Topical Issue Debate

Respite Care Services

I welcome the opportunity to raise this very important topic. I attended a meeting with the Louth Respite Working Group this week. Members of the group outlined in great detail the current situation regarding the provision of respite care in County Louth. In addition to the facilities already available, Louth currently requires respite care for an extra 60 families. The current situation is that seven beds are provided by St. John of God in Drumcar, with 42 adults and nine children having access. In addition to this, there is a three-bed facility in a small bungalow in Ardee, which allows 81 adults access respite care on a basis of one weekend and one five-day week annually. We have the Maria Goretti facility in Lordship which gives access to respite care for 80 families. On top of this, six young adults will leave children's respite this year and a further 12 next year but none of these will have access to adult respite care.

It has been clearly identified in County Louth that additional adult respite care services are urgently required for older adults with a disability living at home with older parents, for younger adults with challenging behaviour, and for emergency or crisis situations. These needs were agreed by the HSE but it stated that it had no funds in its existing service plan. I do not accept this and ask that funding be made available as a matter of urgency. Also, a very serious situation arose in the summer months when respite care services were cancelled in St. John of God in Drumcar, which resulted in a number of families being left in limbo and without respite care services at very short notice. This is not acceptable and we, as a Government, should be doing more for these families, not only in County Louth but throughout the country.

I will give the example of a case involving a 17 year old boy with severe autism spectrum disorder, ASD, and intellectual disability, ID, who experiences random meltdowns along with physically challenging behaviour. These events have escalated over time. There have also been a number of serious assaults on his mother and other family members. An incident happened while he was in respite care which resulted in no respite care for a period of months. At this stage there was no other respite care available to the family. The family applied for a three-month residential assessment. Their business case was supported by the local HSE staff but was refused by senior management. This decision is typical in these circumstances. This child will be 18 years of age soon at which stage there will be no respite care available to the family. This is not acceptable and it is a disgrace that this is still allowed to happen.

Another situation that must be considered is the needs of older families with adult dependants with a disability. Many parents of these children are now in their sixties and seventies and in many cases they are suffering from ill health. They would previously have received respite care services but now this is unavailable due to the age of the child. These are people who probably need respite services more than others, yet these are the people who have the most difficulty accessing respite services. We must remember that respite does not end when a child reaches the age of 18.

I ask the Minister to examine the situation urgently in respect of respite care in County Louth and to find a proper solution to this very serious matter.

There must be a ring-fenced revenue stream allocated to the Louth HSE to provide appropriate, regular and planned respite for families with adult children with a disability in Louth.

I thank Deputy Fitzpatrick for raising this important issue and for giving me the opportunity to address the House on this matter. A key objective of the Government’s health policy is to support people to live in dignity and independence in their own homes and communities for as long as possible. Respite services are a key element of achieving this, both to improve the quality of life of patients and to provide support to carers who are the backbone of the provision of care services in Ireland.

Respite care is provided in a number of different ways and settings. It may be provided via an enhanced home care package for the period of respite or in public or private nursing home beds. Respite beds are also contracted by the HSE in private nursing homes where it is used to boost the availability of such beds to meet demand within the resources available in the local health office or integrated services area. In addition, there are 2,000 short stay public beds within our health system which include step-up-step-down care, intermediate care and rehab and respite care, which are used in a flexible manner to meet local needs at any given time. These are interchangeable for use depending on demand in the units so the number of respite beds in any one month can fluctuate depending on demand for the short stay beds.

Louth County Hospital is an 89-bed hospital including 28 day beds and 61 inpatient beds that provide palliative, step-down and rehabilitation care. Efforts to expand capacity in Louth County Hospital and Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda include the opening of 24 new beds in a modular build at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda within the last six months. The purpose of the new capacity is to improve patient flow from the emergency department and assist in early admission decisions. In addition, as part of the winter initiative 2015-16, ten new beds were provided in February 2016. The new capacity includes the elderly medical rehabilitation service, the purpose of which is to facilitate discharges from Our Lady of Lourdes, Drogheda. As the Deputy rightly highlighted, there are currently no specifically designated respite beds in Louth County Hospital. However, inpatient beds can be used flexibly to meet patients' needs. Respite services are provided in a range of other settings in the community, in nursing homes or as appropriate in specific residential centres, for example, the St. Oliver Plunkett Hospital, which is designed to provide respite care for older people, and the children’s respite centre in Lordship which opened in 2014. These services can be accessed via the local public health nurse or GP.

Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital is one of nine hospitals targeted under the winter initiative 2016-17 to reduce overcrowding and improve winter preparedness. This will include the expansion of community intervention teams in the Louth-Meath region and an increase in home care packages to support the discharge of patients at the hospital.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply. We spoke to the Ceann Comhairle's office this morning and explained that this Topical Issue matter was not on respite services in Louth County Hospital but in County Louth as a whole. It is a very serious concern for the families affected. The situation is such that more funding is needed urgently. At a meeting with the Louth respite working group the amount of funding required in Louth to support respite for an additional 60 families was identified. With funding of approximately €800,000, additional respite could be provided for 30 families. This would amount to seven week's respite per family per annum. If this was to be spread further to provide three to four weeks of respite per family, we could have a situation whereby 60 families could be supported with respite for the same amount. These figures are based on providing a four-bed respite service seven nights a week, 52 weeks a year, in other words a full-time service. An alternative service could be provided on a part-time basis, for example from Thursday to Monday. The cost of such a service would be in the region of €500,000. While the part-time option is cheaper, in the long run the full-time option is much better value for money and provides a better service to families. There are many companies and organisations capable of providing this service and which have the knowledge and experience to do so. One company that also attended a meeting this week with the Louth respite working group provided the figures I have mentioned and also stated that any property or vehicles required would be purchased and maintained by them. We must not forget that families are the real losers here. Sometimes we get caught up in the figures and statistics. The families going through this at the moment are the ones in the real crisis. We must do all we can to support these families. I urge the Minister of State to ring fence funding for respite services in County Louth.

I thank the Deputy for the clarification. The information sought was on Louth County Hospital so I will seek the information the Deputy requires on the county of Louth. I will ensure the Deputy's requests are submitted to the Department and the HSE, which is responsible for funding. The Deputy is concerned about specific issues that arose and I see no reason why we could not get some response in a confidential capacity on how those situations arose and why. I could not comment on them publicly but I will certainly seek the information for the Deputy.

Respite is a cornerstone of public health policy in terms of encouraging people to remain at home, which is where they want to be. It will become and increasing challenge for the Health Service Executive because we are all living longer. It is something we will have to focus on and while the Deputy's focus will have to be on Louth it is something that will resonate with Deputies across the country as these issues arise. I thank the Deputy for raising the issue and I will get him the specific information on County Louth as he requested.

Home Care Packages

I tabled a written question on the cutbacks in home care packages in Galway. I addressed the question to the Minister and got a reply on 4 October which said "As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply". I contacted the Health Service Executive before I tabled the question which I tabled in exasperation to the Minister and this is the response I received. New politics has been mentioned but at this point it is a cliché. How in God's name could I get a reply that this is a matter for the Health Service Executive when it has clearly pointed out that its money and funding have run out? I will put the consequence of that funding running out in context for the Minister of State. There are two oncology wards in the hospital in Galway which cannot discharge or admit patients. That is a centre of excellence that covers Donegal down to Clare. They cannot discharge patients who are ready for discharge and they cannot admit patients. Those they cannot discharge cannot be discharged because recently a patient, who I will not identify, with stage 4 cancer was discharged with six home care hours when 21 hours were recommended. In that week, a person suffering from leukaemia stayed in bed and breakfast accommodation because they could not gain admission to the oncology ward. Yesterday there were 35 patients on trolleys in a centre of excellence. Two weeks ago, a woman in her mid-80s died on a trolley while waiting for admission. Full capacity protocol has been in operation in the hospital in Galway every day since last Thursday and sporadically before then. Code black, which is the top code, has been in operation every day this week and most of last week. Yesterday there were four people in a queue to gain admission to the resuscitation room in the accident and emergency department. That is four patients waiting for admission to a resuscitation room where there are two beds. There is a two-hour wait for a triage nurse in the accident and emergency department. Elective procedures have been cancelled. Oncology clinics have been cancelled without explanation.

There is a new ward - I might pre-empt the Minister of State's reply - that is almost finished and has 75 beds. Management has confirmed there is no funding for this hospital and that by January or February its intention is to close two wards in the hospital, reducing capacity further, and transfer the equivalent of one ward into an empty building which has the capacity for 75 beds and will be operating at one third capacity.

That is the position in Galway. I make no apology for raising this and I will raise it at every single opportunity I get. Two actions need to be taken. First, a commitment to a new hospital in Merlin Park is needed as a long-term measure. This has been called for not just by me, but by the hospital’s clinical director, who has said the state of the hospital is number one on the clinical risk register. Second, we need immediate extra funding for home care packages to relieve the pressure on the hospital. No Government can stand over a situation where four people are waiting to go into a resuscitation room, an 80 year-old woman dies on a trolley and there are any amount of other incidents in that hospital.

I know this is not the Minster of State’s area but I tried to table a question to the Minister. I received a circular answer so I am tabling it again and seeking an answer.

I thank Deputy Catherine Connolly for raising this important issue which is close to all of our hearts. There but for the grace of God it could be any of us requiring services for our elderly relatives.

On the point about a couple of sentences in a reply to a parliamentary question, the Health Service Executive has the facts. Questions are often referred from the Department of Health to the HSE to get the information. It is not that there is an unwillingness to provide the information. There is a procedure as to how that information is obtained. I will follow up on that matter on the Deputy’s behalf.

Home care services are critical to support older people to stay in their own homes and communities, and maintain their independence for as long as possible. This is better for older people as they are happier in their own homes. It also makes sense because it helps avoid admissions to acute hospitals and many people can be supported at home at a far lower cost than in residential care. The HSE’s national service plan for 2016 provides for a target of 10.4 million home help hours to support about 47,800 people. It provides for 15,450 home care packages and 190 intensive home care packages for clients with complex needs, including dementia. This is less than we would like to have available, however. Services are being stretched by demands from more people, as well as for more hours at times outside of core hours, in the evenings and at weekends, all of which cost more.

The Government has made a start in responding to this demand by providing an extra €40 million for home care packages in 2016, allowing us to maintain services at a higher level than would otherwise have been the case. The Government will allocate €10 million to support discharges from acute hospitals as part of the next winter initiative. We will now provide an extra 115,000 home help hours and 528 additional home care packages in 2016.

On 9 September 2016, the HSE published its winter initiative plan for 2016-17. The plan will focus on specific measures required to address the anticipated surge in health service activity in hospitals and in the community nominally associated with this time of year. One of its key objectives is to reduce the numbers of people waiting to be discharged from hospitals by providing the specific supports and pathways to allow patients to move home or to a suitable community setting which meets their needs. Achieving this objective will free up beds in the acute hospital system which, in turn, will lead to less overcrowding in emergency departments.

We have several initiatives aimed at increasing capacity at University Hospital Galway. Earlier this year, 30 new beds were opened. In addition, a 75-bed ward block and acute adult mental health unit are under construction. They are expected to be operational by 2017. Further, the programme for a partnership Government contains a commitment for a new emergency department for University Hospital Galway. Community services are endeavouring to support the discharge of patients who have been deemed medically fit for discharge and require alternative supports, be that long-term care, home care and transitional care.

University Hospital Galway is within the community area of CHO, community healthcare organisations, area 2 which has received almost €5.5 million for home care as part of the €40 million additional funding to which I referred to earlier. In addition, as part of the winter initiative funding, CHO area 2 is receiving €1.8 million specifically for University Hospital Galway to provide six new home care packages each week from October to February.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply. However, the full capacity protocol is in operation in Galway. Code black is the one it is using. The hospital is in crisis, notwithstanding anything the Minister of State has told me in this reply. That is the position in Galway. The money for the home care packages has been used up and no money is available to provide the necessary home care packages for patients who cannot be discharged from the hospital. The manager in charge of home care packages must make cutbacks to save further money.

I am not here to scaremonger but to argue for a public health system in Galway. Will the Minister of State respond to the concerns I have raised about the full capacity protocol? Hospital management has said no funding is available for the 75-bed unit, which will remain empty, other than 25 beds that are to be taken from the hospital, which reduces its capacity. There is no quid pro quo gain. No funding is available for the new ward. The home care packages cannot be delivered. Somebody on the oncology ward cannot go home because there is no home care package. It makes no sense on a human or health level. More importantly, it does not make sense on an economic level because it is costing more money to keep a patient in the general hospital. It makes more sense to put the money into home care packages.

What is the Minister of State’s response to my request for a new hospital for Galway? What is her response to the risk identified that the condition of the hospital places it No. 1 one on the risk register for Galway?

I appreciate the Deputy’s concerns on this matter. She has addressed specific questions to me but I do not have a reply to them because they were not part of her original question to the Department. If her question had been more detailed, I would have been able to get a more specific response. I can only give her a response to what she submitted in her original question.

CHO area 2 is receiving €1.8 million specifically for University Hospital Galway to provide six new home care packages each week from October to February. This will provide for 114 new home care packages over the winter period. Intensive home care packages are being provided to 32 clients in that area who require considerable levels of resources and who would, in the absence of this support, be admitted to long-stay residential care or would have remained in an acute hospital.

University Hospital Galway is in receipt of transitional care beds throughout the course of the year and averages 16 approvals per week. Transitional care beds support patients who have been deemed fit for discharge but may be awaiting a specific bed in a long-term care facility, or some degree of convalescence prior to returning home. The hospital is also supported by the provision of short-stay public beds throughout the Galway and Mayo region.

Similar to all acute hospitals, we will keep the situation in Galway under constant review in line with the winter initiative plan.

Agriculture Schemes

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this matter and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Michael Creed, for coming into the Chamber to respond in person to it, as he has been at the tillage sector forum today.

It is certainly a very important issue and a matter of the utmost urgency. We need to see a move from the talking that will happen at the forum to actually seeing action and delivery for farmers. There is no doubt that there has been a growing crisis in our tillage sector in recent weeks as the weather has failed to improve and as farmers on the west coast from Kerry and Cork up to my county of Donegal have been unable to get the crops in. At this stage, a fair percentage of the crop in those counties is lost and many of those farmers are facing financial disaster in terms of their income this year and their ability to pay bills.

This is an issue for me and my fellow members on the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Cahill and Senator Paul Daly, as well as Deputies Aylward and O'Keeffe. Fianna Fáil is seeking an emergency crisis fund to support those farmers who have not been able to get their crops. I know farming organisations are also looking for it. Prices have fallen four years in a row. The price per tonne this year is expected to be approximately €130. That is below the cost of production, so everyone in the grain industry is suffering a lot of stress this year. I know Teagasc is indicating that the average income on a tillage farm this year is expected to drop by €14,000.

There is a real crisis for those farmers who have not been able to get their grain out of the ground. Many on the east coast, where rainfall levels have been below normal, have been surprised to hear that rainfall on the west coast has been up to one and half times what would normally be the case. Grounds are still exceptionally wet and saving the crop has proved to be impossible. Is it the Minister's intention to put in place a crisis fund for those farmers who have not been able to harvest their crops? Is this something he has raised with his European counterparts and is it on the agenda for the forthcoming Council of Ministers meeting next Monday where it will be important to try to get consent from his colleagues at European level to contribute to a fund? We know it was put in place for the livestock and dairy sectors when they faced income crises. It should and must be delivered to support the tillage sector, which is currently in crisis.

There is precedent for this. At the end of last year, a crisis fund was set up to support farmers who lost their fodder. If we go back to 2009, a crisis fund was put in place for the horticulture industry. There is no doubt on the part of anyone involved in the agriculture sector that the tillage sector needs this support. Since 2012, the tillage sector has lost 100,000 acres and this pressure will only continue to increase. We are not self-sufficient in grain so it is a sector that needs to be encouraged. Unless the Minister can deliver that over the coming number of days, many farmers will be facing very difficult scenarios this autumn.

I thank Deputy McConalogue for raising this issue and for giving me an opportunity to address the House in respect of it. I fully acknowledge and accept that ongoing difficulties are being experienced by the farming community, not least our tillage farmers. This sector is very important in the agricultural economy but it has been a challenging year in terms of both market returns and weather. I am in the middle of chairing the tillage stakeholders forum and have stepped out to take this important debate. I decided to convene the forum today because I thought it would be an apt date on which obtain a sense of the bigger picture regarding what the harvest has been like. According to the information available, matters have been difficult, particularly on the western seaboard. I have met representatives of the IFA in Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim. I know from my own experience in west Cork that it has been a particular problem along the western seaboard. In the context of convening the forum, I also felt it was important not to go in with a prescription that might not fit the ailment that was articulated. I wanted to involve all the stakeholders so it is not just in the context of the forum and it is not just the farming organisations. It takes in the gamut of people who have a vested interest in the viability and prosperity of the sector, from the State agencies and farming organisations to the feed industry, the distillers and the brewers. In the context, today is in many respects a listening exercise and I appreciate the points of view that have been articulated at that forum.

The tillage sector provides valuable raw material for the feed industry, straw for the livestock and mushroom compost industries and, importantly, material for the rapidly developing brewing and distilling industries. I am most conscious of the challenges posed by the current weather and price-related difficulties for growers and that significant changes will take place in the international trading environment in the coming months and year.

In the light of these challenges, I directed my officials to priorities the processing of all payments this year, including the basic payment scheme, BPS, the areas of natural constraint scheme, GLAS and AEOS, which are in total worth over €1.5 billion annually to the agriculture industry. In respect of the BPS and the greening payment, I am pleased to confirm that advance payment is scheduled for 17 October next, the earliest possible date by which payments can commence under the governing EU regulations. The necessary preparations are being made to maximise the number of payments on that date. In response to the difficulties being encountered on farms, this payment will be at 70%, which will significantly support farmers with cash flow problems. The second instalment of payments will commence on 1 December next. I am also pleased to note that the processing of the areas of natural constraint payment scheme is on schedule and payments have already commenced during the third week in September. It is expected that approximately 96,500 people will fulfil the scheme eligibility requirements. I am happy to confirm that, to date, in excess of 77,500 applicants have been paid a total of €167 million. Payments are continuing on a twice-weekly basis to ensure prompt payments to applicants as and when they fulfil the scheme stocking requirements.

I also confirmed at this afternoon's meeting the Government's commitment to the sector, both at farm and processing level, which is fully reflected in the Food Wise 2025 blueprint for the industry. In particular, I highlighted the opportunities to increase the focus on adding value to what is a quality product. I also indicated that the provision of low-cost flexible finance is a priority for us under the programme for Government. To this end, I have been engaged in intensive consultations with the Government Departments, the EU Commission and the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland with a view to developing a product that is better than anything in the marketplace. I hope to be in a position to make an announcement on this shortly. I am determined to ensure that any new loan product will be available to tillage farmers on similar terms and conditions as those for livestock farmers under de minimis state-aid rules. I stressed at the meeting, and I do so again in this House, that in this changing landscape, we need to take a fresh look at our tillage industry to ensure that it is best positioned to withstand possible future threats and to avail of the new opportunities which may present themselves.

I thank the Minister for his reply. While the measures he outlined are important in respect of ensuring that direct payments are paid promptly and with regard to delivering affordable credit to farmers in all farming sectors, it is exceptionally disappointing to see that he made no reference to the need for a crisis fund to assist those farmers who are facing ruin in certain parts of the country because they have not been able to get their crops. That is most acute problem facing us at the moment and one that needs the most urgent response.

The tillage forum is welcome. I know the Minister has come from a meeting of the forum and I appreciate the fact that he is taking time to update us. However, I was particularly hopeful that there would be more substance in terms of what the response might be because this is what grain farmers across the country, including the western seaboard, who have not been able to get their crops are seeking. While affordable credit for cashflow pressures is necessary for many in the farming industry, unless there is a recognition of what farmers - who will be ploughing this year's crop back into the ground in the coming weeks because they were not able to get it and who are facing merchant bills, contractor bills and conacre bills for those who rented the land for which they are now getting no return - are facing, many will simply not be able to manage their finances, pay their bills this year or remain in the sector.

As I pointed out earlier, we have lost 100,000 acres of tillage in the past four years. It is crucial that the Minister responds. I ask the Minister to zone in on it. Will there be a crisis fund and will he raise it at next Monday's Council of Ministers to seek the support of his EU colleagues to introduce such a fund?

I ask the Deputy to reflect on the following point. It is difficult, and that which can be salvaged at this stage may be a small fraction. However, if I were to introduce a fund, every endeavour to salvage whatever is salvageable would cease. I want to ensure the endeavour continues. This point was made at the forum today and was reflected in contributions from all sides. Until we have a full picture, I will not jump into making any hasty announcements regarding the measures we might consider appropriate.

I have been on the ground and in the Deputy's county. I have met farm organisations, both national and local. We are anxious to get a full and accurate picture in respect of the endeavour and where a line can be drawn under it to say beyond this point no further harvest can be salvaged. We are far from that stage. Only a full picture can inform us on the appropriate policy instruments that are being considered.

The Deputy raised the EU agenda. When 27 or 28 member states jump up and down in unison about the dairy industry, the Commission responds. Unfortunately, member states are not jumping up and down about the grain industry. Until there is a clamour for a response at a political level in the Commission that is led by the main grain growing countries, there will be no prospect of a bailout package for the grain industry. This is why we are availing of the opportunity under the scope given to us under the de minimis rules, as in State aid. Neither the French, Poles, Hungarians, Romanians nor any of them are jumping up and down and saying there is a crisis in their grain industries.

Apprenticeship Programmes

My question relates to the delivery of apprenticeships in a safe, practical way and the chaos that seems to be happening. A change came about due to the collapse in the construction industry and our economy, and many construction related apprenticeships ended abruptly. It is, therefore, good to see that SOLAS and the education and training boards, ETBs, are working together to offer apprenticeships as FÁS did in the past. From the debacle around JobBridge, we know the range of apprenticeships should be much greater and we should offer much more. We should offer something similar to the Germans rather than the approximately five apprenticeships that have been on offer to date.

It is regrettable that the ETBs and SOLAS did not use the opportunity of the downturn to reorganise the sector and the centres to ensure there were enough qualified instructors to deliver the courses they were offering. Decisions taken at the time of the collapse, since then and recently have many of the SOLAS and ETB centres in chaos. For example, in some centres there is no or very limited equipment related to the apprenticeship offered, so the course cannot be run. There are no instructors for some of the courses offered.

In Loughlinstown, the instructor walked off the job given that he could not get a contract that would allow him to deliver the six months' apprenticeship. He was offered only one month's contract. It is crazy. There is a shortage of instructors based on the fact that the ETB, SOLAS or whoever is paying are offering only short-term, rolling, four-week contracts for courses that last six months or longer. Maybe it is because they are happy to use retired instructors or tutors. In those cases, there seem to be three different sets of wages for instructors. Retired instructors are getting €36 per hour while those on four-week contracts are getting €23 per hour and those who have managed to get a one-year contract - imagine that - are on less attractive hourly rates of €20. What is the difference? There is no reason, in this day and age, that there should be a set of differences.

In the past, when the courses were run by FÁS, instructors had no issues with payment. Obviously, everybody wished to be paid more. Now, if one works in a centre and wants to help at another centre to cover somebody's holiday or sick leave, it is a bureaucratic quagmire. One is paid and taxed in a different way and the employer is different. It is a disincentive. If the instructor in Loughlinstown is sick, an instructor from Baldoyle who might have spare hours will not travel to Loughlinstown to provide cover. Can the Minister elaborate and explain why those differences exist, given where we have come from?

I thank the Deputy for raising the very important issue of apprenticeships. We have made a serious commitment to expand the range of options. The position is not one of the chaos which the Deputy described but one of very rapid expansion in the number of people enrolling in traditional apprenticeships. During the past three years, including this year, there was an increase of more than 20% each year in the number of enrolments in apprenticeships and the forecast is for further increases in each of the next years of over 20% per year. We have already trebled compared to the lowest number of apprenticeships and we are planning to expand the numbers rapidly.

I will investigate the issues of concern to the Deputy regarding individual centres such as Loughlinstown or any others he wishes to bring to my attention. With the collapse in the number of apprenticeships, and as we seek to rebuild this national scheme, we cannot ensure every centre will always offer the range of options. Given that it is a national scheme, we must ensure that we build up capacity in an efficient way. This may require people not going to their nearest centre to complete their programme. This is in the context of major expansion.

As the Deputy recognises, we are moving to fill the gap which he rightly pointed out. In Germany, approximately 40 young people per 1,000 take up apprenticeships, whereas here it is approximately ten. We need to move to a much higher level. To do this, we propose to increase the number of apprentices from the current 27, which the Deputy mentioned, to 100 over the coming years. Some of them will be at a very high level, such as the one I recently launched at the Institute of Technology, Sligo, which will be a level 8 apprenticeship. We recognise that as we move to meet the challenges of a new economy which is emerging, and the challenges of Brexit, we need to rebuild this skill base and build it in new areas of technical expertise.

I will seek information for the Deputy on the issues regarding the contract terms of different instructors. The terms under which people are employed are, presumably, tied up with various negotiated agreements. Given that the Deputy did not mention the issue in his question, I do not have any briefing on it.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Hopefully, the answers will prove the point I made, having talked to a number of instructors from different centres to ensure I was not being over the top in my suggestions.

I will move on to the second issue that I wish to raise. Is the Minister aware of cases of instructors delivering classes on trades in which they are not qualified? It is fine for an instructor to cover once in a while if, for example, someone else is sick or on leave, but the course is short. While the expansion in the number of courses being offered is welcome, I am aware of a carpentry instructor delivering a painting course. One might believe that this was fair enough, but the instructor also delivered an electrical course. Given the dangers of electrics, this was neither good nor safe. It was also unfair on the apprentices who were supposed to be learning in the centre.

Some centres were stripped of equipment in recent years. In Ballyfermot, three houses that had been built and used by apprentice carpenters to learn their trade were knocked down. The carpentry courses in Ballyfermot are due to restart next week or the week after, but half of the equipment is not in place as we speak and is unlikely to be in place when the courses start. The same is true of the painting and motor mechanics courses that are due to start. Although the apparent rush is welcome, this seems chaotic and the part of the job that ensures we have top grade apprentices is not being done right. Funding has not been spent on ensuring that the centres are fully equipped and instructors who can deliver these courses properly are there for the next group of apprentices.

I would be the first to recognise that we need to invest further in apprenticeships, not only the traditional ones, but also new ones. The Deputy must make an allowance for the fact that we are experiencing 20% growth per annum in the number of people participating in apprenticeships. This is a rapid expansion. While I would be disappointed to hear of some of the experiences to which the Deputy referred, that is in the context of us delivering for a higher intake.

In early 2015 and in conjunction with SOLAS, Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI, formally extended a suite of professional award-type descriptors to carpentry, joinery, electrical, plumbing, metal fabrication and heavy vehicle mechanic apprenticeships and adopted standards regarding these. In September 2015, QQI validated new curricula for these trades, which have been implemented since April 2016. Accordingly, instructors' ability to deliver these curricula would have to be validated. If the Deputy wants to supply me with the details of cases in which it is believed that people without adequate qualifications are providing course instruction, I will investigate them.

Like other sectors, this sector's capacity to respond has been affected by the moratorium on recruitment. My Department is in discussion with the education and training boards, ETBs, regarding some elements of the moratorium in order to ensure that, as we meet the emerging skill needs in our economy, we are in a position to deal with any shortage that might arise in respect of tutors.

Sitting suspended at 4.05 p.m. and resumed at 4.30 p.m.