Priority Questions

Flood Relief Schemes

Seán Fleming

Question:

49. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will establish a statutory national authority to manage all flood relief projects, including implementation of flood defence measures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2079/16]

Will the Minister of State establish a statutory national authority to manage all flood relief projects, including implementation of flood defence measures, in view of the serious flooding experienced in recent times and the likelihood that the position will deteriorate further in the decades to come?

I thank the Deputy for his question, which comes in a period of significant difficulty for many throughout the country after a number of bad weather events. There is already in place a national authority for flood risk management. The Office of Public Works, OPW, is the lead State body for the co-ordination and implementation of Government policy on the management of flood risk in Ireland. It is also the national competent authority for implementation of the 2007 EU directive on the assessment and management of flood risk. In that context and role it carries out and implements a very wide range of measures and programmes aimed at mitigating and minimising the impact of flooding on society, including the catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, programme; the flood relief capital works programme; the minor works scheme; the arterial drainage maintenance programme; hydrometric data gathering and analysis; and various studies and research on hydrology and flooding-related matters. In carrying out its role and functions it works in very close co-operation with other bodies involved with flooding matters to ensure there is a coherent and co-ordinated approach to flood risk management nationally.

The OPW carries out its flood risk management functions with full statutory underpinning. The general powers and functions of the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland, under whose authority the OPW carries out its work, are set out in the State Authorities (Development and Management) Act 1993 and the Commissioners of Public Works (Functions and Powers) Act 1996. The commissioners exercise their powers and functions under the general consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. They also have extensive specific legislative powers to undertake flood mitigation measures and schemes under the Arterial Drainage Acts, 1945 and 1995. Further regulatory powers are contained in Statutory Instrument No. 122 of 2010 which transposed the EU floods directive into Irish law and which was amended by Statutory Instrument No. 495 of 2015.

In carrying out its lead co-ordinating role in flood risk management the OPW chairs an interdepartmental policy group comprising all of the main Departments and agencies which have policy responsibility for flood-related matters falling outside the direct remit of the OPW such as the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Office of Emergency Planning in respect of a emergency response, local authority liaison and community resilience; the Department of Finance in respect of flood insurance; the Department of Social Protection in respect of humanitarian assistance; the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the National Parks and Wildlife Service in respect of environmental matters; the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The aim and work of the group is to ensure a comprehensive whole-of-government approach is taken to flood risk management and to introduce effective sectoral supports and policy measures in the different areas of responsibility. The group is finalising an interim report for the Government which it expects to submit shortly.

The OPW's comprehensive CFRAM programme is being carried out also on the basis of close co-ordination with all of the main players and stakeholders in the flood risk management area. Each CFRAM project has governance structures which require the involvement of all of the relevant local authorities and, where appropriate, for example, in the case of the Shannon CFRAM project, the main agencies such as the ESB, Waterways Ireland, Inland Fisheries and Bord na Móna which have functions which may be relevant to flood risk management in the river catchment. The CFRAM programme is the core strategy for addressing flood risk nationally and the involvement of all of the key players in the development of the flood management plans under the programme will ensure those plans and the measures they include to manage flood risk will take account of and address all of the activities of the various State bodies that may impinge on flooding. In relation to the River Shannon catchment furthermore, the Deputy will be aware that the Government has established a new Shannon catchment co-ordination group to enhance ongoing co-operation across all of the agencies involved with the river and to oversee implementation of the Shannon catchment flood risk management plan.

The OPW also works closely with local authorities in the implementation of major flood relief schemes in the main urban areas. The close working relationship and co-ordination of activities between the organisations has ensured the successful completion of major schemes in Clonmel, Mallow, Fermoy, Ennis, Dublin, Kilkenny, Carlow and Waterford. The OPW has also provided significant funding for local authorities since 2009 to carry out minor flood relief works throughout the country.

It is clear, therefore, that the role of the OPW as the lead national body for the management of flood risk is comprehensive and wide-ranging and involves developing and managing close working relationships with all of the main agencies and bodies in this area. As with all State bodies, in the context of the Government's public service reform programme, the OPW will continue to review and improve its service, wherever possible. I am satisfied, however, that its functions, powers, role and responsibilities in flood risk management address all of the main facets of policy and practice across the full spectrum of inter-related activities in this area. I am also fully satisfied that the OPW is carrying out its role effectively and professionally and that there is no basis for the establishment of a new statutory body for flood risk management.

I think the Minister of State's response justified tabling the question. Perhaps he might address the issue of whether he intends to establish a statutory authority. I am of the belief the OPW's authority in this area should increased. We do need a new body as the OPW is in situ. The Minister of State has described the current position correctly and it needs to change. As he said, the OPW is the lead State authority for co-ordination and chairs policy committees involving the different bodies involved. This is useful to know, but it does not have authority to carry out works because all of the other bodies mentioned by him have legal authority in different areas, particularly local authorities and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government but also the ESB, Bord Fáilte, Irish Water, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Waterways Ireland and Met Éireann. Practically every Department mentioned by the Minister of State has a role to play. Nobody can have statutory authority if all of these bodies have separate statutory roles. Therefore, we need one organisation with statutory authority to deal with the issue.

It is not a question of whether we need to establish a statutory authority because we have one in place.

The Deputy's party set it up when in government, when the European Communities (Assessment and Management of Flood Risks) Regulations 2010 were introduced under Statutory Instrument No. 122 of 2010 which had been transposed into Irish law. Under the regulations the Commissioners of Public Works were appointed as the competent authority under the floods directive for meeting the requirements of the directive. In that capacity they are required to promote co-ordinated implementation of the directive across river basin districts or other units of management and to work with the competent authorities in Northern Ireland in respect of international river basin districts. The Office of Public Works, OPW, has already delivered many flood relief schemes under successive Governments, including in Fermoy, Mallow, Clonmel and Bray and on the River Dodder. The Deputy, however, makes an interesting point about the need to ensure there is better coordination. That is why we have put in place a new Shannon co-ordination group, the terms of reference of which will be published in the coming days. It will bring together all of the statutory agencies which have many different roles and functions in respect of electricity supply, navigation and tourism and flood management. The main point is that the OPW, under the catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, process, will have 300 areas at risk of flooding mapped and plans to put in place flood mitigation measures. It is the authority that must deliver them, of which 66 will be in the Shannon river basin.

The system we have in place is not good enough. I accept everything the Minister of State has said about co-ordination the roles of the different groups and Departments involved, but we would never have had motorways if responsibility for building them had been left with the local authorities. The National Roads Authority was given that power and authority. It can sign contracts, issue tenders and do what is necessary to build motorways. The Minister of State should be brave, look forward for the next 50 years or the next two or three generations. A co-ordinating committee is not the answer in terms of what is needed in the decades ahead. We need an organisation with statutory authority. Some of those with authority will have to cede it in the national interest and for the greater good. I know that there would be turf wars all over the place, but we have to think big and look forward.

Let there be no doubt that there is a national plan and a national organisation called the OPW which is charged with implementing flood relief plans. It is the competent single authority responsible for delivering plans. There is money available, too. We will spend €430 million on flood defences. More will be spent in the next five years than has been spent in the past 20.

The Deputy used the example of the NRA, but in building roads the NRA cannot ignore planning or environmental advice. It has to work within the confines of the law. The OPW must do the same in respect of flood relief measures. Even in peace times, when there is no flooding, there are issues that fall outside the OPW’s policy remit because there will always be a small number of people whose homes cannot be protected. There may be a need for voluntary home relocation and the Department of Finance or the local authorities to put in place individual property protection schemes. There is a need for a whole-of-government approach and other agencies and Departments to play their part. At the end of this month the interdepartmental group on flooding which I chair will send its report to the Cabinet which will make several recommendations. Whoever will be in government in the spring will have several policy options to consider in respect of flood insurance, individual property protection and potential voluntary home relocation, as well as getting on and delivering the national flood plan.

Irish Water Administration

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

50. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will extend the remit of the Ombudsman to include all companies in public ownership. [2081/16]

My question relates to the extension of the remit of the Ombudsman to include all companies in public ownership. The company I have in mind is Irish Water. As the Minister is aware, the Ombudsman, Mr. Peter Tyndall, has raised important concerns and expressed criticism in asking why the Government has declined to allow his office to investigate complaints made against Irish Water. He has said this move has left the utility's customers without any independent grievance mechanism.

The Ombudsman (Amendment) Act 2012 brought about a very substantial increase in the number of public bodies subject to the Ombudsman's oversight. It was the most significant extension of the Ombudsman's remit in 30 years and a priority objective for me, given that various Ombudsmen had been pressing for the extension for over 20 years. It brought some 180 additional public bodies, the administrative activities and decision-making of which impact on large numbers of citizens, within the remit of the Ombudsman for the first time.

Previously, the approach taken was to schedule bodies by way of order on a case by case basis. In the 2012 Act, I adopted the approach of including a general definitional provision of "reviewable agency" in the legislation to ensure that any public body that conformed to that definition automatically came within the ambit of the Ombudsman, unless specifically exempted in a Schedule to the legislation. This new model of an automatic right of review by the Ombudsman was strongly welcomed by the Ombudsman and has led to a substantial strengthening in the rights of the citizen to secure redress.

As I said at the time, further extension of the remit of the Ombudsman is an ongoing process. The recent extension of the office's remit to include private nursing homes whose residents are in receipt of public funding or subvention is another example of that.

A number of proposals and recommendations on the remit, role, status and powers of the Ombudsman have been put forward in recent times. These include the extension of the Ombudsman's remit to include clinical judgments and the recommendation from the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions and the independent working group on improvements to the protection process to extend the Ombudsman's remit to the direct provision system.

These proposals and recommendations, as well as those put forward by the Deputy, are being examined and considered. As the process of extension continues, specific issues arise that need to be worked through. The Deputy will be mindful of the need to ensure the system of Ombudsman review continues to work effectively and of its role within the broader administrative system as a whole. The latter must continue to work in a way that delivers what is expected, so we do not want to give it too much functionality without ensuring that it has the capacity to do the job effectively.

I thank the Minister for his response. In his supplementary reply, he might address the issue of Irish Water. He knows, of course, that my party's proposal is to abolish water charges and bring an end to the monster quango that is Irish Water. Even by the Minister's own reckoning, the current situation leaves people in an impossible position. Essentially, people with complaints in respect of Irish Water - and there are very many of them - have nowhere to go. The Commission for Energy Regulation has described the level of complaints as "low" - at 2,014 - since it assumed the role of regulator of water services in October 2015. However, that low level of complaints is because people are not aware of the role of the regulator.

For instance, where damage has been done to people's property by Irish Water in installing meters, complainants have nowhere to go bar taking a long and circuitous route to lodge complaints and yet with no satisfactory responses.

I take note of the Deputy's proposal to abolish the commercial semi-State company, Irish Water. I am not sure what Sinn Féin wants to replace it with or what it wants to do to the staff. It would be useful if Deputy McDonald told the staff what she intends to do with them. Is she going to return them to local authorities, make them all redundant or just continue to pay them? If so, at what cost?

As regards redress for Irish Water customers, the Deputy knows full well that under the Water Services Act 2014, the Commission for Energy Regulation has statutory responsibility to provide a complaints resolution service to all Irish Water customers with an unresolved dispute with Irish Water being addressed by it. This followed from a voluntary working practice between the Commission for Energy Regulation and Irish Water concerning dispute resolution. Irish Water customers who have registered and who have an unresolved dispute with the utility can log a complaint with the Commission for Energy Regulation which has its own customer care team. Following the investigation, CER has the power to direct Irish Water either to pay compensation or resolve the complaint in whatever way is deemed practicable and proper.

As the Minister knows, the commission will only examine complaints after customers have fully exhausted Irish Water's own complaint resolution processes. I do not know if people have spoken to the Minister on this subject but they have certainly approached me. It is a most unsatisfactory route for having a complaint dealt with. I am sure the Minister has also noted the Ombudsman's comments that he believes Irish Water was needlessly removed from his remit. He does not buy what seems to be the Minister's position that because Irish Water is now a stand-alone company, he should have no remit. That argument does not wash with him.

This is further evidence of the chaotic manner in which the issue of water services, with water charges and the quango which is Irish Water imposed on the people, has been managed from the get go. It is more evidence of failure on the Government's part.

The Deputy is spouting rhetoric but she has not answered the question as to what she would put in its place. Will she restore water functionality to the myriad local authorities which will not deal with the big structural issue of providing water for Dublin, for example, or deal with the fact that one third of our sewerage systems need significant investment of €4 billion, or deal with the staff?

The Ombudsman-----

None of those is dealt with. I have answered in terms of the dispute resolution system that is in place. The Deputy thinks that is not efficient and so her solution is not to make it more efficient but to abolish the entire entity. That would strike me as a rather large sledgehammer rather than addressing the issue of the complaints process, if it is inefficient in how it operates and needs to be strengthened, by looking at how it can be strengthened and how these matters can be resolved.

I deal with the Ombudsman very regularly. He knows the additional resources I have provided and the significant broadening of his remit. Like those in charge of most agencies, regulators and others, he would like to broaden his remit and that is part of the ongoing dialogue between Government and every regulator.

Office of Government Procurement

Mick Wallace

Question:

51. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform ,with regard to the Office of Public Procurement, if products can be added to existing contracts without being subject to the tendering process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1945/16]

In the 2011 programme for Government, the Government promised to reform public procurement to become a tool to support innovative Irish firms and allow greater access to Irish small and medium-sized businesses. I accept that the establishment of the Office of Government Procurement and the first chief procurement officer in 2013 was a positive step. Does the Minister not think that much more needs to be done for smaller indigenous Irish companies than is happening at present?

I again thank the Deputy for his question. As he knows, public procurement is governed by EU and national law. The aim of these rules is to promote an open, competitive and non-discriminatory public procurement regime which delivers best value for money. While it is preferable for a contracting authority to test the market by carrying out a procurement process, modifications of contracts during the term can be necessary because of changes in circumstances. There are many practical reasons non-material modifications are allowed without a tender process.

I will deal with the specific question the Deputy has asked me. I think he has agreed that the establishment of the Office of Government Procurement was a very good move. It has been one of the game changers in how the State transacts its business. Rather than having myriad different agencies and non-professional procurers buying the same goods and services at different costs, we now have a rational professional way of dealing with this. It is good for small and medium-sized companies, as the Deputy has said.

Obviously, we cannot discriminate one way or the other. However, 66% of the procurement we have done to date is with small and medium-sized companies. We are running a variety of meet-the-buyer programmes to strengthen the hand of small and medium-sized enterprises to better bid for public contracts, either as stand-alone entities or groups of SMEs working for the larger contracts.

However, it is a process. Last week I brought proposals to Government, which were confirmed today in the minutes, to establish the Office of Government Procurement on a statutory basis. When that Bill comes before the House, the Deputy, who I know will be here in the next Dáil, and I, if I am lucky enough to be here in the next Dáil, can have further debate.

The Minister knows he will top the poll in Wexford. The Minister's 66% of public expenditure going to SMEs is a bit skewed in the sense that 97% of Ireland's 200,000 businesses have 50 employees or fewer and 84% of them having fewer than ten. The question arose from a business in Wexford town that both of us know. Jim Wallace the tailor contacted me to let me know that he is finding it more difficult to get work. He was recently taken aback when he found that for work he often supplied previously, this time he had to go through a bigger contractor.

There was not a normal tendering process and the contractor just charged 10% on top of his price. I do not believe the Minister would think that is a great idea because it is an extra cost to the State. Likewise, with eligibility for contracts, he is finding that it is becoming a little more difficult because the excessive turnover requirements rule him out of areas in which he was not ruled out of before. The Minister must agree that this has to be difficult for small businesses in Ireland but is to the benefit of larger companies, be they Irish or foreign. This matter needs to be addressed by the Government.

I hear what the Deputy is saying. The Minister of State, Deputy Harris, has taken a direct interest in all of these matters. He chairs the procurement function and has had a particular focus on ensuring that, in so far as it can happen in compliance with European law, contracts are awarded to Irish entities and, by and large, are given to small and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs. This is all in the context of getting the best deal for the taxpayer and complying fully with the law. This is an evolving process. As we bed down the Office of Government Procurement, if there are any particular issues, the Minister of State and I would be happy to have discussions with any individual or potential tenderer to see how their hand can be strengthened or the processes can be modified.

We will certainly take up that offer. The Minister referred to the restrictions of European law. Recently, the European Commission ruled that the State wrongly excluded small and medium-sized enterprises from competing for the contracts to provide Ireland's new postcodes by imposing a turnover limit on companies eligible to tender for the project. Gary Delaney, the chief executive officer of Loc8 Code, pointed out the turnover limit as revealed by the Commission. Although it has not imposed restrictions or penalties on Ireland, the Commission has argued that Ireland's position on it was not good enough and that it needs to be addressed. What does the Minister have to say about that?

Three new European directives which were agreed during the last Irish EU Presidency need to be transposed into Irish law. Some of these will meet the very issues about which the Deputy is talking. We expect the transposition of these will be completed by April. The new directives are on the award of concession contracts, on public procurement, repealing EU Directive 2004/18/EC, and on procurement of entities operating in the water, energy, transport and postal services sector.

The issue of procurement is one at which we are taking a careful look. We want to ensure we construct procurement processes to the best advantage of Irish potential tenderers while, obviously, being cognisant of the regulations and the law I just mentioned.

Value for Money Reviews

Seán Fleming

Question:

52. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of public expenditure value for money reports he conducted in each of the past five years, including their date of publication, and the subsequent actions he has taken; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2080/16]

My Department has policy responsibility for the public spending code, which sets out for Departments and State bodies in comprehensive terms, the analytical framework for value for money appraisal and evaluation of public expenditure programmes and projects.  Under the code, responsibility for conducting value for money reviews lies in the first instance with the lead spending Department and its implementing agency. The main role of my Department in this respect is to provide direct guidance and assistance to line Departments in the carrying out of those reviews.

Over the past five years, my Department has carried out a range of evaluations and produced several policy analysis reviews, known as focused policy assessments. Rather than list them all, I refer the Deputy to the website of the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service, igees.gov.ie/publications. This is a new service, which I set up under the auspices of my Department, to do exactly the type of evaluation to which the Deputy referred. The work includes two comprehensive reviews of expenditure in 2011 and 2014 and specific expenditure analysis papers related to such areas as climate change, demographics, labour market activation and child care.

The Deputy will also be aware that in July 2015, the Government agreed a new three-year programme of value for money reviews across Departments which will ensure public spending is subject to continued ongoing analytical scrutiny. This review programme, which provides for more than 40 separate reviews, will be supported by the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service. This service is not only sited in my Department. As they are trained, members of the service are being placed in all Departments.

That is fine. The Minister's reply was all about policy, guidance and assistance but the people want to know that they as taxpayers are getting value for money and that their money is being well spent. Nothing the Minister said would give anybody any comfort in that area. He referred to a focused policy assessment, policy initiatives and overall responsibility for policy guidelines and assistance. That is all talk; it is Civil Service talk, but the people want to see particular action and they want it to be done transparently.

My question asked what actions have been taken as a result of those reports and what lessons have been learned. An issue was mentioned a few minutes ago, to which I will refer in a slightly different context, that of a value for money report on the postcode system. With respect to housing programmes has anyone done a value for money report on the cost of refurbishing a vacant house compared to the €193,000 to be spent on temporary prefabs for housing? Has anyone done a value for money report on the school transport issue? Has anyone done a variety of value for money reports on the costs of medicines and drugs in Ireland compared to other countries? That is what people want to see, not these guidelines, assistance and policy approaches. They want to see action.

The Deputy will concede and accept that getting value for money and ensuring that the taxpayer always gets value for money has been the hallmark of this Government for the past five years, unlike the profligacy of what went on before we came into office. That is why we established the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service. For the first time, we have a professional cohort of economists and valuers to evaluate, on a neutral basis, any proposal. In fact, I have been criticised about a number of the papers published by the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service because they have been critical of Government. The idea behind this service is that it is to stand alone and make an evaluation. Not all proposals that come from Departments stand up to that level of independent scrutiny. I think that is the way we should proceed in future.

In terms of the issue of prefabs, it was this Government, in the worst of times, that got rid of all prefabs in our school system, which were a blight on the school system that existed in the so-called best of times.

My children are still in a prefab.

I think the Minister has been so long in office that he believes the publicity that has been issued by various Ministers. I can show him prefabs in County Laois and the Deputy seated beside me has said that she can show him prefabs in Dublin city. There are still prefabs in place. The Government's press releases might not indicate that. The Government is now moving on to build prefab housing instead of permanent homes for people. There needs to be a proper assessment and a value for money report on that. An amount of €30,000 will bring a vacant house into full occupation for a family versus the temporary measure that is being taken. These are the issues about which people want to speak. When one is on the campaign trail and asks people about their postcode, they look at one with a blank face. Nobody has ever used it and they do not know what it is. I do not think that any of the courier or delivery companies know how to operate it. Yet the Irish people, through one form or another, have had to pay for these issues. While we have had a new Department merely allocating expenditure, there is no proof that the Minister can objectively show that we have got better value for money by the establishment of his new Department.

There is none so blind as those who will not see. It has proved positive, with respect to the economic improvement we have made over the last five years, that we are very rigorous in the analysis we do of public expenditure. I make two points. On the issue of modular houses, which the Deputy has characterised as prefab housing, we have a housing crisis. It is a policy decision, not an economic decision, to get as many habitable houses available as we can and as an emergency measure. We do not have the time, bluntly, to do a long evaluation. We have desperate people in need of houses now. The Government made a decision to have 500 modular houses up and running. I ask the Deputy, instead of criticising, to ask local authority members to facilitate their placement in order that we can get people from the appalling situation in which we see of some families into decent quality housing. I ask the Deputy to bear that in mind.

The next question is in Deputy McDonald's name.

My children finished school five minutes ago in Cabra and they are in a school prefab. Is it planned to alter that? That school has been in prefab accommodation for 20 years: imagine that. Is that not shocking?

Health Services Expenditure

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

53. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his discussions with the Department of Health regarding expenditure on health. [2082/16]

My question relates to health. Nowhere is the chaos of the Government more evident than in accident and emergency and the burgeoning waiting lists. I would like the Minister to place on the record of the Dáil the discussions he has had with the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, in respect of health expenditure.

Apparently, the biggest hallmark of failure now is health. Last week it was housing.

No, that is pretty spectacular too.

With Sinn Féin it is the crisis du jour.

Discussions between my Department and all Departments on the issue of expenditure take place very regularly. The Department of Health is no different. At ministerial level there is the Cabinet committee on health and at official level there is a senior officials group on health where discussions on all health and health funding issues take place regularly. In addition, there are regular informal communications between officials of both Departments, heightened in the run-up to the budget. Such engagement is an important component in the process of providing a well-resourced health system.

This has led to health sector funding been prioritised and protected during the lifetime of the Government. Budget 2016 increased the gross health expenditure to €13.61 billion, a €970 million, or 7.7%, increase over the final 2011 spend. Such ongoing communication also resulted in the Government providing additional resources in 2015 for the fair deal scheme, for example, emergency department overcrowding and winter initiatives.

Something the House might note is that since the start of 2014 up to the end of November 2015 - the last time I had the figures - the HSE has recruited an additional 6,321 staff, an increase of 6.5%. This includes an additional 965 doctors and more than 1,000 additional nurses, again emphasising the Government's commitment to a well-resourced health care system.

I do not take any comfort, nor I am sure does anyone, from the fact there is a Cabinet sub-committee on health, that the Government has an official group on health, that the Minister is discussing budgetary matters daily with the Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, and yet we have the mess and the misery that reigns in our hospitals. The Minister commended himself on his increase in funding to the system, but the current service plan imposed on the HSE is €150 million short of what it needs. We heard from Tony O'Brien, the man the Minister, Deputy Howlin, put in charge of the HSE, that funding for hospitals is €100 million less than required. That is simply to stand still. We know there is €1.5 billion less in the health budget than there was in 2008. That is where it sits. I would like the Minister to tell us in more substantive terms what discussions he has had directly with the Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, in respect of the underfunding of the health system.

The Deputy is now falling into the same viewer trap Fianna Fáil did over the weekend, that is, to assume 2011 was year zero and we did not have a complete and absolute economic collapse. Trying to restore the public finances has been the most demanding focus of Government for the past five years. One cannot pretend we had resources available to deploy as we wished. We had to reduce expenditure over that time. We protected health and health numbers as best we could throughout that process and that is self-evident. I do not believe either that every issue in the health service is to be met by more cash. For example, under the Haddington Road agreement, we deployed an additional 5 million hours from all levels of staff - from porters to consultant hospital doctors - to deliver better services.

While everybody, understandably, focuses on health failures, there is an enormous success story also from the majority of those who interact with the health service regarding the fine work done by doctors, nurses, porters and health workers.

There is no pretence about the fact - it is not a good record for the Government - that there are 68,000 people waiting for inpatient treatments, 400,000 people waiting for outpatient appointments and under-staffing right across the system. My local hospital, the Mater hospital, is at least 100 nursing staff short of what is required. If the Minister is trying to put a gloss on this that he has done fantastically well and has protected the health service, all of the evidence speaks against that. The experiences of people on waiting lists and particularly those going into accident and emergency testifies to the contrary.

To boil it down, I want to know if the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, has challenged the Minister to get his act together or the Government to collectively get its act together and commit the level of funding that is required just to have a stable, decent level of service within the health system?

It is very easy for the Deputy - perhaps she does not have any ambition to be on this side of the House - to say we need to spend more on health, housing-----

We need to spend more on health.

-----and disability and to spend more-----

We have just had a discussion about value for money and-----

Hospital trolleys are not value for money.

-----one of the approaches we have had is to rebalance staff within the HSE. For example, we now have a higher percentage of front line staff than we had when we came into office because we reduced, as far as we could, administrative staff-----

The Government hammered the front line.

-----as we allocated resources to the front line. As I say, it is bizarre because the Deputy represents a party that wanted to destroy this country in 2011, pull down the troika agreement and send it packing. We would not have had a single hospital bed or nurse because we would have had nothing to pay them with by the end of 2011 had the Sinn Féin policies been implemented. That is a simple, inescapable fact.

Like Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin wants to believe that the economic collapse and-----

The Minister wants to leave elderly people on trolleys and people on waiting lists.

-----the loss of 330,000 jobs never happened and that we did not have to go through the difficult adjustment period the Irish people have endured for the past five years to put us in a position to start again-----

Did the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, ask the Minister for more money?

-----investing in quality public services.

Perhaps he did not.