Topical Issue Debate

Mortgage Interest Relief Application

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I thank you for the opportunity to raise this issue, which is the revised measure on mortgage interest tax relief that came out of last year's budget. One of the commitments in the programme for Government was to find a way of expanding the mortgage interest tax relief programme to focus on house buyers who bought their homes between 2004 and 2008. This measure was enacted by the Minister for Finance in last year's budget.

A constituent contacted me early in the year to signal that they were encountering difficulty having the measure applied by their bank. I raised the matter in a parliamentary question with the Minister and directly with the Department of Finance. I was given to understand that there may be delays, depending on the bank, in the application of the measure. Later in the year, to my amazement and horror, I was contacted by my constituent again to say they were, once again, having trouble with their bank implementing the measure.

Are we aware that, in some cases, we need banks to implement the measure to ensure people can accrue an advantage from the new policy? Are we aware of the considerable delay by some banks in the implementation of the policy? Does the Department actively track banks to ensure that the measure is being passed on? I was stunned, when I was approached by my constituent for the second time, to find that, many months after the budget, the measure had not yet been passed on to them.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. This is a matter for the Revenue Commissioners, who are responsible for the administration of mortgage interest relief through the tax relief at source system.

The Minister for Finance made a commitment in his budget speech of December 2011 concerning a new 30% rate of tax relief on interest paid that would apply to first-time buyers who took out their first mortgage in the period 2004 to 2008. Mortgage lenders provide this tax relief at source to relevant mortgage holders, facilitated by ongoing electronic data file transfers between Revenue and each of the 132 individual qualifying lenders. To apply the new 30% rate, specific technology developments were required to Revenue's computer systems and also to each of the lenders' computer systems. Revenue's systems were upgraded to implement the 30% rate last December and Revenue has since been engaging with the various lenders in regard to their IT enhancements.

Given the short time between the budget and the beginning of the tax year, it was to be expected that the implementation would take some time. However, the Minister was pleased to note that in January last, at the initiative of Revenue, lenders were authorised to grant tax relief at source at an interim rate of 25% to those entitled to the new 30% rate of relief. This was possible because a 25% rate was already a feature of the mortgage interest relief regime and was not dependent on new IT upgrades taking place. In other words, it already existed in the lenders' IT systems. The effect of this initiative was that the 189,011 mortgage holders who were the focus of this Government initiative benefited immediately from at least 25% relief.

The speed of upgrading IT systems has not been uniform across the lenders but, for example, by May, 109 lenders covering 107,664 cases or 57% of beneficiaries had applied the full 30% rate. To date the IT upgrades required to give effect to the 30% rate have been completed by 131 of the 132 lenders, covering 151,466 cases or just over 80% of beneficiaries. These lenders have implemented the increased rate for customers entitled to it, including any arrears. Revenue is in ongoing direct contact with the remaining lender, Ulster Bank, to ensure the additional 5% due to borrowers is paid within the current year as provided for in the regulations governing tax relief at source. While this is not what the Minister for Finance would have wished, the problems which this particular lender had with its IT systems this year are well known and have been described and discussed in the media throughout the year. In the circumstances, it was reassuring that the 25% interim rate was implemented by it. Revenue has advised me that it has received a commitment from the lender that the 30% rate applicable to 2012 will be implemented within the current tax year without requiring any action from mortgage holders.

As regards 2013, unfortunately, Ulster Bank has recently informed Revenue that it will not now be able to fully complete the necessary IT upgrades until March. This is most disappointing. The bank also informed Revenue that it will continue paying beneficiaries at the 25% rate for the months January to March 2013, inclusive, as it did this year, and will implement the 30% rate correctly, including arrears for the first three months, from April onwards. I hope, as I am sure the Deputy does, that this matter will finally be brought to a conclusion.

I thank the Minister of State for the detail in his answer. It is much appreciated. There are, however, two elements in the answer that are disappointing and shocking. The Minister of State made the point that by May, 57% of beneficiaries had obtained access to the full 30% rate. What about the other 43%? Are they either only getting it at 25% or not at all? In the case of the constituent who contacted me, he was not entitled to the 25% rate in the first place and therefore might not have gained in any way. Does that mean the 43% who did not get the 30% were getting nothing or 25%?

The situation with Ulster Bank is also extraordinary. It is only from April of 2013, a full year and a quarter after the budget was implemented, that Ulster Bank customers will get the full 30% rate of mortgage interest tax relief. Given that we implemented the measure due to the financial difficulties faced by these people through no fault of their own, it is shocking to find that by May of this year, 43% of banks had not implemented the full measure, despite the fact the Government had brought in the measure in December. I share the Minister of State's real disappointment about this matter. It is extraordinary that the act of changing a percentage level in an IT system would pose such a difficulty that a bank finds itself unable to implement this measure a full year and a quarter after its introduction in the budget.

This is a matter of genuine concern. The idea that this House, through a financial statement by the Minister for Finance, would provide for additional mortgage interest relief for a group of people who bought at the height of the boom but that it would not be passed on to them because of some IT difficulties is an issue of concern. I spoke to the Minister for Finance about the matter and he will consider the provision of sanctions for lenders where they cannot pass on a decision that would be contained in his financial statement or in the Finance Act. He will consider what sanctions he can bring to bear as a result of this matter.

There are two aspects to this, as the Deputy rightly said. There were those who had not paid by May 2012 but I assume the full amount would be given to the mortgage holders affected, even though they would get it much later in the year. If that is not the case, it is very serious indeed. I also understand Revenue is continuing to work with Ulster Bank, which has had well-publicised IT problems this year. The remaining 20% of outstanding cases are with Ulster Bank, which is a significant mortgage lender. According to the information from Revenue, the first three months of capture next year will be paid by April next year, but that is not good enough. We have made our views known to Revenue, which is engaging with the bank concerned. As I said to the Deputy, if sanctions are applicable, and if further action can be taken by the Minister for Finance, who is concerned about this matter, we will consider that in due course.

Mortgage to Rent Scheme Funding

I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for allowing me to raise this issue. The criticism of the mortgage to rent scheme earlier this week by a High Court judge, Miss Justice Elizabeth Dunne, has prompted me to raise this issue today. Miss Justice Dunne said the scheme was giving false hope and should not be raised in court as an option for borrowers in arrears.

It is seen by many as an indication of the failure to confront adequately the ongoing mortgage arrears crisis. The judge also said that she had read or heard that only one party had availed of the scheme.

The scheme is obviously a very limited measure to address a much larger problem that the Government has consistently failed to get to grips with. Some 218,000 out of 911,000 mortgages are now not being paid on their original terms. Some 11% of those with mortgages are three months in arrears, 5% are six months or more in arrears and approximately 10% are under three months in arrears. The Central Bank issued the figure for those under three months in arrears for the first time in August. It is a social and economic crisis that has been allowed to continue to spiral out of control. The Government received the Keane report more than a year ago and we are still awaiting meaningful action on its recommendations. The recent figures I stated bear out the failure to implement proposals such as split mortgages, shared ownership and now the difficulties and fiasco that arise under this scheme.

The Personal Insolvency Bill lacks the inclusion of an independent arbitrator to ensure that banks co-operate and in the absence of that we feel it will not effectively tackle this crisis. The bottom line is that the Government appears to be failing to provide the leadership required to alleviate the enormous pressure thousands of families face.

This week's criticism of the mortgage to rent scheme points to that failure in rising to the challenge of mortgage arrears. In light of that criticism, I wish to ask some questions on the scheme. How many have availed of the mortgage to rent scheme? Has it reached the target the Minister of State set when launching it of 100 households benefiting from the scheme initially? Does she still believe that in future years it will be availed of by several thousand households as she originally stated or does she agree with the judge that it should not be brought up as a viable solution to mortgage arrears? If so, how can the criteria be changed in response to this criticism in order to allow it to be an effective tool in the Government's attempts to tackle this crisis?

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. The mortgage-to-rent scheme is a part of the Government's response. I reject his suggestion that the Government is not responding. The Personal Insolvency Bill is proceeding through the Houses of the Oireachtas. The mortgage resolution process in the lending institutions has been set up, as has the advisory service.

My Department is working on the mortgage-to-rent scheme. The Government introduced the scheme on a pilot basis in the spring of this year, with the scheme extended nationwide in June. It targets those low-income families whose mortgage situations are unsustainable and where there is little or no prospect of a significant change in their financial circumstances in the foreseeable future. The aim of the mortgage-to-rent scheme is to ensure that families in such circumstances can remain in the family home, while ownership of the property transfers to an approved housing body which in turn rents it to the original owner. The administration of this scheme requires a collaborative approach between the borrower, lenders, approved housing bodies, the Housing Agency and the local authority sector, with the Housing Agency overseeing the co-ordination of applications. The establishment of processes within these various bodies was effected promptly by all parties and we are beginning to see the fruits of these labours now. It is important to point out that a number of bodies are involved in this and it involves transferring ownership of the home, which is complex.

I will answer some of the Deputy's questions. To date, 546 cases have been submitted to the Housing Agency, of which 188 were ruled out due to ineligibility for various factors. Some 254 cases are being progressed through the system, with a further 96 closed during this process as they were declined by one or more stakeholders. Further information or clarification is being sought in respect of 15 more, while I hope that seven applications will see successful completion imminently - we expect them to go through very quickly.

While I acknowledge that the number of transactions completed to date is low, all of the main lenders and the so-called sub-prime lenders are now fully engaged in the process. It is also important to note that the transition from being a home owner to a social housing tenant is a major one for families. Mortgage to rent, and other such interventions, cannot be rushed. My Department estimates that the overall timeframe per case, from start to finish, will be up to eight months and, as I said, the scheme was only introduced in June. This compares favourably with timeframes in other jurisdictions operating similar schemes.

Recent media reports that cast doubt on the efficacy of the mortgage-to-rent scheme are wide of the mark. It is a new scheme that will deliver a real solution for many hard-pressed low-income families. The process takes a number of months and, as a result, completion figures at this stage do not reflect the volume of work being undertaken or the good results for families whose applications will be finalised over the coming months. The process involving legal transactions takes several months, involving willing participants on both sides. We have now got some traction and, as I said, more than 200 applications are in process. We expect that some of those will cross the line very soon. However, a significant number will become operational next year. It is a real solution for families who are right at the end of their tether in not being able to pay their mortgages and it allows them to stay in the family home, keep children in the local school, etc. It is a good solution for many families.

I thank the Minister of State for her response and her efforts in researching the issue and outlining the various figures she mentioned. One or two things jump out at me. I accept her explanation in the sense that while it was initiated in January, it was merely a pilot scheme that was brought nationwide in June and that there are time issues in getting it placed on the table. Based on the Minister of State's answer, this scheme was recognised as a viable option in 546 cases and those people made an application for it to be a solution to the crisis in which they found themselves. While she said that more than 200 are still going through that process, she said that seven might reach a successful conclusion.

Imminently. If that is the case, can she not understand the frustration of the judge who said this week that based on such figures it cannot be mentioned in court as being a viable solution to the problems of those standing before her? We can learn from mistakes. We can learn from decisions that were rushed. We can learn from information being passed on by other Members of the House. The eminent person sitting beside the Minister of State is one of the first I have seen in recent times to put up his hand and admit to mistakes that have been made. I do not mean to be facetious in that comment. That aside, would the Minister of State not revisit the scheme's criteria to look at those who have not been and are not likely to be successful, and why that is the case? Could the scheme be altered so that those applicants could have a solution? I know there is an issue with it being a major decision. However, 546 people looked at it and regarded it as having the potential for offering a solution.

We are certainly willing to learn from what is a totally new scheme. Initially officials from my Department worked with individual cases until we rolled out the national scheme in June. Initially, it was mainly the sub-prime lenders that engaged with the process - the main lenders did not want to know much about it at the start. However, they have now all come in and there is definite traction on it. I do not wish to comment on what the judge said. While I do not want to give anybody false hope, I genuinely believe this is an option that will work for certain families who otherwise would be evicted from their homes or would be in a far worse situation than they would be under the mortgage to rent scheme.

Bullying in Schools

I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for affording me the opportunity to speak on this matter and I thank the Minister for coming into the House to address this issue. I am sure all Members would agree that cyberbullying is a major and increasing problem. We are mindful of the families of Ciara Pugsley and Erin Gallagher who reportedly died by suicide as a result of cyberbullying in the recent past.

I received responses to two parliamentary questions recently, one from the Minister's Department and one from the Department of Justice and Equality. The Minister's Department indicated that a working group is due to report by the end of November and, in fairness, it has been quite proactive in addressing bullying and is taking the issues in regard to cyberbullying quite seriously. Any fair-minded person would say that schools are not the only answer to tackling bullying. Children do not live in school, they live in communities. Parents and other members of the family have a huge role to play. If a parent is told their child may be involved in any sort of bullying it is very difficult for them to take that on board and they often assume their parenting skills are being brought into question but that is not the case. Bullying can happen to anybody and it can be carried out by anybody.

The response I received from the Department of Justice and Equality seems to indicate there is a grey area relating to cyberbullying because we are not sure if cyberbullying can come under section 10 of the 1997 Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act and it has been referred to the Law Reform Commission. I suggest a cross-departmental group needs to be set up to discuss this issue in order to tackle it properly. It does not only come under the remit of the Department of Education and Skills or the remit of the Department of Justice and Equality.

The organisation SpunOut.ie believes such a cross-departmental group could potentially investigate a number of matters. It could investigate how schools could intervene in cases of cyberbullying, even if the bullying happens off-site. It could clarify if current legislation offers any remedy to victims such as barring or restraining orders as well as providing guidance to the Garda and schools on how to deal with cases of cyberbullying. Schools and members of An Garda Síochána need clarifications from the authorities that set out these guidelines. We need to examine the possibility of establishing a team within the Garda who can track IP addresses through Internet service providers. The Department of Justice and Equality indicates that the Internet providers are quite proactive on this and work not only within the law but within the spirit of the law, but we need to nail that down. We need to examine how we can encourage schools to work with parents to remind them to monitor their child's Internet use and help their children if they are victims of cyberbullying and also to help their children if they believe they are engaging in bullying behaviour. Often a victim of bullying is the person who becomes a bully after that experience.

While the Minister's Department is doing great work and while the Department of Justice and Equality is mindful of the serious issue of cyberbullying, I request the Minister to consider the establishment of a cross-departmental group to properly tackle this issue. I would appreciate if he would respond to that request.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. As he will know, I take the issue of bullying and cyberbullying in particular very seriously. Tackling the issue of bullying and bullying in schools is a key commitment in the programme for Government. That is one of the reasons the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Fitzgerald and I convened an Anti-Bullying Forum recently - on 17 May - to explore ways to tackle the serious problem of bullying in schools. The forum, which was very well attended and thought-provoking, considered issues around all forms of bullying, including homophobic bullying, cyberbullying and racist bullying. Remarkably, this was the first time the Department of Education and Skills, together with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, had hosted a dedicated forum on this issue.

Alongside the forum, I established a working group to consider what further actions are required to tackle bullying in schools. I also called for submissions from stakeholders and interested parties. It is a measure of the interest and concern in this area that more than 65 submissions were received. The working group has since met with service providers, State agencies, representative groups and individuals and with colleagues from Scotland and the United Kingdom. I have asked the working group to submit its action plan to me by the end of this year. It will come in a draft form and it will then be circulated to the various participants for signing off. Realistically we will have it as an operational document by the commencement of January but the definitive work will be done by the end of this year. That group is examining measures to tackle all forms of bullying, including the specific issue of cyberbullying.

Recent tragic events have highlighted that advances in technology enable bullying to take place 24-7 on and off the school premises and that is the point to which the Deputy referred, which I accept. Malicious messages can now be sent via mobile telephone or posted on social media sites where they can be viewed by hundreds and sometimes thousands of other people.

Technology has opened up a new world of possibilities and the opportunity to communicate more widely and more quickly than ever before but, as we all know, this brings benefits but also, sadly, risks. While traditionally children and young people could identify who was bullying them, the use of technology means that sometimes they cannot. Some young people may not see the Internet as the real world, and therefore do not see what they text or post as having the same impact as something they might say or do. Research shows that disconnecting the Internet or taking away a young person's telephone is not the answer.

While schools can block access to inappropriate sites through the school's broadband network, this does not stop children accessing websites and sending messages through their own devices. Therefore, adults, and in particular parents, as the Deputy said, need to be as engaged with children and young people about their behaviour when using their mobile telephone or going online as they are when children are out playing, socialising or at school.

In terms of the responsible use of technology, Internet service providers, mobile telephone operators and those running social networking websites also need to be part of the solution. However, cyberbullying should not be seen as just a problem of technology. Underlying all forms and types of bullying is a bullying behaviour or attitude that must in itself also be addressed.

A number of effective educational approaches are already in place which integrate parents as active facilitators of their children's digital media literacy and foster an ability in their children to self-manage potential risks in online environments. The Department has funded the Webwise integrated education initiative since 2006. This initiative focuses on raising the knowledge, skills and understanding around Internet safety of children, parents and other responsible adults, at school and in the home. Resources have also been developed for use as part of CSPE, SPHE and Stay Safe programmes. For instance, Be Safe Be Webwise, the first educational programme of its kind in Europe, was designed to address the personal safety needs of our young people online and to help them become safe and responsible Internet users for life. For 2012, the Garda primary schools programme has introduced a new initiative called Respectful Online Communication. This initiative addresses the personal safety that arises through communicating using new media.

These are just a few examples of the school-based work that is going on around cyberbullying and how these issues can be addressed through the school curriculum. It is clear the curriculum is an important tool in helping children and young people to develop positive attitudes and in providing them with a wide range of opportunities to develop their knowledge, understanding and respect for diversity and an assortment of strategies to protect themselves from bullying.

I accept that as cyberbullying is a form of bullying our response cannot be just technological. We must also deal with the reasons for bullying in the first place and we must have a whole societal response. Bullying often relates to self-esteem. There is an obvious connection between the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Justice and Equality and the Law Reform Commission in rolling out a more comprehensive response to the problem. The Minister stated the draft report would come back by the end of November and that a proper report would be done by the end of the year. This is speedy and I congratulate the Minister on this and I welcome it. I hope when the Law Reform Commission investigates the issue of cyberbullying that it expedites the matter quickly. I suggest that a cross-departmental group would examine the issue in more detail at that point. I ask that any consultation process includes students and young people because they are most at risk. They deal with social media on a much more regular basis and they are more aware of the effects of cyberbullying on them and their peers. While the work of the Department is laudable, as the Minister stated cyberbullying is a 24-7 phenomenon and the reaction to it cannot be just within the education system. It must be in conjunction with the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. The cross-departmental response to this would be more comprehensive and might get further. I ask the Minister to respond to this suggestion.

I thank the Deputy for the comments he has made on the progress we have initiated. We will not be able to evaluate the quality of the product until we see it in draft form at the end of this month and over Christmas when it will be published. Representatives from the Irish Secondary Schools Students Union were on the working group. We also had interdepartmental representation. The next stage will be to bring it to a wider forum and road test it to see whether it is robust enough. Perhaps on reflection I will return to the Deputy on this because I do not want to make a spontaneous commitment. We should review the situation in six months and see where we are and keep a monitor on it. The speed of technological change and the rapid evolution of social behaviour is such that we must think in very short bites of time compared to what would have been the case previously. Depending on the feedback, we might consider putting up a website of our own on which people could comment and interact because this is how people interact anyway. If this is the new medium, perhaps we should have a space in it to monitor what people say. I am open to comments and suggestions on this.

The big difficulty is ensuring parents know what their children are doing in this area. When the drug phenomenon broke first in this country, a generation of parents had never smoked or encountered the modern manifestations of drugs. I attended a parent teacher meeting at my son's school approximately five years ago where the local community Garda showed parents what drugs looked like and what pipes were. This is information parents would never know unless they had direct experience. Perhaps a pretty basic education for parents on what cyberbullying looks like is something we need to investigate and communicate also. Many parents simply are not aware of the way in which it occurs. They know about social media and how to use it themselves but they do not necessarily get into the spaces where bullying takes place and they have not seen it. Therefore, they do not know what to look for. We will have the report at the end of the year and we will disseminate it as widely as possible. We should also include a monitoring process to see how it will travel.

With regard to the schoolyard in its metaphysical and representational sense, in the old days bullying originated and happened in schools and it is still the place where the cause for bullying is initiated in the main, because it is where young people encounter each other. It spills out into the community and now it is 24-7. Schools have a central role to play and they will remain central to the issue for a large number of people who have been cyberbullied. I thank Deputy for the points he has raised.

Disability Support Services Provision

This afternoon, elected representatives had a humbling experience when we met parents and friends of people with intellectual disabilities who were campaigning outside Leinster House. Michelle, Frances, James, Lawrence, Martina and Brendan are six of the 250 adults with intellectual disabilities in Kerry. At present they use the services of the Kerry Parents and Friends Association. The Government intends to change their lives forever and not for the better in 2013. At the 21 locations in my county, despite savings and cuts over the past four years totalling €1.1 million, the staff of the Kerry Parents and Friends Association have demonstrated enormous compassion and goodwill, something obviously lacking in the previous and current Governments. They did so to ensure these cuts did not impact on the services they provide. Unfortunately, because of these cuts there is no other avenue of savings open to the organisation. It has reduced hours and redeployed staff. It has cut relief hours, maximised the skill mix, sent people home from residences at weekends and charged families for day services. It has cut budgets at every centre and in all areas. At a meeting on Monday last week, the management informed families that every euro cut from its budget in 2013 can only mean a cut in services. This means home care and residential care will be cut. It means respite will be impacted. On top of this, a further 5% will be cut in 2013, which is a further €400,000. This means the board of directors will face a conflict in January. Does it honour its legal duties under company law and balance the budget, thereby depriving very vulnerable people of essential services, or does it honour its moral duty to these services?

In July, the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, stated in the House that there is no more accurate measure of a nation than how it treats the sick, the vulnerable, the damaged and the dying. I contend very strongly that parents and friends who look after people with intellectual disabilities with provisions through the HSE from the Government provide an invaluable service for those most in need in our communities. I argue very strongly that any further cuts will decimate the services. It is incumbent on any Government, Minister, Government Deputies or anyone with a moral obligation to people most in need to ensure that services are provided for those most in need. There is no justification for any further cuts. There was no justification for the previous cuts, but certainly when they affect the provision of services they are morally and criminally wrong.

I thank Deputy Ferris for raising this matter and I am pleased to take this opportunity, on behalf of my colleague the Minister for State, Deputy Lynch, who cannot be here this afternoon, to outline the position on the Kerry Parents and Friends Association. I recognise the valuable contribution the Kerry Parents and Friends Association makes to the provision of services to people with intellectual disabilities in the area. As has been stated, these services include community-based day, residential and support services for more than 250 adults with an intellectual disability and their families in various locations throughout Kerry.

Kerry Parents and Friends Association is funded by the HSE under section 39 of the Health Act. Services are provided through a service arrangement, which is signed on an annual basis and reviewed continually. The agency received funding of €8 million from the HSE in 2012.

As Deputy Martin Ferris will be aware, due to the current economic situation, which was not of the making of this Government, the HSE must manage service levels within the fixed financial allocation provided by Government as set out in the memorandum of understanding. As outlined in the HSE service plan for 2012, the funding allocated to disability services was reduced by 3.7%. The service plan also stated that at least 2% of this should not impact on services and needed to be generated from other savings and increased efficiencies in an attempt to protect front-line services. That, in effect, means there would be a reduction of 1.7% on front-line services.

The HSE's national consultative forum, which has wide stakeholder representation at national and regional level, meets regularly and identifies and agrees frameworks for addressing efficiencies, with clear actions and outcomes to address required savings outlined in the 2012 national service plan across the disability sector with minimal impact on front-line services. The HSE's objective is to ensure that residential, day, respite and personal assistant services are protected where possible from reductions in front-line services.

The HSE south disability office works closely with Kerry Parents and Friends Association which provides a range of services for adults with intellectual disabilities in County Kerry. The HSE liaises with the association on an ongoing basis to ensure changes in service and the impact of these on their clients is discussed and agreed in advance.

On the budgetary situation for 2013, the HSE is aware that the Kerry Parents and Friends Association management team has been holding meetings with parents and clients on potential changes in service in the future. Pending completion of the national Estimates, budgetary and service planning process for 2013, it is not possible to identify how services will be impacted in 2013. At this point, there is no agreement with Kerry Parents and Friends Association or any other service provider on the budget for next year. The HSE has informed me that it will continue to work closely with Kerry Parents and Friends Association to ensure available resources are used in a creative and flexible manner in order to be more responsive to the needs that present.

The health service as a whole must operate within the parameters of funding available to it and, given the current economic environment, this has become a major challenge for all stakeholders, including the HSE, voluntary service providers, services users and their families. However, by working together through the national consultative forum and finding innovative ways to maximise how we use resources, we can help to protect front-line services appropriately.

There are days I come in here and listen to the bland answers drawn up by civil or public servants to camouflage what will happen, but after being out there today and being in constant contact with persons with intellectual disabilities, it is both disingenuous and wrong to read out the answer the Minister has read out. They have been told that a further €400,000 is to be cut from their budget this coming year. It is being cut from a budget from which every bit of fat has been taken and only the provision of services is left.

For whatever it is worth to be in this House, if we cannot defend the most vulnerable in our communities then we are betraying those born with disabilities. I spoke to those outside, the sisters and parents of persons with intellectual disabilities, and they told me that persons with an intellectual disability depend on these services because it gives them a life. They depend on these services because they are part of a community. If they did not have those services and such respite, they would be sitting at home with no access to anybody. Furthermore, their families are dependent on those services in order that they can have a life. They are generating significant savings to the Exchequer, yet the Government and its predecessors have betrayed those most in need.

The HSE is quite willing to facilitate the association, if it is given the political direction and the budget from the Exchequer, because it knows the value of those services and the savings generated by them. It is over to the Government to decide what to do.

I am humbled by the presence of the people concerned today in the streets. Last Monday night week, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Deenihan, was at a meeting with the Kerry Parents and Friends Association and I am quite sure he was as humbled and as emotional as was my daughter, who was representing me on the night. It is of considerable importance that this be dealt with. A bland answer in this Chamber where a Minister reads a script from a civil servant is definitely not good enough in the case of the rights and entitlements of those whom we all represent.

I have heard clearly what Deputy Martin Ferris has stated, as I indicated when taking this Topical Issue on behalf of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, who is well aware of what is going on in the area and is well attuned to the kinds of issues the Deputy raised. Unfortunately, she cannot be here to respond to him and to take up the points he raised so eloquently. I will talk to her about the manner in which he addressed this issue here today.