Adjournment Debate.

Hospital Accommodation.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on the cause of bed shortages in Cavan and Monaghan and the problems caused by the vancomycin resistant enterococcus, VRE, virus in Cavan, where no new patients are being admitted to the critical care unit. These difficulties are replicated nationally and are a major problem in the health service. A number of patients occupy beds without receiving active treatment. There are three categories of such patients — tertiary patients awaiting a nursing home bed whose subvention claim has not been processed, patients awaiting transfer to another hospital for an investigation, such as a CAT scan, and those who are clinically discharged but have nowhere to go because relatives cannot accommodate them. It is not acceptable that patients are occupying hospital beds without receiving treatment. We must examine this. Some 20 people were on trolleys in Cavan-Monaghan General Hospital recently while more than 20 people were occupying beds and not receiving any treatment. A hospital bed costs €651 per day, while for the same amount a patient can stay in a nursing home for a week. It is not logical.

Budget holders of the hospital management and community sections are part of the problem. The hospital budget manager does not care whether patients are receiving treatment once the beds are full. In fact, the less treatment patients are receiving, the more likely he is to keep them because he has no incentive to bring in patients who require treatment. The community manager does not wish to accept another patient full-time because it is a drain on his assets. Two hospital departments are playing with the taxpayers' money. They see it as a budgetary gain, but patients suffer. We must examine how this is allowed to continue.

The same problem exists with regard to clinics. Patients discharged from a hospital who need a taxi to a clinic are encouraged to seek the money from the hospital budget. That department will claim that no money is available for taxis.

I suggest, as I have suggested to the manager of hospital services and others, that we consider vacant floor space in the psychiatric establishment at Cavan-Monaghan General Hospital. A considerable amount of floor space is used at St. Davnet's Hospital to deliver services for Monaghan General Hospital, a practice that is very successful. Adjacent floor space could easily be transformed into hospital step-down facilities for patients receiving no form of treatment. There is already a nursing home on the campus. The additional floor space would not require the same level of high specification, such as oxygen points or nursing care, as the main hospital and this measure would relieve pressure from the general hospitals.

It is ridiculous to keep somebody in a hospital bed at a cost of €651 per day when the same amount would pay for a week's stay in a nursing home. Keeping patients in a hotel with full board would not cost that amount. Playing with budgets is the source of this problem and somebody must crack the whip. The taxpayer, so badly exposed in this situation, must be protected. If the HSE is serious about its task, these minor issues must be addressed. Everyone suggests we need more beds, which is true, but we must examine how we use the beds available to us. We do not make the best use of the available beds even though this problem can be solved.

I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. The HSE has advised the Department that over the past 12 months the average number of patients clinically discharged from Cavan-Monaghan General Hospital but awaiting accommodation elsewhere has been in the region of seven to nine at any time. The HSE is examining ways of reducing the number further in order to free up these beds for other patients requiring admission.

The HSE has established hospital bed use review groups in Cavan-Monaghan hospital, Drogheda-Dundalk hospitals and in Our Lady's Hospital, Navan. The purpose of these groups is to review the bed use at each hospital site, to alleviate the overcrowding situation where possible by the introduction of any initiatives deemed appropriate, to develop and implement effective admission, transfer and discharge policies and procedures, to work in partnership to manage bed use in each hospital group in a more effective manner and to liaise with colleagues in the primary, community and continuing care directorate regarding arrangements for clinically discharged patients. There is a representative from the primary, community and continuing care directorate on each of these groups.

Deputy Connolly raises the possible temporary use of St. Davnet's Hospital as a step-down facility for patients who have been discharged following their acute phase of care. The HSE has indicated that there is currently no suitable space available for that purpose. In order to facilitate the ongoing refurbishment of wards at Monaghan General Hospital, the remaining vacant wards at St. Davnet's are being used as a temporary outpatients unit for Monaghan General Hospital.

The development of home care packages and further home support structures give wider options in looking at delayed discharges in the acute hospital system. The HSE advises the Department that additional funding has been allocated to enable more home support packages to be put in place. A joint continuing care and secondary care management team has been established with representatives of senior personnel from Cavan-Monaghan hospital and the primary and continuing care services. The team, which closely monitors all hospital discharges, has met on several occasions and continues to do so with a view to identifying innovative and appropriate responses to patients.

Very briefly——

There is no facility for supplementary questions.

County Enterprise Boards.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this very important issue, and the Minister for attending.

The role of the county enterprise boards, particularly that of Sligo County Enterprise Board, is of great concern regarding small companies. The parent company, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, is in the process of adding further constraints on how it operates with smaller companies. The concern is that such constraints, affecting up to 2,000 small companies in Sligo with fewer than ten employees, are not in the best interests of the development of small enterprise. It is estimated that up to 20,000 people work in such small companies.

While I certainly welcomed this week's announcement on funding for Enterprise Ireland for larger companies, when it comes to the development of smaller ones, funding for enterprise boards is a little over €1.5 million. There is potential for job creation, and it certainly has a great impact if up to 20,000 people are employed in 2,000 companies in Sligo.

Small businesses face great difficulties, including burdensome and costly administrative regulations, rising local authority charges and high rates. Many business people feel that they receive no return on these charges. Water charges are high, and yearly rate increases bring little or no benefit. There is poor access to information and advice and inadequate infrastructure. It is difficult in certain cases when one is starting small to access finance, and there can be a weak management capability.

All those smaller companies are starting from scratch, and it is particularly important that we consider the level of support for them. The enterprise boards need a high level of capability, but there has been limited engagement by the Department with the boards' chairmen and voluntary directors, showing little appreciation of people's continuing role in development when working on the boards. It is very unfortunate when one considers the opportunities for job creation in the economy of Sligo or any county. There has been a lack of development and great emphasis on job creation. Some 85,000 small companies in Ireland employ up to 347,000 people, and in Sligo up to 2,000 companies employ perhaps 20,000, yet there is a lack of back-up to exploit potential.

Within the last three years, some €650 million was stolen from the social insurance fund, despite the great contribution of employees and employers who receive little or no support. That is true of the services sector but also of manufacturing and those who set up in small enterprise parks. It is not merely about retail but about the creation of enterprising, manufacturing and IT jobs, which is a very important role. The Minister should consider the level of funding. Enterprise Ireland in Sligo, based on the announcement made during the week, supports high-potential start-ups, which means companies based on technological innovation likely to achieve significant growth in three years, sales of €1 million per annum, employing ten or more, export-oriented, and ideally led by an experienced team with a mixture of technical and commercial competence. That definition includes early-stage, product-led, research and development companies, with equivalent sales and employment potential. These are the companies with which Enterprise Ireland is dealing.

I believe that from the small acorn the large oak grows. Nothing is happening with small companies, and while the competition is very important in the retail trade, the manufacturing sector is different. There is an institute of technology in Sligo, and thousands of students are leaving the region. It is regrettable that there is not more support, and I call on the Minister of State to deal directly with enterprise boards, which are the vehicle for it. Small companies, the backbone of the economy, need that. The Government has failed to deliver to them, especially in the Sligo region.

The core function of the county enterprise boards is to develop indigenous enterprise potential and stimulate economic activity at local level. In carrying out that function, the CEBs have performed extremely well over the last 13 years, making a significant contribution to direct job creation and the development of an enterprise culture throughout Ireland. Over that period, the boards have supported some 17,000 projects, which resulted in more than 30,000 new jobs being created. In addition, some 80,000 people have benefited from the management training provided by the boards. l acknowledge the vital role that the voluntary board members have made to ensuring that the work of the boards is effective and relevant to local conditions.

However, it is important that we regularly review and evaluate the types of support and assistance that the CEBs offer to ensure that they remain properly and appropriately targeted in the context of the changing environment in which the boards operate. The budget for the network of CEBs is now €30 million per annum, and there is a clear obligation on us to ensure that the money is used in an effective and efficient manner.

Against that background, a comprehensive review of the role of the CEBs was carried out by Fitzpatrick Associates in 2003, the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the boards. While endorsing the continued role of the CEBs in the delivery of State support to the micro-enterprise sector, the Fitzpatrick report made several recommendations designed to improve the overall effectiveness of the network.

The recent Small Business Forum report also endorsed what it saw as the key recommendations of the Fitzpatrick report: that CEBs should renew their focus on their core enterprise and entrepreneurship responsibilities, minimising the wider local economic development activities with which they had increasingly become engaged; that CEBs should gradually shift the emphasis of their activities away from the provision of grant aid support towards repayable supports, the provision of business information, advice, training and capability enhancement; that a central CEB co-ordination unit should be established in Enterprise Ireland to provide leadership, direction, technical support and shared services for the network of CEBs; and that the national micro-enterprise co-ordinating committee should operate fully and meet regularly.

The CEBs themselves were involved in the 2003 Fitzpatrick review, through both extensive consultations with, and submissions to, the consultants carrying it out, as well as through their representation on the steering committee that oversaw production of the final report. The subsequent recommendation that the CEBs be integrated into the mainstream enterprise development system by establishing a CEB central co-ordination unit in Enterprise Ireland was welcomed by the CEBs in their response document, Driving Entrepreneurship and Small Business in Ireland.

The proposed new central co-ordination unit in Enterprise Ireland was subsequently supported by the enterprise strategy group and approved by the Government in 2005. The role of the new unit will be to provide a range of strategic, administrative, financial and technical supports to the CEBs with the ultimate objective of enhancing the effectiveness, efficiency and impact of the CEBs and the development of micro-enterprise in Ireland and contributing to a greater level of consistency and best practice across the CEB network as a whole. The Department has been working with Enterprise Ireland and the CEBs regarding arrangements for the establishment of the new unit, and it is hoped that it will be operational within a few months.

The Department is firmly committed to active dialogue with the CEBs. Officials from the Department meet representatives of the CEB network very regularly. Those frequent meetings are used as a vehicle to explore the most appropriate and balanced way to respond to the evolving business and economic environment, including the implementation of the recommendations of the Fitzpatrick and other reports.

In the context of the dramatically more favourable business and economic environment, CEBs have been evolving their policy focus and client support interventions gradually over the years to reflect changing needs. Increasingly, the CEB focus is now on enterprise promotion, generation and growth rather than simply on job creation, as was largely the case in earlier years. The cultivation of entrepreneurially active local communities around the country is now central to the overall CEB mission, with activities directed at expanding business management capability, encouraging increasing levels of female participation in business, and providing education for enterprise through college curriculum design and student enterprise schemes. We do not seek to place constraints on CEBs.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is engaged in dialogue with the CEBs to determine how best we can continue to adapt to this changing economy. Both the Department and the CEBs want to build on that success. The Ireland of 2006 is thankfully in economic terms not the same Ireland of 1993. It is vital we offer supports to indigenous micro-enterprise which are appropriate, targeted and ultimately effective.

Retirement of Army Officer.

A young 24 year old lieutenant in the Army was "retired" in the interests of the service, as it was put, in 1969 and his life and Army career lay in ruins. Neither he nor his family ever fully recovered from the traumatic experience. Nevertheless, he has never ceased to protest his innocence.

Donal de Róiste is the brother of Adi Roche, the director of the Chernobyl Children's Fund and Labour Party presidential candidate in 1997. Indeed, the linking of Donal de Róiste's "retirement" from the Army and the circumstance surrounding it effectively scuppered any chance of election for Adi Roche.

Mr. Mullan's book makes it clear that there were serious flaws in the investigation of the de Róiste affair. Due process was not adhered to. Legal advice was not made available to him and he was never charged with any offence. His accuser was never revealed and, most importantly, the recommendation to "retire" Mr. de Róiste was made while the investigation, inadequate as it was, was still ongoing. Indeed, Mr. Mullan argues that senior officers at the highest level in the Army may have fabricated evidence to secure the expulsion of Donal de Róiste from the Army.

There are files relevant to the case in the Taoiseach's Department and in Áras an Uachtaráin, none of which has been released. Almost certainly there are still files in the military archives which have not seen the light of day. For example, a letter sent by Donal de Róiste, through his solicitor to the Army Chief of Staff in 1969, was only discovered in a safe in the office of the Secretary General of the Department of Defence in 2001. There may indeed be documents in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

This case is a miscarriage of justice. It behoves the Minister for Defence to ensure that no stone is left unturned to right the wrong. I ask the Minister to meet Donal de Róiste and to conduct an independent, transparent review of the case. The Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 would be an appropriate mechanism under which to conduct this review.

The book to which the Deputy refers was, I understand, launched by the author last week. My Department has acquired a copy of this book and is examining the contents. I am not aware that it presents any significant new material. An initial review suggests that the book presents a hypothesis by the author based on material that has been available for some time rather than that it presents new material.

Donal de Róiste was retired by the President, on the advice of the Government, with effect from a date in June 1969. His retirement was effected pursuant to section 47(2) of the Defence Act 1954 and paragraph 18(1)(f) of Defence Force Regulations A15, which provide that an officer may be retired “in the interests of the service”. These provisions have always been considered as a necessary protection for the Defence Forces and need not be linked to the completion of other specific disciplinary measures.

However, the Deputy will appreciate that any decision to retire an officer "in the interests of the service" is extremely unusual in principle and would only be taken for the most compelling reasons. The Government advice to the President in this case was on grounds of security. I am satisfied from the information available to me that the matter was handled in an entirely appropriate and proper manner in 1969 and that the decision then taken was taken only after very detailed and due consideration.

Donal de Róiste initiated proceedings in the High Court in November 1998 in relation to the circumstances of his retirement 29 years earlier. The High Court found in favour of the State in June 1999 on grounds of the inordinate delay in the bringing of proceedings. Mr. de Róiste appealed to the Supreme Court in September 1999 and the Supreme Court refused his appeal in January 2001.

In early July 2002, arising from the newspaper feature article on the case by Mr. Don Mullan, published on 29 June 2002, the then Minister requested the Judge Advocate General to examine and review the case with regard to the following terms of reference: "To enquire into the circumstances surrounding the retirement of Donal de Róiste by means of a complete review of all relevant documentation held by the Department of Defence and by the Defence Forces, and to have full access to any civil or military personnel for the purposes of their providing explanation in relation to any apparent gaps or ambiguities in the documentation and to report to the Minister with her conclusions and recommendations".

These terms of reference were subsequently enlarged by the then Minister at the request of the Judge Advocate General to provide that the Judge Advocate General was "to be entitled, within the Terms of Reference, and the manner of the Inquiry contemplated, to take such representation in writing from any party whom she considers to be appropriate". The Judge Advocate General carried out a detailed examination and review of all the historical documentation relating to the decision in 1969 to retire Donal de Róiste from the Permanent Defence Force. She carefully examined the entirety of both the civil and military files in the matter. Her report was submitted to the then Minister in mid-September 2002 and was published in October 2002.

In December 2002, Mr. de Róiste applied to the High Court for an order quashing this report by the Judge Advocate General. The High Court found in favour of Donal de Róiste for reasons enumerated in the text of the High Court judgment. It should be emphasised, however, that the High Court judgment in the matter of the report of the Judge Advocate General specifically related to the actual procedures utilised by the Judge Advocate General in the course of her review and examination in 2002 and to the release by the Department of Defence of certain documents to Mr. de Róiste only after completion of the report by the Judge Advocate General.

The substantive issue, namely, the Government decision in 1969 to recommend the retirement of the then Lieutenant Donal De Róiste from the Defence Forces by the President, remains entirely unaffected by the judgment of the High Court, a point specifically emphasised within the text of the High Court judgment itself.

The position now is that Donal de Róiste has had access to all documents relating to his retirement since 14 November 2002 when his legal representatives attended the Department and were given copies of all the relevant records held in my Department. In the circumstances, particularly the considerable passage of time, I do not propose to take any further action in relation to this matter.

Social and Affordable Housing.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing this important matter to be discussed. I acknowledge the presence of the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, to take the matter. The Department of Agriculture and Food proposed a site of 15 hectares, which is almost 40 acres, of land for affordable housing at Clonakilty, County Cork, in December 2003. In May 2004, the Teagasc authority formally handed over this land to the local authority, Cork County Council. In October 2004, Cork County Council took on Colin Buchanan and Partners to design a unique rural village, the first in Ireland to be created at Darrara, Clonakilty, County Cork, for affordable housing.

It is almost three years later and not a sod has been turned on that site. There are a number of reasons for that and one of them, regrettably, is that Fine Gael and the Fine Gael members of Cork County Council have frustrated this development at every opportunity. At any rate, on Monday last at a meeting of Cork County Council, a decision was taken by 34 votes to ten to go ahead with the project. The ten voting against it were the Fine Gael members of Cork County Council, which is very regrettable. I can only suggest it was done for reasons of rural snobbery. Young people deserve the chance to have homes of their own. The local authority received a gift of 40 acres from the State for this affordable housing scheme. Services therefore are the only costs for the sites and young people can get houses which will cost approximately €150,000 less than their commercial value. How any political party could try to stymie and frustrate such a development is beyond me. It is regrettable.

The decision has now been taken to proceed with the project. I want the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government with responsibility for housing to Government and to social partnership to commit to a timescale for the development. This initiative forms part of the social partnership agreement to the effect that 10,000 affordable houses would be built each year and this is one of the projects. It is a unique project, comprising 104 houses in 40 acres with a wide expanse of streetscapes, plenty of green areas, and in every way a desirable development. We want it to go ahead within a definite time, from planning to the commencement of building, so that young people can aspire to have their own homes in this region of west Cork.

A survey ten days ago showed this area to be the most expensive part of the country for housing. Sites range typically from €200,000 to €250,000 per site with services and the cost of the house on top of that. Houses are selling for between €750,000 to €1 million. This is a great chance for the 186 young people who have applied for these houses. They need some certainty and a timescale. That is what I want to hear from the Minister of State.

I thank my colleague, Deputy Walsh, for raising this matter.

In December 2003 he, as Minister for Agriculture and Food, proposed a site at Darrara Agricultural College in Clonakilty for inclusion in the affordable housing initiative and the Government agreed to this proposal. As Minister of State with responsibility for housing, I acknowledge this and thank Deputy Walsh for it and the other sites he put forward during his tenure in Agriculture House.

The State lands made available for the initiative are transferred to the relevant local authority which is responsible for developing and progressing the projects. In this case, it is up to Cork County Council to plan and develop this project. My Department will at all times be in contact with the council to ensure that all aspects of the project are progressed as quickly as possible. The council has also established an in-house technical group to progress the project.

There has been some progress in advancing this project since it was released to the initiative. A feasibility assessment on the site was carried out in terms of strategic land use planning, financial viability, affordability and suitable infrastructural solutions. Cork County Council approved the feasibility study on 30 September 2005. Following this, public consultation took place during October 2005 culminating in a council decision to initiate the process to amend the local area plan to facilitate the construction of the affordable housing units.

The proposed amendment to the local area plan was advertised and was on public display until 3 April 2006. Following this, the Cork county manager prepared a report on the proposed development at Darrara which was circulated to members of Cork County Council. The council development team discussed the report in some detail and, at the meeting of Cork County Council on 22 May 2006, the proposal to amend the local area plan was approved.

I was amazed to see in the media reports of this meeting that a project for affordable housing was passed by a majority with ten Fine Gael members against it. In this Chamber Opposition parties on all sides criticise me heavily because they do not seem impressed that we delivered 3,000 affordable houses last year. It is not right politically for people to pretend to be interested in affordable housing but to block and prevent it in every possible way when the opportunity arises.

The proposed development comprises 104 units, with a mix of affordable, social, voluntary and private units, and with 74 units being earmarked for applicants under the affordable housing scheme. While these will be welcome, I am somewhat disappointed because originally we thought of a higher number. I am pleased to see that an integrated development is being proposed which should result in the introduction of a new, active and successful community into the area.

The early delivery of affordable units is vital as Clonakilty is not immune to high house prices, as evidenced by the recent report which Deputy Walsh mentioned. The headline in the newspaper was that house prices in Clonakilty are the highest in Munster. That makes the Fine Gael objections at council level all the more surprising and it is obvious that some people on the council, especially those in Fine Gael, want to keep it as an enclave for the super-rich. When Deputy Walsh was Minister for Agriculture and Food, the Government designated this site for affordable housing and everybody ought to be committed to pushing that on as quickly as possible.

Cork County Council considers that the best way to develop this site is in several phases, given the sensitivities connected with the site, and will decide in the coming weeks the number of units to be constructed in the first phase of the project, at which stage it should be clearer when construction may commence. The necessary documentation is being prepared with a view to initiating the Part 8 planning process as soon as possible.

As with all projects, commencement of construction on this site now depends on the outcome of the next phase of the planning process. I hope that this phase progresses without any hitches and that construction commences on-site as soon as possible. Part 8 in local authority planning is normally much quicker than an ordinary planning application but that depends on the attitude of local people and councillors. Obviously if people want to screw something up, so to speak, they can. I hope that the first phase is a considerable one, contains most of those 104 units and that there will be no more delaying tactics.

I assure the Deputy that I will try to progress the matter at every possible opportunity. When I visited that part of the country two years ago, I viewed the site. It is a fine one and this will be a good development when it is complete. I will take all possible steps within the Department to indicate my interest in it and to drive it but the council must go through the planning process. I sincerely hope that people of all parties realise this is an opportunity to provide affordable homes for people who need them and that people cop themselves on and build this as quickly as possible.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 25 May 2006.