Topical Issue Debate

Jobseeker's Allowance Payments

I thank the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport for taking this matter. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, is in the Seanad dealing with a Bill on social protection.

The issue I wish to raise is the effect on the disposable income of some individuals of the reclassification of Sunday in calculating jobseeker’s benefit or jobseeker’s allowance. A person used to be entitled to claim either jobseeker's benefit or jobseeker's allowance where he or she had not been working for at least four days in seven consecutive days. As a result of a change made in the last budget, we now include Sunday as one of those days in working out how many days an individual has been working and, consequently, the jobseeker's payment to which one is entitled.

Although I fully understand the principle behind the method of calculation, the object of which is to ensure every working day is regarded as equal, I must bring to the Minister's attention a matter raised with me by a constituent. The constituent is working in the service industry for three days each week - Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Owing to the reclassification of Sunday, however, the individual has been hurt very severely. As a consequence, the payment available to the individual has been reduced considerably, from €80 to €26, representing a drop of €54. The change is such that the available social welfare income, in addition to the income from the work done, has decreased substantially.

I am raising this matter because, although I believe every individual is different in terms of income, working days and social welfare payments that may be accessed, the change is too severe if an individual must incur a drop in social welfare of nearly 60%. I ask that we revisit this issue. As the economy and jobs market begin to recover, many new jobs being created will involve part-time employment. For some, a change such as the one in question will reduce the financial incentive to work. I ask that the Minister take this on board. The decrease in income from €80 to €26 is very severe and I would appreciate the Minister's response thereon.

I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, who is unavailable.

The jobseeker's benefit and jobseeker's allowance schemes provide income support for people who have lost work and are unable to find alternative employment. It is a fundamental qualifying condition for these schemes that a person must be available for full-time work. Under the previous provisions, a person could, in general, qualify for a jobseeker's payment where he or she was unemployed for at least three days in any period of six consecutive days. However, Sundays were not counted for this purpose. This meant that where a person worked on a Sunday, this day was neither treated as a day of employment nor a day of unemployment for the qualification process. The changes introduced following budget 2012 and implemented on 20 February 2013 for jobseeker's allowance and 21 February 2013 for jobseeker's benefit bring the schemes into better alignment with the current operation of the labour market by counting Sundays in the determination of entitlement. Following these changes, a person is entitled to jobseeker's benefit or jobseeker's allowance where he or she is fully unemployed for at least four days in any period of seven consecutive days, inclusive of Sunday. Sunday work has become more usual, as demonstrated by the 2012 returns from social welfare local offices which show that some 18% of casual workers work Sunday in any given week.

As a consequence of the increasing incidence of Sunday working and given that Sunday work is frequently paid at premium rates, the exclusion or disregard of Sunday employment created significant anomalies in the jobseekers' schemes which have now been addressed: a person who was employed only on Sunday received the same unemployment payment as a fully unemployed person; a person working four days per week, including Sunday, qualified for payment, whereas a person working four days, excluding Sunday, did not; and in the case of jobseeker's allowance, the income from Sunday employment was included when assessing a person's average weekly means. However, as Sunday employment was ignored when calculating the weekly allowance payment, Sunday earnings were effectively disregarded on a week-to-week basis.

The change impacts on jobseeker customers where Sunday is either one of the days worked or the only day worked. Customers who work on a Sunday lose one day of payment in jobseeker's benefit or, in the case of jobseeker's allowance, they have means in respect of the day's employment deducted from their weekly payment. The measure has no effect where Sunday is not worked. The change simplifies the jobseekers' schemes, increases the fairness of the schemes and makes them more relevant to the modern labour market.

The Minister stated: "or in the case of jobseeker's allowance, they have means in respect of the day's employment deducted from their weekly payment". This is the core of the issue I have raised. The magnitude of change for my constituent and many people like him across the country is a reduction of almost three quarters in their payment. Given the income for working three days a week in the first place is not high, such a change has a significant effect on the person's ability to live and to be in work or to gain something back from being in work. Will the Minister ensure the Department of Social Protection is aware of the magnitude of that change for somebody on a low income in the private sector and ask that it be reviewed? Will he also ensure that in future changes, more attention is given to people on low incomes from part-time work and the interaction between that low income and their social welfare payment?

I understand where the Deputy is coming from. There used to be an anomaly where Sunday was not counted as a working day and no matter how much one earned on the day, it was not assessed in the means test. The Minister for Social Protection has corrected that anomaly and the effect is that those who were beneficiaries of it in the past and who worked it into their weekly spending had their payment suddenly reduced and no transitional arrangement was put in place. However, that does not mean it was wrong to correct the anomaly. I will make the Minister aware of the issue the Deputy has raised. I will see her later in the week and I will make sure she has a transcript of this debate.

Marine Safety

Everybody will be aware of the recent tragedy off the coast of Tramore where the three Bolger brothers lost their lives while fishing. This follows the sinking of the Tit Bonhomme in Glandore Harbour early last year and the loss of the Pere Charles and two other boats in the same area with no bodies recovered. This issue was raised by the Irish Fishermen's Organisation at a recent meeting and by Kathleen Hayes whose husband, Michael Hayes, was lost in Glandore along with four others. It was suggested at the meeting that a beacon should be worn on the wrist or on a belt around the waist, which would send a signal to a satellite similar to the beacon that sends a signal when a boat sinks. This would be of great benefit in locating and recovering the bodies of those lost at sea. I understand the Minister is considering something along these lines. It should be implemented as quickly as possible.

On 12 June, the bodies of brothers, Shane, Kenny and Paul Bolger, were recovered from the water near Tramore. These experienced fishermen were well known throughout the area and they were well liked. They lost their lives in the same way too many people have lost their lives in the past few years. Working at sea is not the safest job and it never will be. There will always be harsh weather conditions, which are unexpected, accidents, human error and tragedies but as with our roads, conditions can be made safer and the likelihood of loss of life can be lessened.

I am grateful to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine who replied to my question on this issue last week. His heartfelt response echoes what everyone in the House felt as the tragedy unfolded. My colleague, Senator David Cullinane, spoke to me about the palpable shock and grief in the Waterford area. We all want to do something to avoid these tragedies in future and I raise this issue to help make progress. The Marine Casualty Investigation Board, MCIB, annual report 2011 found that 40% of all deaths in a given year were among fishing crews. These workers deserve, like everyone else, the best standards to ensure they return home safely. The report clearly stated more must be done to reduce the number of these tragedies. One such measure would be the mandatory use of personal locator beacons. The board recommended this course of action.

Fishing is not the lucrative business it could be. Many working in the industry struggle hard to make a decent living. We should as much as possible avoid heaping the financial burden on these workers. Fishermen have in the past called for 100% grant aid for personal location beacons. This should be considered due to the obvious benefits of the beacons becoming commonplace. Fishing is an important industry, which we have supported in many ways. We should support fisheries workers to be safe. Measures such as this will not prevent a tragedy such as that which befell the Bolgers happening again but it will help to reduce the incidence of such tragedies, ease the suffering of those whose loved ones are lost at sea and aid quicker recovery.

The safety of all fishing vessels, with the safety of merchant ships, passenger vessels and leisure craft, is the responsibility of my Department, chiefly through the work of the Marine Survey Office which oversees the survey and certification of vessels in accordance with the relevant international and domestic legislation. All fishing vessels, regardless of size, are required to carry a satellite emergency position-indicating radio beacon, EPIRB, appropriate to their size and the sea area in which they operate.

Fishing vessels over 24 m are surveyed in accordance with the provisions of the International Maritime Organisation's Torremolinos protocol, which was given effect in the European Union by Council Directive 97/70, as amended. Fishing vessels between 15m and 24 m are surveyed in accordance with the provisions of regulations introduced by my predecessor in 2007. These regulations, the Merchant Shipping (Safety of Fishing Vessels) (15-24 Metres) Regulations 2007 - SI 640 of 2007 - enhance the safety of fishing vessels and their crew in the 15 m to 24 m category. With regard to fishing vessels of less than 15 m, my Department published a code of practice for the design, construction, operation and equipment of small fishing vessels in 2004. The code sets minimum standards of safety for these smaller vessels to protect all persons on board. The code is in accordance with best international practice and covers vessel design, construction, machinery, safety equipment and stability issues.

Prior to the introduction of the code, the Department undertook an extensive consultation process with fishing industry representatives and Bord lascaigh Mhara, BIM. For any fishing vessel, the issue of a fishing licence by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is contingent on full compliance with the relevant regulatory requirements, be that regulation or code. Chapter 9 of the code for small fishing vessels outlines the requirements of the Fishing Vessel (Radio Installation) Regulations 1998, which require, at a minimum, the appropriate VHF radio installations and a satellite EPIRB. Larger fishing vessels, or those operating in more open waters, are required to carry additional items of radio equipment to ensure adequate means of emergency communication and to aid location of the vessel by emergency services, if required.

The MCIB has recommended that all fishing vessels carry automatically activated float free EPIRBs and the issue of personal locator beacons, PLBs, for crew members has been recommended for examination. PLBs are portable radio transmitters carried by each crew member which, when used correctly, aid the search and rescue emergency services in the detection and location of persons in distress. These devices transmit on a radio frequency and must be programmed with the specific Irish country code and registered with ComReg to ensure their effectiveness in an emergency. My Department has been working with both the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and BIM on the legislative and financial supports for a series of maritime safety measures focused on the fishing community, including the mandatory use of automatically activated float free EPIRBs and PLBs. This has involved significant complex work, which is nearing completion.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I reiterate the importance of the use of personal beacons by all fishing crew. Where a vessel flounders, an on-board device is activated immediately which gives its location and thus assists in the rescue effort. However, if a boat sinks and somebody is lost, the chances of recovering his or her remains are not good. In the south east, for example, the bodies of 11 people who went missing at sea in recent years have never been located. The use of personal locater beacons should be mandatory and grant-aided. The necessity of such cannot be stressed enough.

Coastal communities have suffered more than most in recent years. We should follow the example of Iceland where, owing to the high safety standards employed, there are almost no fatalities at sea. In 2011, in this country there were 13 accidents involving vessels at sea. Six of these involved fishing vessels, three of which sank, resulting in five fatalities. Some 108 people died at sea between 2002 and 2011. Improved safety equipment, including personal location devices, would go a long way towards improving safety for citizens who make their living from the sea and for people participating in the maritime leisure industry. We need the equivalent of Gay Byrne, in his role in the Road Safety Authority, to act as champion for the fishing community. Perhaps the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, might assume that role.

I share the Deputies' concerns about the shocking loss of life at sea in recent years. They mentioned the Tit Bonhomme, the Pere Charles and the recent tragic events off the coast of Waterford. The current position is not acceptable. I have reviewed all the reports of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board and they make for harrowing reading. Deputy Dessie Ellis mentioned Iceland which has a larger fishing fleet than Ireland but has lost very few people, if any, in recent years.

I agree that the use of personal locator beacons would be useful, but the reality is that people usually die within minutes of entering the sea. As such, the usefulness of the beacons will be only in so far as they help us to locate people's remains. Our objective must be to prevent accidents in the first place, which has been the approach taken to road safety. The difficulty is that many in our maritime communities and others who use the sea do not have a culture of safety first and, moreover, compliance with the rules is not adequately enforced. In addition, there is a problem with a lack of respect for workers' rights. We have seen instances of workers, both from overseas and the State, not being trained, mustered or rested properly, batteries not being charged and other things that should not be happening. The bottom line is that we can pass any law we like, but if it is not enforced and we do not have a culture of zero tolerance in regard to non-compliance, we will continue to lose dozens of people at sea in the coming years.

Services for People with Disabilities

I welcome the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly. I appreciate his coming to the House to take this Topical Issue matter as I know he is also participating in a debate in the Seanad.

We on this side of the House are very concerned about the discovery that of the €3 million allocated for the provision of services for children with autism, only €300,000 has been drawn down, primarily in the north Dublin area. I note that the Minister is a GP in that area and has his own personal circumstances. I am not questioning the validity of the decision to allocate €300,000 for services in north Dublin, but I am asking why the remainder of the money was not allocated. That is incomprehensible and has left us with an unequal and unfair distribution of supports elsewhere in the country. The records show that a senior disability official expressed disappointment to colleagues in the Department of Health that the Minister was funding only the north Dublin elements of her proposal. Likewise, the Health Service Executive's assistant national director for disability services, Dr. Cate Hartigan, has described it as regrettable that the available funding could not be used to promote equity and consistency across the country by improving access to services for all children with autism.

The review of services ordered by the Minister in 2012, following his expression of concern about spending in the area, has not been completed. More than a year later, a spokesperson for his office would only indicate that it would be done in the near future. People have a right to services and supports based on need and equity and there must be a proportionate distribution of funding for that purpose throughout the country. The Minister is the political heavyweight in north County Dublin. In fact, he is the northside bruiser in the Government and what we are seeing is a continual bias towards the funding and provision of services in and around his political heartland. I have no difficulty in supporting the allocation to north Dublin, but there must be equity in the distribution of funding across all services. The €3 million that was committed for services for children with autism must be spent in the next three years for the benefit of the entire country and not withheld on the basis that the promised review is not yet complete.

Yesterday's report in The Irish Times raises many questions, including, yet again, a question regarding the Minister's decision-making capacity. Why is it, some 18 months after the welcome announcement in January 2012 of €3 million in additional, much needed funding for autism services, that we find that only 10% of that allocation has been spent, all of it this year, with nothing at all utilised in the entirety of 2012? Why is it that of the €300,000 drawn down, only one facility has benefited? Is it a coincidence that this facility is in an area close to the Minister's political heartland? Why make an exception of this facility knowing, as he surely must and as I certainly do, of the cries of parents of children with autism right across the State who are struggling to secure their essential support needs? It is wholly unacceptable. Will the Minister indicate when he expects the independent review that he has commissioned to be published, if he will bring it to a close as quickly as possible and when the remaining funds will be allocated?

As the Minister knows, it is a struggle for the parents of children with autism to obtain the services and support they need, even more so in the current climate of cutbacks. As such, it is utterly inexplicable that he would make the welcome announcement of an additional €3 million for the provision of these services only for us now to discover, through a freedom of information request, that only 10% of that funding has been allocated, all of it to Beechpark Services in the Minister's constituency in north Dublin. Why was that area prioritised, while others, where there is just as much need, have been left to wait? There are 138 people awaiting services in north Dublin, while 241 are on the waiting list for services provided by Beechpark Services in south and west Dublin. Will the Minister explain the anomaly, whereby north Dublin, although undoubtedly in need of funding, was given priority in the provision of services over areas in the city?

These questions have greater strength given the debacle over the issue of primary care centres in the Minister's constituency and how two were bumped up from an original list, which led to the resignation of the former Minister of State. The Minister has to answer the question of whether he is the Minister for Health or the Minister for north Dublin.

First, to correct the record, Beechpark Services is not located in my constituency. I thank the Deputies for their concern and raising this matter. The HSE publication National Review of Autism Services: Past, Present and Way Forward and the Progressing Disability Services for Children and Young People project, known as the zero to eighteens programme, set out the policy context for the provision of autism services to children and young people. The objective of the zero to 18 programme is to achieve a national, unified approach to delivering disability health services so that there is a clear pathway to services for all children, regardless of where they live, what school they go to or the nature of their disability.

Disability health services for children, including those for autism, are organised very differently across the country because of the way in which they have been initiated and developed over many years. Some organisations provide services for a specific group of children who have a particular kind of disability, or they may only operate in one part of the country. This means that while there are excellent services for some children in an area, there may be little or none for others. The zero to eighteens programme aims to remedy this inequity in service provision. To address some of the inequity, I announced the allocation of €1 million in funding for autism and early intervention services in 2012. Beechpark is a regional, community-based HSE service which provides specialised clinical supports for children with a specific diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder up to 18 years of age who attend designated special schools, outreach preschools and outreach classes in Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow. Based on a report prepared by the HSE, I approved €300,000 of this funding, which equates to five therapist posts, for Beechpark Services in Dublin, north of the Liffey, to address the pressing needs of its catchment area, with a particular emphasis on reducing waiting times.

It is important for Deputies to recognise the scale of the work that will be enabled by the investment. I have a list of 29 schools in which services for autism will now be put in place as a result of the new posts in Beechpark Services in north Dublin. Far from being in my constituency, as is being suggested, the vast bulk of them are not. They are schools in Donnycarney, Finglas, Castleknock, Glasnevin, Artane, Clonee, Swords, Fairview, Tyrellstown and many other places.

The report also proposed an allocation for Beechpark in the Dublin-mid-Leinster region which was to be rolled out in year two. I also established an independent review group in 2012 to look at the Beechpark model of services and how resources could be used in the best and most effective way in light of the HSE review of autism services and the reorganisation of services that is under way in line with the zero to eighteens programme. Further funding for Beechpark and other regions of the country is scheduled to be released after the outcome of this review. I understand the review is expected to be concluded shortly.

Following ongoing discussions on the best way forward for Beechpark autism services, the HSE has confirmed that the funding approved will be allocated to HSE Dublin North East in 2013 for Beechpark in order to address the waiting list for services in Dublin north east. This will provide, in the first instance, for the recruitment of the necessary five therapy staff. I am aware, however, that addressing the significant pressures in Dublin north east is only a starting point. The HSE has confirmed that the €300,000 is just a first step in 2013. The balance of funding for autism and early intervention services nationally will be made available. The allocation of these further resources must be considered in light of the findings of the independent review.

I thank the Minister for his reply. The bottom line is that he decided to go off and announce that he was going to provide an additional €3 million in funding for autism services. He then decided to announce a review. One of his senior officials described the Minister's announcement in January 2012 as "news to me". Another said that it had come "out of the blue". When it was announced, his decision to carry out a review equally came out of the blue to many of the people providing services, including Dr. Cate Hartigan. Nobody denies that Dublin North deserves the resources and the allocation but what is critical is that priority was certainly given to the allocation north of the Liffey while services elsewhere are under huge stress and pressure. Children in any part of the country are entitled to equality and equity in accessing these services. Rather than carrying out reviews and stalling the process, the Minister should have ensured that the allocation that was made, granted and announced by him was supported and enhanced, as was the wish of Dr. Cate Hartigan and others, who felt this was particularly important for the development of services and equality throughout the country.

The Minister knows personally, at least as well as anybody else, that there is an identifiable need in this area that does not need to be highlighted by an independent review. The information is undoubtedly within the system, within the HSE and within the Minister's Department. There is no excusing the fact that he did not use any of the announced funding in 2012. He has used only €300,000 of it this year and, while another €1 million is signalled for 2014, there is now €1.7 million that could be spent on enhancing services for children with autism at different locations around the State. That need is beyond review. It is long established and is crying out to be addressed. How quickly will the Minister ensure that the essential money is released to those who will make the best use of it and deliver the best additional high quality services for children in all of these other locations, who most certainly are as deserving as the children of the greater north Dublin area for whom the Minister has already provided?

I wish to make it absolutely clear that I am delighted that people on the north side of Dublin, whether from the Minister's constituency or other parts of north Dublin, are to receive extra services. What is not clear from the Minister's answer is why only a small portion of the money that he initially announced at the end of 2011 has been allocated and why the money that was allocated has been allocated first to north Dublin, the Minister's political heartland. Could he explain why that is the case? What are the criteria for selecting the areas to which money is allocated, and why has it not been allocated? On the face of it, according to the waiting list figures, there is as much demand and need in other parts of Dublin and other parts of the country as there was in north Dublin. Otherwise, inevitably, there lingers a suspicion of favouritism for particular areas.

I am interested in ensuring equity of access across the system and I look forward to getting the report I have mentioned in the shortest possible time - in the next few weeks, I hope. That will allow us to distribute the resources available to us as equitably as possible and as soon as possible. I have been asked specifically why I took the decision I took. I allude to the report that has been published on the Department's website and is there for all to see. The back page offers two options.

The overall allocation of €300,000 equates to approximately five whole-time equivalents. Option one was the deployment of the total resource to address the waiting lists either in Dublin north east or in the Dublin-mid-Leinster region, which would enable a more effective and speedy approach. This option could only operate equitably on the basis that if one region got the entire allocation in 2012, the remaining regions would get a similar allocation in 2013. Accordingly, in 2012, Dublin north east would receive €300,000, while in 2013, Dublin-mid-Leinster would receive €300,000. Option 2 was the division of the €300,000 in line with waiting list data as detailed above. The 138 children from Dublin north east on waiting lists constitute 36% of the overall waiting lists for Beechpark Services, which would come to €108,000. The remainder, €192,000, would go to the 241 children from Dublin-mid-Leinster.

In the context of the focus on pressures on Dublin north east and representations by schools and parents to the Department of Health, an allocation of €108,000 would provide for just short of two whole-time equivalent basic-grade clinicians to enhance the north-side team providing these services. While the additional resource would have a positive impact on tackling the waiting list, the speed of progress would be much greater if a full multidisciplinary team was approved. I followed the Health Service Executive’s recommendations. Although Deputy Kelleher has name-checked an individual, this report comes from the HSE, not an individual.

I was quoting from information provided in response to freedom of information requests.

Ambulance Service Response Times

I thank the Minister for attending the Chamber for this important matter. I am raising a matter arising from the recent death of a baby in Tralee. I express my sympathy to the family on their profound loss.

The HSE has confirmed that a 999 call was received in the early hours of 18 June from the family of a three-and-a-half-week-old child who was having breathing difficulties and subsequently suffered a suspected cot death in Tralee. However, the ambulance was sent to The Tennis Village, Model Farm Road, Cork, rather than The Tennis Village, Tralee. The first emergency vehicle arrived at the scene in Tralee 30 minutes after the initial call, which the Minister will agree is not an acceptable timeframe in such instances. This timeframe would have been much smaller had the call been co-ordinated from a local ambulance centre, as was the case before May.

Reports on this case have seriously dented public confidence in the new centralised ambulance system. Yesterday, Kerry media carried a report about how on 9 June it had take 75 minutes for an ambulance to take an elderly man having breathing difficulties to hospital after his daughter had called for it. Again, the ambulance was sent to the wrong address initially. It was meant to go to an address in Ballyvelly but was sent to Spa Road instead. My colleague, Deputy Jerry Buttimer, has raised similar incidents in Cork at the health committee.

The director of the National Ambulance Service, Mr. Robert Morton, has suggested that a postcode system would assist in despatching ambulances. If he believes this is important, why then was the national centralised system rolled out before a postcode system was established? This needs to be urgently reviewed because it is a matter of life and death and we cannot afford for it not to work.

I, too, thank the Minister for attending the Chamber to discuss this matter. The integrity of the ambulance despatch system has been undermined as a result of events in recent days in County Kerry. I have no aspiration to condemn the idea of a centralised despatch system, but the one we have is not working. In the recent awful and tragic death of a four-week-old baby in Tralee, it has been stated that even if an ambulance had arrived earlier, it would not have been able to prevent the child from dying. I understand there was a language barrier because the family involved did not have the capacity to speak fluent English and could not identify the area in which they were living to the ambulance service. However, Ballyvelly and Spa Road are very distinct areas in Tralee and for an ambulance to take 75 minutes to deliver a person to a hospital which is effectively over the road is a problem.

As the Minister will be aware, my father is a doctor. He has told me he has never come across anything like what is happening with the ambulance service. If a doctor rings for an ambulance, he or she must answer a list of questions to justify getting it. Could doctors be provided with an app similar to the Hailo taxi app in order that their name and location appears to the ambulance centre, meaning they do not have to answer the litany of questions that an average member of the public must go through?

The IP system for landline telephones means people’s locations can be quickly identified. Similarly, GPS works for mobile phones. The Garda can identify the locality of a phone used to call its service. These existing systems should be applied to the ambulance service. The people of Kerry are not happy with these recent events and people’s health is at stake.

I thank the Deputies for raising this issue.

A tragic event occurred in County Kerry last week which was widely reported. First, I extend the Government’s deepest sympathy to the family of the child involved. The loss of a loved one is hard for family and friends at any time but the sudden and unexpected death of a young child is particularly difficult.

At 1.16 a.m. on 18 June 2013, an emergency call was received about a baby who was reported as not breathing. The National Ambulance Service, NAS, was initially unable to obtain sufficient details of where the family was, which led to a delay in responding to the call. The first emergency resource arrived at the scene 30 minutes after the initial 999 call. The baby was subsequently pronounced dead.

The incident has been the subject of a systems analysis, as is routine in cases in which a death occurs, to ascertain whether call-taking protocols were followed. Following an examination of the facts, the HSE is satisfied that systems and processes operated correctly and there are no plans to carry out any further review. However, interrogation has been strengthened to mitigate the impact of a call in which the incident location cannot be identified. In addition, the HSE communications service has been requested to run a publicity campaign to improve public awareness of the need to communicate precisely the location of incidents.

In the interest of respecting the dignity and grief of the family, I wish to make no further comment on the specific incident. However, Ireland is now a multicultural society. An individual who has language issues and is emotionally traumatised at having found her baby dead can have great difficulty in communicating. I have heard what Deputy Arthur Spring said about GPS for physicians, and I will mention this in the second part of my answer.

A significant reform programme has been under way to totally reconfigure the way the HSE manages and delivers pre-hospital care services to ensure a clinically driven, nationally co-ordinated system, supported by improved technology. The national control centre reconfiguration project which is endorsed by HIQA and represents international best practice will reduce the number of ambulance control centres to a single national control system, with significant investment in new voice, data and mapping technologies. The project is also a key element of Future Health: A Strategic Framework for Health Reform in Ireland 2012-2015.

Both HIQA and the National Ambulance Service had concerns over control and despatch structures at some control centres leading up to the development of the national control system. Accordingly, the National Ambulance Service moved the Cork and Tralee centres to its Townsend Street centre on an interim basis in May to mitigate such concerns pending completion of the national centre. Detailed preparations took place to ensure the safety of services during the move of the Cork and Kerry operations. The National Ambulance Service provided additional staff, training, technology and equipment to assist this process - 112/999 calls from these areas are now answered in Dublin using improved technology. The National Ambulance Service is satisfied that the Townsend Street centre, while not appropriate to the needs of the overall reconfiguration project, is nevertheless suitable and infrastructurally sound for the interim accommodation of these centres.

I thank the Minister for his response, but I need to emphasise that this reform is not like the SUSI grants system or the medical card system in respect of which there have been teething problems. There can be no scope for teething problems in the change of this system. The consequences of a failure in the system are a matter of life or death. Therefore, it needs to work 100% correctly all of the time.

As a public representative, I am not 100% confident, as a result of the recent cases in Tralee, that the system is working properly. I live in a little place called Keel on the Dingle Peninsula. One will not find it on any map and if a person from Keel called for an ambulance, I would be concerned it might be sent to Achill Island in County Mayo. What is to prevent this from happening? The local knowledge in the local centres would have helped to prevent what happened in Tralee recently. Perhaps as Deputy Arthur Spring suggested, we need to embrace technology more and explore that option.

If the director of the National Ambulance Service is saying the absence of postcodes is a problem, why was this change proceeded with and why was addressing the problem of postcodes not a prerequisite in making this change? I want to ensure that what happened in both cases in Tralee recently will never happen again to anybody else. We cannot afford for mistakes to be made in this crucial area.

The core issue is that the people of County Kerry are worried about whether the emergency services can provide them with an adequate ambulance service. From what we have seen in recent weeks, there is no evidence to suggest people's lives are not in jeopardy. We have a problem, but it is not one that cannot be solved; however, it needs the attention of Department of Health. There are technological issues, but there are also core values and principles that need to be adhered to.

It is unacceptable that there is a language barrier when so many foreigners have come to live here and that language may pose a problem when a person seeks help. Language is even more of a problem for people living in rural areas in that different placenames can be duplicated in different regions and provinces and an ambulance may be sent to the wrong county. This is unacceptable and it needs to be rectified. We need to hear a response on how it will be done. We will keep the Minister informed if there are further infringements and we may have to return to the old system. If he wants some of his people to deal with us at local level, we would be happy to meet them, but I also suggest technology needs to be advanced in his Department.

I thank the Deputies for raising this matter. Given the circumstances of what happened in the tragic case mentioned, I do not know if moving back to the old system would have addressed the problem. Both Deputies have made the point that we have a serious problem in terms of communication. Proper communication is essential in delivering any service. The centralisation of this service will allow for translation facilities to be put in place. I will aggressively pursue the issue of technology in terms of the use of GPS, given that most people have mobile phones. I am given to understand from early inquiries, however, that the technology is not at a level in the country to do this in a rapid way, which is very important. I accept that we should be looking to make such an investment to give the people the assurance they need that the service will be as efficient as possible and that we will remove, as much as possible, the room for human error, particularly when it comes to issue of communication. It is utterly understandable people are completely traumatised in situations where a loved one is in terrible danger and if there is also a language issue, that complicates the matter. I reiterate that we will certainly have this issue further interrogated and have a solution put in place to provide further reassurance. I again express my deepest sympathy to the family in question on their terrible loss.