Topical Issue Debate

Job Losses

I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to speak to this urgent and important debate on the need for a more proactive interagency support in respect of the Cadbury chocolate factory in Coolock. My objective today is to ensure that everything possible is done to prevent future job losses at this plant. Last Friday, I met representatives of the excellent staff at a meeting in Liberty Hall. It shocked me to hear the Minister talk a few days earlier about the Government developing an early warning system that would highlight any threat to jobs.

People need to wake up and they need to walk the walk on this issue. We need to listen to all of the staff, the electricians, the clerical and the general staff when they express their major concerns and that is what this debate is about today. The electricians are very worried at this moment about their jobs and about the issue of due pay and there is a question of industrial action coming up on the agenda next Monday. The bottom line is that staff want an independent financial expert to deal with this issue. The intergovernmental agencies have said they would like to meet the staff on 6 May but that, for many of the staff, is too short a timespan. They want to get the figures for the Coolock plant and they have suggested an independent financial person they can trust, but the company would not accept the name they put forward.

In recent years Coolock has lost a lot of tonnage and jobs. In 2010, the plant lost 90 jobs in a restructuring programme which was to bring tonnage to the site and make the remaining jobs on the site more secure. The increased tonnage never materialised and it continues to lose jobs and tonnes from the site. In October 2012, it lost the bean processing plant with the associated tonnage and another 24 jobs and, as recently as September 2014, it lost another 35 jobs from the site. I will raise the other issues as the debate develops.

Before I call on the next speaker, Deputy Dessie Ellis wishes with the agreement of the House to defer his topical issue until tomorrow. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Early last month, it was announced by the multinational group Mondelez that 63 jobs would be lost at the Cadbury plant in Coolock as a consequence of the transfer of production of its Time Out bar to Poland. I and other north Dublin Deputies secured a Topical Issue Debate at that time to try to identify how those jobs could be saved or how other job opportunities could be found for the workers affected, all of whom live in north Dublin. We also discussed how the impact of this on the local economy could be mitigated. Cadbury's has been an iconic brand in supporting quality Irish jobs and job losses would badly affect the local community.

At a meeting of the trade unions representing Cadbury's workers last Friday, to which public representatives were invited, I was disappointed to be told that nothing really had happened in the meantime to address the situation. Last month, north Dublin Deputies were informed that an interagency group, including Enterprise Ireland, the IDA, the Department of Social Protection, partnership agencies and local enterprise offices, would be set up as a matter of urgency to deal with the 63 job losses. At the meeting with unions on Friday, we were informed that the employee representatives were not aware of such a body and up to then they had not been contacted by anybody in this regard. At this meeting the Cadbury workers appealed to their Deputies to ensure that everything possible was done to avert the job losses.

The loss of tonnes of production at the Coolock plant is damaging the plant's competitive position compared to other Mondelez sites outside of Ireland and this, they believe, further threatens the viability of the manufacturing unit in Coolock. In 2010, they lost 90 jobs in a restructuring programme. In 2012, they lost 42 jobs when the bean processing plant closed and, as recently as last September, they lost a further 35 jobs from the site in Coolock. We have been told that there is a lack of information being made available to the employees on the viability of the Mondelez operation at Cadbury's in Coolock. The employees need this information so that they can develop a counterproposal to try to save the jobs.

Can the Minister of State tell me what can be done by his Department to minimise the redundancies? Can he outline what retraining and re-skilling options will be made available to the redundant workers? Can he assure me they will receive assistance in accessing similar employment with the skills they have acquired?

It is astonishing that the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, is not in the House, since this so deeply affects the constituency of Dublin bay north as well as the other 40 or so constituencies.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

Six weeks ago there was a welcome meeting in the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation on the serious matter of the loss of 160 jobs in Cadbury-Mondelez in Coolock. We heard about an interagency group comprising IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, the workforce and their representatives SIPTU, Unite, the TEEU and other trade unions and, crucially, the management. It is astonishing that, as we heard last Friday, none of this has happened. The Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, did absolutely nothing for a key facility in his own constituency and the workers and their trade union representatives now have grave concerns over the loss of chocolate tonnage from the Coolock plant which transferred to Poland with the loss of 63 jobs and 2,500 tonnes of product. Incredibly, while Coolock will lose these jobs, Mondelez is recruiting for virtually the same number of workers in Poland and the Coolock plant will now have well below 30,000 tonnes of product in 2015, with the workforce threatened with a reduction to 350 or 360.

The workers and trade unions inform us that Mondelez operates a remote tolling system under its European operating company in Zurich. It is very difficult for the workforce or its representatives to get any information on company turnover and performance in Ireland, Europe or north America.

We are informed that operations at nine US factories have been transferred to Mexico and that the worldwide workforce of Mondelez is being cut by 4,000 but we do not know these facts and the Minister seems to have no interest in finding out the facts about this particular company. This is why the failure of the senior Minister and the agencies to engage with the company and give any supports over the past six weeks has been deeply disturbing.

This valiant workforce needs assistance urgently to maintain this very important and iconic plant. The workforce has requested accounting and economic assistance from Mondelez. I understand Mazars has begun to give some support in this regard to SIPTU. I ask the other three Ministers of State who represent Dublin constituencies to listen to this. One Minister of State represents or is trying to represent Dublin Bay North. The Minister said six weeks ago that Dublin is forbidden from getting direct capital investment. What about other supports such as energy research or taxation for the Coolock operation? It is very disappointing that the Minister is not here. Why is he not here to hear about this very important and urgent matter in his own constituency - one of the most historic factories in this country - and in Kerry? We need some action.

The request from myself and other Deputies for this Topical Issue debate was prompted by a briefing given by shop stewards from Cadbury's Coolock plant last Friday, which was attended by local representatives, including my colleague, Councillor Michael O'Brien. Contrary to the attitude expressed by the Minister at the meeting he had with Deputies and the attitude I presume will be expressed by the Government whereby it takes it as a given that these jobs will simply go and that it is simply a question of managing that situation, the workers' representatives correctly do not accept that as a given. They challenge the loss of those jobs in Coolock and I likewise would challenge the loss of jobs in Tallaght and Kerry.

No case is being made that the Coolock operation is loss making. It is simply a case of profit chasing and a race to the bottom. We have EU laws that require multinationals like Mondelez to engage in a negotiation process with the workforce when redundancies of a certain scale are under way but the negotiations that are taking place are far from genuine. The workers' representatives feel they are being deprived of both the information they need from the company about the performance of the plant and the resources needed to acquire independent expert advice to enable them to put forward a counter-proposal to safeguard the operation in Coolock. The Anti-Austerity Alliance and I support the workers' representatives' demands for that information and resources to help them in the negotiations.

Given Mondelez's past record, I feel that any proposal from the workers' side will not necessarily satisfy it if it feels it can squeeze more profit elsewhere on the basis of lower pay, more intense work regimes and fewer protections for workers. That is the record of this company. This, therefore, begs the question about the model of recovery being pursued by the Government and the establishment in this country and the consequences of total dependence on the whims, caprices and profit chasing of multinational corporations. The skills and potential built up in these plants should not be allowed to go to waste regardless of the ridicule that such a notion would excite from the Government and other parts of this Chamber. We must put the idea of State enterprise, investment and worker-managed enterprise to protect jobs and as alternative model for economic development on the agenda.

I thank the Deputies for raising this matter.

The Minister sends his apologies that he is unavailable to take this Topical Issue. He is currently leading a trade mission in the Gulf and India to grow the export markets of Irish companies and ultimately create jobs in Ireland so it was not possible for him to be here with the notice given of this debate.

I am very conscious of the anxiety that the announcement of job losses by the company concerned at its operations in Coolock creates for the workers there. The Minister has been engaging with the senior management of the company and has urged it to reconsider this decision. It is not a case of taking it for granted. He is urging management to reconsider the decision. He has also asked whether there is anything the State or its agencies can do to mitigate its effects. The company has pledged to support departing workers with placement services. The company has indicated that it will also work closely with workers in an effort to ensure that the impact of this decision is minimised to the greatest extent possible and to discuss investment it will be making in Ireland in order to build a stronger business here for the long term.

As the Deputies will be aware from their meeting with the Minister in his Department, he established an inter-agency group on 3 March to co-ordinate the Government's response to the job losses at the company. The group is chaired by Enterprise Ireland and membership includes the local enterprise offices, IDA Ireland, the education and training boards, the Department of Social Protection and the Citizens Information Bureau. I know the Deputies also requested another meeting with the Minister and I am sure that invitation is on his desk.

The group is seeking to secure alternative employment for the areas affected and also to ensure that departing workers have access to supports that they need from State agencies for retraining, access to social welfare supports, access to advice on employment rights and access to advice and support for those workers who might intend to start their own businesses. The first meeting of the group was held on 18 March.

The inter-agency group is open to meeting with the company's representatives and staff and has made an invitation to meet these parties through the company's management. In this regard, last week, the local management team met with employee representatives from the Coolock site in an effort to facilitate a meeting between staff representatives and the inter-agency group. I understand that the management has requested a meeting between the inter-agency group and staff representatives. The inter-agency group has suggested either 5 or 6 May for a meeting with staff representatives in Coolock and I understand that it is awaiting a response from the staff representatives regarding the suitability of these dates. The Deputies expressed a view here today that this date is too soon so I will make sure the Minister is aware of that as well. Enterprise Ireland has had meetings with the company's management on a weekly basis since the news of job losses broke. The agency has also visited the sites at Tallaght and Rathmore in Kerry to examine the potential for business opportunities.

I should also point out to the Deputies that Ireland has a robust suite of employment rights legislation which offers extensive protections to employees. The National Employment Rights Authority, NERA, is mandated to secure compliance with employment rights legislation. NERA information personnel are available to meet staff of the affected companies, either individually or collectively, to discuss their employment rights, including matters related to redundancy. The workplace relations customer service section can be contacted at lo-call 1890 80 80 90 or via its website at http://www.workplacerelations.ie, which provides extensive information on employment rights. It is important that people are always informed of their rights. I would like to inform the Deputies that, if required, the State's industrial relations machinery is also available to assist the parties concerned in any way possible.

Employment growth continues to be the primary objective of this Government and we have been working hard to create the economic conditions which will support existing jobs as well as the creation of additional new jobs. Through the series of action plans for jobs, this Government has focused on creating a supportive environment for businesses operating in Ireland. Our target was to create 100,000 new jobs by 2016 and we have already created 90,000 of those. More than 35,000 extra people are at work today in Dublin compared to three years ago. Almost half of these extra jobs are supported by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation through Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland. A range of manufacturing companies supported by the Department through its enterprise development agencies are currently hiring in the area. In terms of new initiatives for job creation, Enterprise Ireland activity is focused on the creation of new jobs through continuing to work with established companies in its portfolio, including, of course, the company in question. The agency is also supporting entrepreneurs in manufacturing and internationally traded services companies which are setting up high potential start-up companies.

The local enterprise offices, LEOs, are the first-stop-shop for support to anyone wishing to start or expand a business, focusing on the micro-enterprise sector - those with ten employees or less. They pull together all the players - other Government Departments and agencies - to support everyone with a good business idea and to strengthen the enterprise sector in the local area. The LEOs can provide information, advice and guidance on the range of State supports to enterprise and signpost customers to the appropriate contacts across the various agencies that provide them. For businesses in the manufacturing or internationally traded services sectors, the LEOs can provide direct financial support to develop or implement a business idea. For other sectors, the LEOs may be able to provide non-financial supports such as specific and tailored business training or mentoring to help a business to develop. Each LEO is also active in developing local networks and other activities and events that bring business people and entrepreneurs together as a means of supporting each other.

The four LEOs in Dublin are available to support anyone with a business idea and who wants to consider entrepreneurship as a career option. I urge anyone who was made redundant or who is in danger of losing their job to make contact with their LEO to explore available options.

I have three short questions. Is the Minister aware that the current proposal to transfer manufacture of the Time Out bar to Poland with the loss of 63 jobs and another 2,500 tonnes from the site threatens the viability of the remaining operation in Coolock? The company's proposal to transfer manufacture of the Time Out bar and the restructuring programme targets 160 jobs to be lost this year. Is the Minister aware that the loss of tonnes from the site damages its competitive position compared to other Mondelez sites outside Ireland and further threatens the viability of the manufacturing plant in Coolock?

Is the Minister aware that a large part of the costs set out in the site comparison equation would remain following any transfer of production and hence further increase the cost per tonne for the remaining products? Also, a large part of the so-called investment is to be spent on reconfiguration of the existing plant, with slightly more than half that investment to be spent on chocolate production.

The staff are seeking the Minister's support to enable them develop a robust counter-proposal. They also want an assurance that everything possible is being done to prevent job losses at the Coolock plant. I urge the Minister, Deputy Bruton, to focus on this important issue. I believe the Coolock plant is a profitable and viable entity, and we need to roll up our sleeves and support it.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy English, for coming to the House to deal with this matter and for his response. I accept that the Minister, Deputy Bruton, is on a trade mission to India and wish him every success in that regard. Hopefully, that mission will result in a greater number of jobs than are being lost at the Coolock plant.

Despite that, I have been in touch with the Minister's office by e-mail and telephone since last Friday but I have been, unfortunately, unable to get the information I required. I welcome that the inter-agency group meetings will commence on 5 or 6 May. It is unfortunate that it has taken such a long time to get to that stage. Perhaps the Minister of State would raise with the Minister, Deputy Bruton, on his return from the trade mission the need for him to meet with Deputies from the Dublin North East and Dublin North Central constituencies and brief them on the current situation. There appears to be a communication problem between ourselves and the Minister.

The process outlined by the Minister of State, Deputy English, is incredibly roundabout, slow and cumbersome. When we walked down the steps of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation almost seven weeks ago our expectation was that this process would be up and running soon and that the enterprise agencies, including the local enterprise offices and so on, would have made contact with the workforce and Mondelez pretty immediately. We are now being told it will be another few weeks before this happens, which is incredible. I echo the comments of Deputy Kenny that we need to meet again with the Minister, Deputy Bruton, to ensure urgent action on this matter. It beggars belief that the workers and their representatives and Mondelez were not immediately offered a meeting by the agencies.

I referred earlier to the number of other supports that workers believe would be helpful to them in making a robust counter-proposal to Mondelez management. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, appears to have done absolutely nothing to bring these forward. I mentioned previously that the Minister has a poor track record in the greater Coolock area in terms of supporting jobs. There are many empty factories in the area and estates that are run down. Despite having been a Minister for more than four years, he has done nothing for the area. He makes announcements here, there and everywhere - I understand he is in the Gulf now - but there is no delivery for Dublin Bay North. That is the problem. He does not deliver for his own constituency and he needs to do so.

The company concerned has employed thousands of people and supported thousands of families down through the decades. We need a response on this matter. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, chose not to serve on the Northside Partnership, which showed his lack of commitment to the area. Other Deputies were expected and delighted to serve on that partnership. We need a response from Deputy Bruton in his remaining months as Minister.

Will the Government apply pressure on Mondelez to ensure that workers get all of the information and resources they are looking for from the point of view of putting forward an alternative plan? It seems to me that the problem is contained within the Minister of State's response in that there appears to be an acceptance that jobs will be lost. The inter-agency group set up by the Minister, which includes no worker representation, is predicated on accepting that the jobs will be lost.

In terms of a response to this ongoing situation, which could result in an industrial dispute, the Minister of State in his reply stated that the four local enterprise offices in Dublin are available to support anybody with a business idea who wants to consider entrepreneurship as a career option. Is that for real? Are workers who are demanding that their jobs be maintained being asked to consider entrepreneurship as a career option? Are they all to consider entrepreneurship as a career option, as opposed to actual social welfare supports or fighting to maintain their jobs?

The Minister of State also said in his reply that through a series of jobs action plans the Government has focused on creating a supportive environment for businesses operating in Ireland. I agree with that. The Government doles out grants to entice them in and then they leave. What we need is a supportive environment for sustainable jobs in Ireland that are decent and well paid and are not part of a race to the bottom, rather than a short-term approach of enticing in multinationals that are later free to walk away.

I would like to respond to a couple of the points made. As the Minister, Deputy Bruton, previously arranged a meeting of all those involved, I am sure there will be no problem in organising another such meeting. The Minister has a good track record in this regard and is willing to engage in constructive debate rather than the type of showmanship that is going on here today.

It is not showmanship. That is outrageous. This is a real issue.

In regard to Deputy McGrath's question as to whether the Minister is aware of all the issues, the Minister is, of course, well aware of them, and for two reasons.

He is not as interested in this issue as Deputy Finian McGrath is.

First, he is the Minister with responsibility for jobs, and second, as a TD, he is very interested in local issues. The Minister has met with management of the company and all of the agencies involved and, as such, he is aware of all of the issues. The issue of a meeting with the workers was raised. An invitation for such a meeting has been issued. There appears to be an issue around organising a time for that meeting. I am not sure what the delay is, but there has not been a response from the workers to that invitation.

In regard to Deputy Paul Murphy's point about information, perhaps when the agencies meet with the workers it will be possible to put together a list of what is needed and we can then try to get that information for them. All efforts will be made to ensure the workers get what they need to make their counter-proposal. The Minister does not accept that the jobs are lost. However, he does not have a magic wand. Like everybody else, he is out there trying to negotiate and work with companies.

In regard to the Minister's success in terms of job creation, he has been very successful in that regard. Naturally, as Deputies, we all want jobs in our own backyard, but that is not always possible. The Minister is doing a good job in terms of the creation of sustainable jobs. Everybody knows that is the truth. While some people choose to use debates of this type to say otherwise, most people engage constructively on coming up with solutions.

As I said earlier, the Minister has set up the inter-agency group. Enterprise Ireland has met with the company on a weekly basis in an effort to come up with a solution. It is not the case that it has accepted defeat on this matter. It continues to engage on this issue and to seek to attract jobs to other sites. It is an ongoing process and all involved are doing their best. Hopefully, the outcome will be good.

Mental Health Services Provision

I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for this opportunity to raise this important matter. I welcome the positive news that this issue, as it applies to the Galway acute psychiatric unit, is to be referred to the LRC. However, I stand by my request this morning for an independent review of the staffing and operation of mental health services across Counties Galway and Roscommon.

Last year, when I made the point in this House that the Galway unit was an accident waiting to happen because of inadequate staffing and resources, I was accused of scaremongering. As in the case of the Galway unit, staffing and resources at the acute psychiatric unit at Roscommon County Hospital in respect of specials are inadequate. Specials are sick patients who are a danger to themselves and other people in the unit, be they staff or patients. This continues to be the case at both of the units in Galway and Roscommon. All of these issues need to be examined.

To compound those particular problems, the acute psychiatric unit at St. Luke's in Ballinasloe has been closed, adding to the pressures already on the units in Galway and Roscommon.

It is clear there is an issue in relation to resourcing. What makes it even more bizarre is that last year, the mental health services in Roscommon and Galway handed back €6 million and this year their budget has been cut by a further €3.5 million.

In the Ballinasloe catchment area, within the past three weeks, 14 patients have been referred to the acute unit in Roscommon, putting considerable pressure on the acute unit in Roscommon. On top of that, we are coming into the summer months where there is further demand on mental health services in Galway because of the dramatic increase in population in the Galway area during the summer. As an interim measure, I would urge the Minister to re-open the acute unit at St. Luke's in Ballinasloe to take pressure off both Galway and Roscommon acute psychiatric units.

It is not only the acute units that are causing problems. There is a very serious issue regarding staffing at the high support unit at Knockroe in Castlerea. Serious allegations of misconduct in relation to a male patient have been raised there and it has been claimed that matter has not been properly investigated by the mental health services or properly reported to the Garda. I want an assurance from the Minister that this issue will be independently investigated and that an independent report will be produced.

This morning's action is as a direct result of a political decision not to proceed with the opening of a facility in Ballinasloe - a €3.2 million spend on a brand-new unit and the only ligature-free unit in the HSE. It was never opened and the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, transferred services and centralised them around Galway University Hospital, GUH.

The unit has been described by the health and safety official on site as a creaking, leaking and subsiding unit. It is held up with RSJs and there is water coming down on walls. Staffing levels had been unacceptable. We have highlighted this consistently in this House for the past 14 months but we were accused of scaremongering. In fact, in the Irish Examiner on 20 February 2014, the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, said the Opposition was "scaremongering". She stated the changes "would liberate the service users" with an environment of "calm". This is a unit in which 36 assaults on staff took place already this year. The Department underspent the budget by €6 million last year and it was lost in the black hole of overspends across the public health service.

I am glad the senior Minister is here. I do not know whether it is due to lack of confidence in the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, but I can tell him that the front-line staff in GUH have no confidence in the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch. According to a statement by the Department of Health on 22 May of last year, the "Minister of State with responsibility for Mental Health, Kathleen Lynch TD, today affirmed her view that acute mental health services at the University College Hospital Galway are being delivered safely and that the overall re-configuration of services in the Galway-Roscommon region is in the best interests of services users."

The reconfiguration of services across Roscommon, Mayo and Galway is a disaster. There is a brand-new facility sitting idle in GUH but the Minister would rather herd the most vulnerable people to an accident and emergency unit so that they can be triaged, if they are lucky, to get into a psychiatric unit, where water comes down on the walls and which has been described as a creaking unit.

This was a political decision. The front-line staff have not been listened to nor has the Opposition but the crusade continues. In the past two years, we have seen a €70 million underspend in mental health - the greatest public health crisis of our generation. Would the Minister explain that?

I put it to the Minister that the evidence is mounting up that there is a quite a dangerous situation emerging in mental health services right across the country as a result of chronic staff shortages. The situation in Galway is merely the latest example of this where, with 36 assaults on staff, workers feel forced into a situation where they do not go into work because of staff shortages, but it is not an isolated example.

Two weeks ago, a psychiatric nurse in Cork was suspended for talking to the media about services being unsafe because of staff shortages. Deputy Denis Naughten mentioned the situation two years ago. We had exactly the same situation in Roscommon where nurses refused to go to work because of an unsafe situation. In my constituency this week, I presume for the same reasons, a man who attempted to commit suicide one week ago was released against the wishes of himself and his family and is now homeless on the streets of Dún Laoghaire.

The situation in child mental health services is even worse. I want to ask the Minister directly did the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, mislead the House when she stated that staffing levels in child mental health services were up to 80% and that protocols for those aged 16 and 17 had been agreed with the IMO when a statement came out last week from the IMO stating no protocols had been agreed and that staffing levels were 55% and are putting patients and staff in danger. Were we misled? In this situation where we are dealing with young people, we are aware of the scandal of young people being put into adult hospitals with mental health problems, but the IMO is in dispute with and is directly contradicting what the Minister of State said about the staffing levels and the agreed protocols when it comes to vulnerable young people with mental health problems.

The reason I put this forward as a Topical Issue today was because I heard on radio this morning that staff had refused to go to work as they could not provide the care needed in a safe environment due to a lack of staff. I felt it was a cry for help from these workers who wanted to raise this issue. They would not have taken this action this morning unless there was a chronic problem within the services in Galway University Hospital. It seems there are other issues in relation to other services in Galway University Hospital. Is there a need for the Minister to make a statement about what is happening across the services in this hospital?

The PNA representative, Mr. Derek Cunningham, stated this morning that 36 staff had been assaulted since January and that this had been raised with the HSE. The HSE has condemned these workers for taking this action and for not working in unsafe conditions for the patients and workers. The Minister must respond to this and say to the Dáil, the patients in the hospital and the workers that he will do something about it because this has been going on too long.

As other Deputies have said, the matter has been raised over the past two years. A Vision for Change does not seem to be doing what it is supposed to do in terms of mental health services. The annual report of the Mental Health Commission is due in June. I would like to see that report to know whether there have been advances since last year when there was condemnation by the PNA and the workers in the HSE.

I thank the Deputies for raising this issue and for giving me an opportunity to update the House. I am taking this debate on behalf of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, who is on Government business elsewhere.

Galway-Roscommon mental health services are committed to full implementation of A Vision for Change. The guiding principles involved under this widely agreed policy include patient centeredness, equality, access to quality care that is focused on recovery and integration with other mental health and mainstream health services.

The HSE in Galway-Roscommon provides an inpatient and community mental health service for a population of 314,000 and is at an advanced stage in the implementation of A Vision for Change. It has already moved in to local service provision with catchment areas of 50,000, as recommended in A Vision for Change, and appointed team co-ordinators and developed an overarching clinical governance model.

Staff working in the health service cope with significant service pressures and this is also the case in mental health. However, the focus and priority must always be on provision of care for the patient.

Patients in this service can often display challenging behaviour and HSE staff are provided with a wide range of training and supports. Where a patient has assaulted a staff member, it is recorded and the rarer instances of serious assaults are investigated as part of health and safety management.

In line with revised safety incident management policy, staff are encouraged to report all incidents. The HSE in Galway reviews recorded assaults. According to the records, up to the end of March there were 29 recorded incidents in the acute unit in Galway. All such incidents are risk-rated. Of the 29 incidents of assault, 25 were classified as physical, two as attempted and two as verbal. Of the 25 physical assaults, one was rated high, ten were rated moderate and 14 as low-level. All incidents are discussed and reviewed locally, and any suggested actions are implemented. Trends are reviewed and analysed at clinical governance meetings in Galway. I understand several of the incidents were physical in nature, with staff being struck in the jaw and in the stomach. Clearly, none of us can condone this. However, it is not necessarily the case that additional staff would have prevented any of the assaults on staff members since they were predominately one-on-one assaults.

The whole-time equivalent number of staff working in the acute unit in Galway has risen from 47 in 2013 to approximately 60 in 2015 - a total increase of 13 staff on two years ago - as part of the ongoing reconfiguring of services in the area.

It is important to contextualise the situation in the acute unit. Some of the patient's clinical needs require that they be nursed by a male member of staff. HSE west management have indicated that the executive is finding it increasingly difficult to recruit male nurses. It has put a number of proposals to the Psychiatric Nurses' Association of Ireland to address the gender imbalance. However, I am informed that to date the PNA has rejected all options such as skills mix and a rotation of psychiatric nurses from a community setting into hospitals. The HSE is also progressing the high-dependency unit, which will help to alleviate the pressure on the acute unit. This proposal has gone to the PNA for a response and a response is still awaited.

I am most concerned at this morning's unannounced industrial action. Disruptions to the delivery of care cause unnecessary worry and anxiety. This is clearly not in the interests of patient safety and puts additional pressure on other staff, compromising their health and safety. I call on all concerned to work co-operatively to solve the current situation facing mental health services in Galway. I welcome the Labour Relations Commission intervention earlier today. This would have been possible without the events of this morning. Of course, the LRC is independent, and it is in a position to examine staffing levels and make appropriate recommendations, as it has done in other areas.

I thank the Minister for his response. At the outset the Minister referred to the issue of patient-centredness. We are all keen to see that. At the moment there is a serious question mark over the Rosalie unit in Castlerea, which provides psychiatry of later life. This has been in the media for the past six to eight weeks. Yet there has been no contact or communication with the families of the individuals in that unit or the staff who operate that unit. Despite this, we are told that the HSE is working with the individuals in the unit and their families to develop care plans for them. That is the evident lack of patient-centredness as we speak in the Galway Roscommon service.

There have been assaults in Galway and in Roscommon. Moreover, there have been assaults not only of staff but of vulnerable patients in some of these units as well. I have raised a particular issue with the Minister. I want the matter independently investigated and I want answers to the questions that I have raised in the House. I also want clarity from the HSE on what exactly is happening at the unit in Áras Naomh Caolinn and in the Rosalie unit in particular. The patients and families deserve answers on the plans for these units, but the HSE is operating under a cloak of darkness and then shutting down the service unannounced overnight.

The Minister made reference to difficulties in recruitment in his response, and I thank him for the clarity on the matter. However, one of the biggest difficulties we have with recruitment is the political decision to time-delay it. The HSE's service plan refers to a preference to recruit in December, not in January. Therefore, in the small print somewhere else there is a reference to not recruiting staff and a commitment to recruiting them, only for the HSE to hold off recruiting them until December.

I am pleased that the Minister referred to a patient-centred approach. However, what about the 3,000 children waiting each year for an appointment at the first point of contact in our psychiatric services? In the past two years, the Department underspent to the amount of €70 million, or 10% of the entire budget, in mental health. Yet 3,000 children will wait 12 months for an appointment.

The HSE has threatened disciplinary action. What about the Minister's role in taking action to protect staff and services? It is similar to what has happened in Cork University Hospital. The Minister or someone suspended a front-line worker for speaking out. This morning the HSE threatened to discipline someone for not being part of the cover-up of the scandalous delivery of services in Galway. That is what is happening. Those involved are not going to be complicit with the cracks and the cover-up and so on.

In the context of A Vision for Change, it is an absolute no-no and a breach of human rights to ask people in a mentally distressed state to access a unit that is creaking, falling apart and understaffed and then ask them to admit themselves to an accident and emergency unit. That is unacceptable. The Minister should take responsibility rather than shifting the burden of blame onto the staff. The staff are carrying the service despite the ineptitude and lack of commitment of a Minister who is out of touch and who has lost the confidence of front-line staff throughout the west of Ireland.

Would the Minister, in all honesty, come into work day after day if he thought he might be punched in the jaw or the stomach, and if he thought there were not enough staff to prevent that from happening? For the Minister to suggest there is no direct connection between staffing levels and the chaotic and dangerous situation in our mental health services is preposterous. It is well established that a lack of staff or an over-reliance on agency staff jeopardises patient and worker safety.

I have asked the Minister directly, in respect of child mental health services, whether the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, misled the House when she said that staffing levels in youth mental health services were up to 80% and that there was an agreement on protocols for 16 and 17 year olds. This week the Irish Medical Organisation said that what the Minister of State said last September was not true, that staffing levels are at 55% and that no agreement is in place on protocols for 16 or 17 year olds. Indeed, a review group was set up. At one of the meetings, the HSE did not turn up at all. Then, at the second meeting, the HSE walked out when the IMO raised the issue of whether staffing levels were sufficient to deal with 16 and 17 year olds. Was the House misled? Is the Minister going to take serious action to deal with this crisis?

At the end of the Minister's reply he said he was most concerned at today's unannounced industrial action. The Minister is a member of one of the health care professions. Does he believe health care workers would refuse to work if they were not confident doing so? Those workers took a decision this morning not to continue work because they believed that the staffing levels were not high enough given what they were working with at the time. They were short four staff. They were threatened by the HSE with suspension. That should be withdrawn and there should be an apology to those workers for taking that action. This is not industrial action. This is a question of workers pointing out a health and safety issue and saying that they cannot work in those circumstances. The Minister for Health should stand over the decision the workers had to make this morning. They are seriously concerned about their patients. That is why they took action this morning. I hope the LRC can resolve this as quickly as possible. However, the Minister for Health is ultimately responsible, and he has to stand over what happened this morning in University Hospital Galway.

On a general point, I am informed that Galway-Roscommon mental health services have a per capita spend of €191, compared to a national average of €160. In addition, Galway-Roscommon mental health services have been successful in securing 58 additional new staff posts using development funding since 2012. Of these 58 new posts, a total of 45 are now in place and a further 13 posts are at various stages of recruitment. The make-up of these posts includes consultants in the areas of general adult psychiatry, psychiatry of later life, rehabilitation and recovery, as well as occupational therapists, community mental health nurses, social workers and psychologists. As Deputies can see, there has been a significant increase in staff, and there are more to come.

Deputy Boyd Barrett raised issues relating to child and adolescent mental health services in Dún Laoghaire. The Topical Issue matter Deputy Boyd Barrett submitted relates only to Galway and Roscommon services.

That was not the case in my question.

Needless to say, I was not able to get a briefing on the issue that he raised with about three minutes notice. I think it is rather opportunistic to raise issues in that way.

It is at the top of the Minister's own document.

It refers specifically to Galway.

With regard to what was mentioned by other Deputies, it is important to bear in mind that the staff who refused to work this morning left the night shift in situ, and they would have been on for 12 hours at that stage.

They said they would stay on for cover.

That is something that needs to be borne in mind. That is not a course of action that I hope any of us here condone in that the shift already on were left in situ.

They were replacing a shift that was not fully staffed.

For the information of other Deputies, I have worked in an emergency department. An emergency department is a place where one is at risk of assault and it is a place where staff do get assaulted by violent people and by drunks, and I turned up for work on every occasion that I worked in an emergency department. However, procedures are put in place to minimise risk and deal with assaults where they occur.

Again, I cannot comment on the Rosalie unit as it was not specifically mentioned in the request for this debate either.

It was. It referred to Galway-Roscommon health services.

The Deputy cannot submit something with one or two hours notice and then go into detailed questions that were not even mentioned in the question.

The Minister of State at the Department is well aware of the issue as I have raised it in the House on other occasions.

It is a pity we have got to the stage in this Parliament that Members put down debates at short notice. Ministers are very happy to turn up and deal with debates at short notice but Members then raise issues that were not referred to specifically in their questions, and then try to shout down the Minister when the Minister tries to-----

The Minister is misleading the House. I ask him to withdraw that comment.

Deputy Naughten, please take your seat.

I specifically asked about the health services in Galway and Roscommon. The Minister has received parliamentary questions from me, one after another, on the Rosalie unit and he refused to answer the questions.

Deputy Naughten, please sit down. I will not ask again.

It is the same in regard to the unit in Knockroe. It is a scandal what is going on.

On a point of order, in the document the Minister gave out with his speech, which details our questions-----

What is the Deputy's point of order?

The document specifically mentions youth mental health services. Would he withdraw the suggestion that we were being opportunistic? It is specifically mentioned in his own speech.

I am happy to withdraw the term "opportunistic" if it offends the Deputy but what he specifically mentions is Galway and other major problems, particularly in the area of youth mental health. If we want to have a serious Parliament and we want to hold Ministers to account, we really need to raise issues-----

I put it in 25 times and it was refused.

-----with adequate notice so that it is possible for us to give comprehensive responses to the questions. There is little point in putting down a question about services in Galway and then raising questions about Dún Laoghaire if the Deputy expects to get an answer.

The issues I raised in Roscommon were all over the newspapers at the weekend.