in them, or who believe they were abused in them. The lack of evidence means there is nothing to indicate the State had that role as set out in the legislation. At this stage it is not possible and it is not proposed to add further institutions to the Schedule.

Schools Building Projects.

I wish to share one minute of my time with Deputy Ned O'Keeffe.

Tá áthas orm go bhfuil an tAire anseo anocht. Ba mhaith liom bheith ábalta an t-ábhar seo a phlé as Gaeilge ach níl an Ghaeilge go flúirseach agam agus tá náire orm mar sin. I am disappointed I cannot address the matter as Gaeilge but the opportunity I was given to learn Irish was not as good as the opportunity given to the children to whom I will refer.

This matter is an interesting case on which I hope the Minister will be able to shed some light. I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for allowing me to raise it and I am delighted the Minister is in the House.

A developer in Midleton in east Cork has offered to supply a site and build a school for the Gaelscoil in Midleton. The overall cost is estimated at €2.5 million. He proposes to hand the school over to the Department or the school as the case may be. This proposal has been made for some time. The Minister considered this matter last June and a letter stating that the Minister was making investigations was sent on 11 November 2005. The school is very anxious that a decision is made. I am not sure of the role of the Department. The school is enlisting the help and advice of the Department rather than requesting money. It wishes to build a school that is up to specification.

The school is very successful, with 201 students and ten teachers, rising to 11 next year. It is housed in a community centre which leaves a lot to be desired. The building is reaching saturation point with no more room for additional students. There are broken floorboards and dangerous entry and exit areas. Deputy Ned O'Keeffe and I visited it last evening and we can vouch for the conditions. Corridors are narrow, there are poor toilet facilities and no staff toilets. There is a lack of storage areas for coats, bins, etc. The stairways are unsuitable for small children; there are steps between the classrooms and there is no proper outdoor play area. A local council field is used in dry weather but this is often not suitable because teenagers are using the field while the children are playing. There is no running water in three of the classrooms or in the staff room which is shared with the learning support teacher and the resource teacher. The office area is too small. The Minister's Department is paying €78,000 in rent per annum.

The OPW has been looking for a site for a school in the area for some time but without success. This seems to be a golden opportunity. Has the Department a role? Can the Minister support this project in some way or other without further delay? Will she ask her staff to advise the school management and the developer as to whether they are doing the right thing? They will supply play areas. The school will be a fantastic amenity in a growing area. In this case the developer is providing this school free of charge in the middle of a housing development. I hope the Minister will have some news.

I am delighted to be here to discuss this matter with my colleague in east Cork, Deputy Stanton, on the opposite side. We met the school authorities last night, Rev. Cannon and the principal of the school, and they put before us the proposals which I discussed with the Minister this afternoon. She was quite helpful to me in her initial consideration of the matter. It is a unique situation where a developer, who is a friend of mine from Mallow, County Cork, is prepared to invest heavily in the Midleton area and, as Deputy Stanton said, invest €2.5 million in a new school. East Cork has many Gaelscoileanna which have been provided by the Government. There is a new school in Mallow, a fine refurbished school in Fermoy, new schools in Cobh, Youghal and Fermoy. Midleton is the only one outstanding of the six large towns in the constituency.

I have no doubt the Minister, who has such a great knowledge of Irish, is so fluent in it and has such love for it, will provide for this school in Midleton. It well deserves her attention. As a result of the explosion in numbers the school will have 11 teachers on the payroll for the school year 2006-07. I do not want to labour the issue, but as Deputy Stanton said, the school is in the community hall through the goodwill of the community in Midleton. The Minister, Deputy Martin, provided the licence for that and it was through my intervention some years ago that the existing facility was set up, but it is no longer suitable, as the Minister understands. Both I and Deputy Stanton, who has taken an interesting position on this, look forward to her reply. I am confident that as a result of the Minister's role in education and what she has demonstrated this evening we will have success and that she will accept this unique offer of a developer, probably one of the first in the country outside of Dublin.

Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis na Teachtaí as ucht an ábhair seo a ardú. Molaim an Teachta Stanton as an Ghaeilge atá aige a úsáid. Má leanann sé ar aghaidh ag úsáid a chuid Gaeilge, tiocfaidh feabhas air, mar tá neart Gaeilge aige.

The school in question is hugely successful as was outlined by the Deputies, having been granted permanent recognition in 2001 following its provisional recognition in 1999. Deputy O'Keeffe said the school will have 11 full-time teachers next year. It currently has a principal, eight mainstream teachers and two special education needs teachers. Enrolment has increased rapidly to the current level of 200 pupils. The rental cost of the Midleton community centre is grant-aided by the Department at the rate of 95%.

We acknowledge the need of this school and other Gaelscoileanna for permanent accommodation. In recognition of this we asked the property management section of the Office of Public Works, which deals with the acquisition of sites for new schools on behalf of my Department, to set about acquiring a site for the Midleton school. The normal procedure is that when a suitable site is identified and acquired by the OPW, the building project required to provide permanent accommodation for the school in question is considered in the context of the school building and modernisation programme at the appropriate time. This process will apply in respect of Gaelscoil Mainistir na Corrán unless a more appropriate alternative solution is put in place.

In this regard officials in my Department have been made aware through the school authority — Deputy O'Keeffe has given me documentation on it also — of an offer from a local developer to provide a site and construct a 16-classroom school for Gaelscoil Mainistir na Corrán at no cost to the Gaelscoil or my Department. Obviously my Department is very willing to discuss and clarify the precise position in this regard and establish the exact details of the offer. Such altruism is very rare. We are anxious to flesh out the details.

Additional information on this proposal has been requested from the school authority and while a response has recently been received, it does not fully address all the queries raised. I understand that the development company has sought a meeting with the school authority with a view to progressing the proposal further and I expect that the school authority will then provide more details on what is proposed following that meeting. When a document detailing the exact proposal is provided to the Department of Education and Science it will receive urgent consideration.

The Department does not have any objection to the school engaging with the developer in the provision of accommodation if there is clearly no cost to either the Gaelscoil or the Department. However, the fact that the Department has been consulted in this regard indicates that this may not be the situation. If State funding is required the Department must be satisfied that public procurement procedures and other regulations are fully observed in the context of any such proposal and that the prioritisation criteria in place is not usurped.

I see the Deputies shaking their heads so I am very interested in hearing the responses to the questions raised.

I clarified the situation with the developer this evening.

There are also legal issues to be explored and addressed with regard to the ultimate ownership of such a site. If this goes ahead as indicated, who would own the site and the building? Those issues must be sorted out.

I assure Deputies Stanton and O'Keeffe that my Department is committed to working closely with the school authorities and would welcome an opportunity to achieve a permanent accommodation solution which will meet the school's needs into the future. I will give any proposal in that regard due consideration. I suggest the Deputies ask the school to address the issues raised by the building unit of the Department so that we can progress this issue.

The Dáil adjourned at 11.40 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 14 December 2005.