Topical Issue Debate

Farmers Markets

Cuirim fáilte roimh an deis labhairt ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo. Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Aire as ucht teacht isteach chun an ábhar seo a phlé tráthnóna inniu. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil sé fíorghnóthach sa Roinn ar a bhfuil sé i bhfeighil faoi láthair.

I want to speak about farmers' markets. I remember well the traditional view in west Cork when the farmers' markets originally came to Clonakilty and Skibbereen and towns like that, there was a kind of resistance towards the markets from the established traders. There was a view that the markets were not contributing anything to society and they were making their way on the backs of others. As the passage of time has evolved there is now a significant shift in attitude towards how people view farmers' markets. We need only look at the thousands of people who go to farmers' markets every week and who wish to purchase produce that is produced locally, on a small scale or at home. In many Irish towns the farmers' markets are supported by the existing town traders because the traders are delighted with the footfall brought by farmers' markets in to towns facing the increasing challenge of desertion due to online trading. If we are to be serious as a Government and a State we must acknowledge this development and movement. We must do more than just give a nod to this trend.

We have to recognise the enormous value attached to the burgeoning and blossoming trade of farmers' markets. On top of that, it is now a huge social event every week in rural towns such as Clonakilty, Skibbereen, Bandon and my own bailiwick of Kinsale. Nothing has really replaced - in any of these towns - the social event that was centred around the creamery. Many of my generation and older will remember attending the local creamery. While we refer to schools as social hubs there really is not a social life to the school yard. We come in our cars, we drop our children off and we move on again. In this context there is a lot to be said about rural isolation and the social aspect attached to farmers' markets.

Many people produce goods at home to make a living for themselves and their families and sell their wares at farmers' markets which are a massive tourist draw. We need only look anywhere on the Continent to see how enormously successful farmers' markets are. It is also the case in Ireland and it is high time we did a little more than pay lip service to them. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine which is in charge of the promotion of food products needs to think outside the box. The Minister and his officials need to acknowledge the phenomenon that is the country market. I would like to see a funding stream provided for local authorities, in my case Cork County Council, to allow them provide hard-stand areas for farmers' markets, including a concrete channel. Instead of being choked by generator fumes, a system could be put in place, with outlets which could be charged using existing pay-as-you-go systems. Running water could also be made available. Awnings could be placed over the hard-stand areas to protect not only the traders but also the thousands of customers who like to visit the markets and purchase the produce on sale. This would take a little thinking outside the box. The Department provides funding through a number of agencies, but we need to up our game and move into the next sphere. We need to recognise the phenomenon farmers' markets are and their success and put our money where our mouths are and provide real funding to provide the genuine hardware associated with these events.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter. Any of us who has had the privilege and opportunity to travel abroad has seen, particularly in continental Europe, the potential of farmers' markets. The Deputy referred to the colour and vibrancy they bring to local towns. We are blessed to have a network of old market towns. Unfortunately, many of them have fallen victim to recent shopping trends, with supermarkets on the outskirts sucking life from their centres. Many of them are adorned with fabulous old squares which, once upon a time, were thriving marketplaces and which in recent years have become glorified car parks. There is an opportunity, in the context of the points made by the Deputy, to reinvigorate them, including through the provision of appropriate infrastructure to support country and farmers' markets.

It is no coincidence that the proposal comes from the constituency of Cork South West which adjoins mine and where there is a very strong tradition of engaging in artisan food production and a real emphasis on food provenance. I would certainly see the proposal as beneficial. Support for farmers' markets is provided by the Department through the CEDRA rural innovation and development fund. I have assigned a portion of the €1.5 million allocation in 2016 to agrifood tourism projects in rural Ireland. They include local farmer, food and artisan market schemes that support local and seasonal food production and artisan crafts. In this regard, the Department recently awarded funding of €445,000 through 13 separate agrifood tourism initiatives developed by local authorities in rural areas following a competitive process under the CEDRA rural innovation and development fund. These awards are managed by the local authorities, with a view to targeting specific supports relevant for local area development strategies. In general, the initiatives under the CEDRA rural innovation and development fund aim to energise the rural economy and, in particular, provide support for agrifood tourism projects which may assist rural communities which have taken steps to establish a local rural market to progress to opening stage or to facilitate established local rural markets to develop and maximise their potential and expand. The rural innovation and development fund will continue in 2017 and it is my intention that agrifood tourism will remain a key theme. I will reflect on the specifics of the Deputy's contribution in this regard.

Support for local markets is also provided through the departmental agency Bord Bia, with the provision of information assistance and publicity via its website for local food, country and farmers' markets. It includes a list of farmers in country markets and a guide to food markets in Ireland. Furthermore, recognising the need to assist small Irish food and drink start-up producers and traders in developing their market produce and brands, the support of skills and best practice for market organisers is also provided by Bord Bia. One such scheme is the voluntary good practice standard for farmers' markets that promotes good market governance and food safety and labelling compliance, while at the same time encouraging regular farmers' markets to be held in local communities that stock a substantial proportion of locally produced seasonal produce.

A new and important support initiative to support farmers' and country markets which starts in November is a series of regional workshops designed by Bord Bia to help stall holders to sell better at farmers' markets. The workshops aim to give practical solutions to challenges that all market sellers may encounter. They cover key areas of the market business and provide an opportunity for existing and prospective producers to network and share their experiences. Funding is also available through the Leader programme which in the next five to six years will have €250 million available for rural communities and represents 7% of the rural development programme budget during the period. Local authorities have some community support grants which may be of benefit to the type of project the Deputy is advocating.

People in the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's constituency of Donegal, the Minister's constituency of Cork North West and my constituency of Cork South West have a particular appreciation, as most people do, that, despite the availability of shops such as Argos, Amazon and IKEA, there is nothing akin to visiting a house or calling to see somebody and being given something home made when leaving, whether it be a pot of jam, a loaf of bread or a cake. It is this experience people the length and breadth of the country crave and they chase it by coming to these markets.

As the Minister outlined, I come from an area where there is a very strong and proud tradition of food production in the towns I have the honour to represent. That is why the markets are so popular in my area, as they are everywhere else and, as the Minister acknowledged, throughout the Continent. In fairness, Cork County Council acknowledges this and is making an effort. It is taking public submissions in setting new by-laws and regulations, but there is always a big health warning attached to regulations because there is a danger that we will overregulate the golden goose which is laying the egg and choke it out of existence. A very small producer of pots of jam could be wiped out by unnecessary bureaucracy. Therefore, we have to be very careful on this level. While I acknowledge the Minister's response and thank him for it and the existing funding, I ask him to accept the premise of what I am saying, that we need to move beyond giving assistance to the promotion of the markets. We need to provide proper infrastructure to take full advantage of this fantastic asset and the value they bring to those who use them, the traders who sell their produce and tourists, as well as of the social vibrancy generated in the heart of towns. We all pay lip service every day of the week to the issues we would like to address, including mental well-being. This would be a very practical step to take and I hope the Minister will support me in my endeavours.

I will reflect on the points the Deputy has made in the context of the budget that is available for 2017. It is possible to assist in ways other than those in which we have assisted to date. They include measures to provide the hardware necessary to support farmers' markets and those to which the Deputy referred. They include the provision of street furniture, awnings to provide shelter not only for stall holders but also customers, as well as water and electricity on site instead of being poisoned by fumes from generators. All of these issues can be progressed through the grants scheme in conjunction with local authorities. If it is the case that we need to tweak or redefine the scope of what is assisted under the CEDRA rural innovation and development fund to enable this to happen, I am certainly prepared to look at the matter in the Department. It is a relatively modest fund, but in conjunction with local funding it might be possible to deliver on the Deputy's objective. It would be a service to the food sector. In value terms, in the Republic of Ireland alone local artisan food production is worth more than €760 million a year.

By giving it an appropriate shop window we will give country markets the best possible opportunity and that is what the Deputy wants to progress.

Homeless Accommodation Provision

My question is topical and urgent and I wish the Minister was present, though that is no disrespect to the Minister of State. I understand that he is to come to Limerick on Friday to launch a review of the regeneration programme and the annual review of Novas Initiatives. The issue I am raising has been prompted by people who work in services in Limerick, both in the council and in the emergency services. They are deeply concerned that no accommodation will be available to house homeless families in the city over the Christmas period. My constituency office is inundated on a daily basis by families with young children who have nowhere to go. At the moment we are able to accommodate them in emergency accommodation but the crisis arises because we have been told that no accommodation is available over the Christmas period due to a number of factors, one being that a number of bed and breakfasts and hotels which offer emergency accommodation will not be open over the Christmas period. I ask the Minister to intervene personally in this situation because it is unprecedented in Limerick, at least as far as I am aware. Most of the properties in which families have been accommodated to date will be closed over the Christmas period. I have a list if the Minister wants me to give it to him.

Council members and people who work in homeless services are under huge pressure and I commend them on the work they do in this very difficult housing situation. It seems to be getting worse day by day and since this time last year the crisis has become unmanageable. Christmas is coming and there is no room at the inn for many of these families. We are approaching the end of the 1916 centenary year and it is simply not acceptable that families are facing Christmas not knowing whether they will have a home for themselves and their children.

On 25 November Limerick City Council confirmed to me that there were 197 individual residents in homeless accommodation, of which 57 were young children. Emergency accommodation in Limerick often includes a variety of properties, hotels, bed and breakfasts, hostels and temporary accommodation. My understanding is that no accommodation is available to meet the need, especially over the holidays and particularly on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, St. Stephen's Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. Christmas is a time for celebration and joy and we have deep concern that some of these families will be unable to access accommodation.

Because of this emergency situation I call for the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, to intervene personally to ensure that no family in Limerick will be without a roof over its head over the holiday period. This desperate situation places huge pressure on providers of emergency accommodation. Those who work in these services are already overstressed by having to work in an environment with scarce resources in the middle of a severe housing crisis and a national emergency. I ask the Minister to think of the families, the mothers and fathers who have sleepless nights worrying over whether their children will have a bed and security over the Christmas period. It is an appalling indictment of all of us in this House that this is what we, as a society, have come to - a State that cannot and will not house its own children. Professional service providers in Limerick who contact me over this issue are very stressed and worried. They are deeply concerned that there simply will not be enough accommodation to house people over the festive period. On their behalf and on behalf of the homeless families I ask the Minister to intervene personally in this issue to ensure that, at the very least, families have a place to stay over Christmas.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue and keeping homelessness in focus. This is priority No. 1 for the Minister, the Department and me and we are working directly and together on it. The Minister is not in the House today but he is very much aware of the situation in Limerick and has been there a couple of times since we launched Rebuilding Ireland. We also had a stakeholder event there recently. I have been there too because it is the priority for the Department and for Government. The Deputy is right that the number of people in emergency accommodation is unsatisfactory and not acceptable and we are trying to address the problem. The Deputy may rest assured of the commitment of the Minister on this.

At the outset let me be clear, my Department's role in relation to homelessness involves the provision of a national framework of policy, legislation and funding to underpin the role of housing authorities in addressing homelessness at local level. Statutory responsibility for the provision of homeless services, including accommodation, rests with individual housing authorities. All housing authorities have wide and flexible statutory powers to assist in or make arrangements for the accommodation of homeless persons. This means that operational issues, such as those raised by the Deputy today, are a matter for the relevant housing authority, in this case Limerick City and County Council.

This Government is fully committed to addressing the issue of homelessness. Under this Government there has been a focused and co-ordinated approach to tackling homelessness across Departments and agencies. The long-term solution to homelessness is to increase the supply of homes. A range of measures is being progressed in this regard. Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, which was launched in July 2016, provides a multi-stranded, action-oriented approach to achieving the Government's key housing objectives. The action plan is designed to accelerate the supply of all types of housing - social, private and rental. Over the next six years, some 47,000 new social houses will be provided and housing output generally will be progressively increased towards the target of producing 25,000 houses per year through all channels. The plan provides for early solutions to address the high number of households in emergency accommodation, such as 1,500 rapid-build units, 1,600 vacant units sourced by the housing agency and 1,750 HAP homeless tenancies, giving us a total of 4,850 homes as emergency, quick-fix homes. The HAP services are, incidentally, run from Limerick and they do a very good job.

With regard to the situation in Limerick, I understand that the council is in ongoing contact with individuals and families residing in emergency accommodation and is fully responsive to the needs of those that may present to them. The Limerick homeless action team works on a multi-agency basis to address the needs of people presenting to homeless services. The three main centres in Limerick city are St. Patrick's Hostel, McGarry House and Thomond House and these facilities cater for the majority of people requiring emergency accommodation. These services remain open on a year-round basis. In addition to these facilities it is sometimes necessary for households to utilise bed and breakfasts or hotels for emergency accommodation purposes. While it may be the case that some commercial hotels will close on certain days over the Christmas period, I have been reassured that Limerick City and County Council, working with all local homeless services, will ensure that the emergency accommodation needs of homeless households are attended to and alternative accommodation will be secured if necessary.

Significant additional resources for addressing homelessness have been made available under this Government and Exchequer funding is not an issue in this regard. My Department will continue to keep the homelessness funding needs of all housing authorities under review. We are visiting all local authorities and have made it clear to them that the increased budget is there for them. Most of the homeless teams have had access to it so the finance is there. It is sometimes difficult to source accommodation and we are addressing that with short-term and long-term measures but the funding is there for increased personnel needed by the homeless teams to provide the services. I hope this will put the Deputy's mind at ease because it is a very serious issue.

I commend the staff in Limerick who work in this area, both those in the council and those in the services. The Minister referenced three projects, St. Patrick's Hostel, McGarry House and Thomond House. I am familiar with all three but none of them houses families or children so they will not address the issue I am raising. The Minister will launch the review of the regeneration project in Limerick on Friday and, while I do not want to pre-empt its findings, I can declare that the programme, specifically in the case of housing, has not been a success. It has been a failure and has not delivered the houses that were supposed to be delivered. Over 1,000 houses have been demolished and less than a quarter of them have been replaced, which has contributed to the housing crisis in Limerick.

I also commend the homeless action team because my constituency office deals with it every single day. There is a shortage of suitable accommodation for families and single people and I ask the Minister of State to ask the Minister what specifically he will do to ensure no family or children in Limerick are without a home over the Christmas period. Last week I extended an invitation to the Minister to come and visit the Long Pavement Traveller site while he is in Limerick, or that he does so on another occasion if he cannot do it this time, because families are living there in a state in which one would not put an animal.

It must be sorted out. As we speak, there are families who do not have heating in the weather we are experiencing now. They told me they would watch this debate. I hope the Minister of State can address some of these questions.

I will chase up the Deputy's invitation with the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and see if he can fit it in this week. There is pressure this week in terms of trying to get legislation through the House. If he cannot visit Limerick this week, one of us will visit in the near future. The Deputy is aware we have increased funding for Traveller-specific accommodation and capital needs of nearly 70% for 2017. There are increased resources. In some cases, there has been pressure to get the money spent for 2016. We have been informed that all local authorities will have done so. There are available funds. If the project needs to be examined, there should be opportunities for the council to bring forward proposals on it.

The problem is that the council says it cannot access funds from the Department while the Department says it is not responsible for it.

We can address that. We will chase it up. There have been issues regarding housing in general and Traveller-specific accommodation during recent years. The finances we needed were not always there. Now, the money is there and there has been a massive increase in the spend for Traveller-specific accommodation. We will liaise with the council to see if we can get the money spent and the situation addressed. If the situation the Deputy has described is the case, it is unacceptable and it needs to be sorted out.

The Government is committed to making progress on this critically important issue. The number of people in emergency accommodation is unsatisfactory. We are committed to ending it by June 2017. The resources are there and we are committed to tackling it. We cannot fix it overnight. We wish we could, and I think the Deputy accepts this. We have been dealing with all parties and everybody recognises the significance of the problem. Over Christmas, we must ensure people are not left without even emergency accommodation. We are committed to this. While I understand from my officials that it will be addressed, we will follow it up for the Deputy. The resources are there to address the short-term issue. We must address supply. The Deputy raised the issue that houses have been removed over the years. We are trying to source additional accommodation as well as give the capacity back to local authorities to build houses and bring vacant properties on board. There is a strong commitment and there are several actions in the action plan across the five pillars. If we can get a few more months under our belts, we can make an impact on it. However, we are in the early stages.

HIV-AIDS Programmes

I am very glad to have the opportunity to raise the critical matter of the dramatic increase, the skyrocketing, in detections of HIV in Ireland. The Minister of State will be aware of the statistics. The Health Protection Surveillance Centre, HPSC, has identified a 30% increase from 2014 to 2015. In the category of men who have sex with men, MSM, comprising predominantly gay and bisexual men, the increase in detections was even higher, at 34%. Our rate of HIV infection, at 10.6 per 100,000, is significantly above the EU average of 6.3 per 100,000. We must address the problem. It is as big a problem in terms of numbers contracting HIV, as existed at any time during the 1980s and 1990s.

We must take a wide variety of approaches to it. It is a complex issue that requires a huge variety of actions. However, I want to see if the Government can ensure that two simple, relatively immediate actions happen. First, could we push the implementation group for the sexual health action plan to prioritise a decision to make pre-exposure prophylaxis, PrEP, more widely available to high-risk groups? The drug Truvada has been approved in Ireland. International trials show it is extremely effective in cutting back the onset of symptoms of the virus. The number of people appearing in accident and emergency departments, particularly at weekends, is at crisis levels. Will the Minister, through the implementation group for the sexual health action plan, seek to have the drug made available for high-risk categories?

Second, there has been very welcome funding from the national lottery to the voluntary organisation KnowNow's nationwide rapid HIV testing programme. This needs to be preserved and the organisation needs to receive secure funding into the future. It must be supported, given that it is one of the best immediate responses. People who have HIV can find out very quickly. It is a very simple test that can be done outside of clinical settings. Half the men presenting to the programme to be tested have never been tested for HIV before. Across the country, the detection rate is five times higher than in a typical clinical setting and in Dublin city it is up to ten times higher.

The organisation is providing a vital service to allow men to find out whether they might be infected with HIV. If we can expand and strengthen it, provide the drugs I mentioned and do a range of other sexual health education programmes that, no doubt, need to take place at the same time, it would help stop the immediate emergency which we face. I would be keen to hear the Minister of State's view as to whether she would be able to provide those drugs to people in high-risk categories and whether she could provide secure funding for the KnowNow voluntary organisation.

I thank the Deputy for giving me the opportunity to update the House on this issue. In 2015, 485 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in Ireland, an increase of 30% compared to 2014. The increase was mainly confined to HSE east. A number of factors contributed to the increase in HSE east, including an improvement to the national surveillance case definition introduced in January 2015, which resulted in improved sensitivity and timeliness and an increased number of notifications. There was also an outbreak of HIV among people who inject drugs and an increase in diagnoses among non-EU men who have sex with men.

In 2016 a national multi-sectoral group was established by the HSE HPSC to investigate the reasons for, and respond to, the increases in HIV, syphilis and gonorrhoea. Clinicians, HSE public health, the HPSC, addiction services and the non-governmental organisations are all contributing to the group. The group is working with the Gay Health Network and Positive Now to encourage the use of condoms and regular HIV and sexually transmitted illness, STI, testing via, social media and community outreach among the MSM community.

The National Sexual Health Strategy 2015-2020 was launched in October 2015. The strategy was developed in response to a recommendation of the national AIDS strategy committee on the need to establish clear leadership within the health sector around the area of sexual health. At the launch of the strategy, the Department provided funding for the KnowNow pilot. This is a peer-led, point-of-care HIV testing initiative in pubs and clubs. The pilot has had considerable success in identifying new cases of HIV. As we all know, earlier diagnosis of HIV allows for timely initiation of treatment, which confers significant benefits on the individual living with HIV and reduces transmission within the population. The HSE is reviewing how this method of testing might be developed in 2017.

The National Sexual Health Strategy 2015 to 2020 contains 71 recommendations that address all aspects of sexual health and the sexual health action plan for 2015 to 2016 contains 18 priority actions for immediate attention. One of the priority actions identified in the action plan for 2016 is to "prioritise, develop and implement guidance to support clinical decision making for STI testing, screening and treatment and on the appropriate use of antiretroviral therapy in HIV prevention". An implementation group has been established within the HSE as an outcome of this action. The group will make recommendations on the appropriate use of HIV PrEP in the overall context of the national approach to HIV prevention. It is intended that work will start on a national demonstration project in 2017.

I thank the Minister of State for her response. I am somewhat encouraged by the last line of her response, which I interpret as a signal that the Minister of State intends to launch a national demonstration project. I am reading between the lines that the Minister of State is aware that the KnowNow pilot project has been a success and that this will translate into the sort of support my question was prompting. I have a slight concern. We are looking to roll it out on a more full-time, secure basis in 2017, and we are not far from the new year.

Can the Minister of State say in her further reply whether the decisions in this regard will be taken before the end of the year or what timeline is intended? I agree fully with the Minister of State who outlined in her response that there is a whole variety of other issues in terms of promoting condom use and other sexual health education measures, but the scale of the crisis with 480 people contracting HIV is not small. It is one which could very rapidly grow if we fail to stem it at the earliest stage. That is the advantage of the two measures I have set out in particular. While there might be costs involved, it is clear that prevention is better than cure. While the costs of identifying and supporting and providing those anti-retroviral drugs for the very high at-risk groups would have to be borne by the State, the advantage would be that the prevention of infection would not only save the quality of life of the individual who might otherwise contract HIV but also the State in terms of the services we would have to provide to that person through his or her life. While I am encouraged by the Minister of State's response, I will be looking for a very definite decision in the coming weeks so we can go into 2017 with certainty for those working in the area.

I thank Deputy Ryan. I was privileged last week to launch at Outhouse on Capel Street on World AIDS Day the free rapid HIV testing that was being provided on the day on a number of locations nationally. It is a matter which is of grave concern to everybody in the Department of Health and the HSE. To that end, access to testing has been increased this year. If people are concerned, they can access testing that is widely available and free through where they will find local venues for HIV and STI testing. It is a very important website for anybody in this day and age. With people using the Internet to access information, it is crucial that they access good information. As such, is the place for them to start as well as the website. The HSE has said that the demonstration project will commence later this year or in early 2017. The pressure is certainly on to achieve this. I will certainly bring the Deputy's concerns to the attention of the HSE which will be delivering this and try to provide him with an actual timeline. I would be happy to do that.

I thank the Minister of State.

Hospice Services Provision

I ask the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to convey our thanks to the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this very important topic for discussion. There is not a family in Dublin and the surrounding area that has not benefitted from the overwhelming gentleness and the unobtrusive caring and professional support of the hospice teams in Harold's Cross and Blackrock whether operating within the actual hospices themselves or through the home visiting teams. Last Sunday, I had the privilege of attending with a number of my colleagues the annual "Light up a Life" ceremony in Harold's Cross. There were over 10,000 people in attendance, most of them families of all ages. It struck me as I left that we talk about six degrees of separation whereas there is probably only one degree of separation when it comes to lives that have been affected and touched in a hugely positive way by the work of the hospice movement.

The backdrop on Sunday was a state-of-the-art education and research centre which is an indication that the hospice movement and the services it provides are moving from strength to strength and growing. The State is going to become ever-more dependent on what is, by and large and in particular in relation to the home-visit service, a voluntary service provided by the teams within the hospices. A new palliative section has been constructed which was not funded by the HSE. The hospice hopes the HSE will see its way to funding equipment grants up to €1.6 million and the second phase. My colleagues, Deputy O'Callaghan and Deputy Curran, will I am sure develop those themes.

I am very honoured to be given the opportunity to speak about Our Lady's Hospice in Harold's Cross, which is in my constituency. The hospice was founded by the Sisters of Charity back in 1879. Sometimes, the wonderful contribution that religious orders of all denominations have made to health care and education in the capital and beyond is forgotten. Even though it is described as being a hospice, Our Lady's provides a great deal more than care for those who are terminally ill. It also provides a service to enable elderly people to live independently as well as services in respect of rheumatology and other specialist palliative care.

The hospice is well aware of the challenges it faces into the future and the State needs to assist it in meeting them. Ireland's over-65 population is growing rapidly and is expected to triple to 1.4 million over the next 30 years. We need to prepare for that. Fortunately, the hospice is preparing and has commenced the process of constructing a whole new palliative care centre. It is also expanding the home care service. I had the benefit with other colleagues here to visit the hospice and receive a guided tour of the wonderful new building. It is an invaluable service and an institution that is loved by very many people in Dublin, as Deputy Lahart said. That was evident last Sunday. It is important that the State recognises the role of the hospice, not simply by talking about it, but by making some active financial contribution. The hospice needs to be assisted financially in respect of the work that is going on. The HSE did not fund the first phase of the build and I ask the Minister of State to provide some practical support financially.

I concur with the comments made by my colleagues. This time last year, I had an uncle who was in the hospice. He died at the end of December. From a family's point of view, I cannot speak highly enough of the care he received and the manner in which he was looked after. His immediate family feels likewise. That is why, in some regards, I feel compelled to speak on the subject.

Like Deputy O'Callaghan, I recently visited the new development. Rather than speak about the service, which my two colleagues have addressed adequately, I will address the funding issue. It is important to note that State funding to the hospice generally is down 25% on what it was in 2009. The application for funding for phase 1 was refused, specifically because the committee said it could not approve projects retrospectively and that each agency has to follow the same procedures and submit applications in advance of projects being progressed. Obviously, the hospice takes a different view and had been in touch with the HSE since 2014. It received sign-off from the national director of primary care in February 2015, so there was a level of engagement. In favour of what the hospice did, I note that it recognised the urgency and the reality that the facility was badly needed both to improve standards and, more importantly, to cater for a growing and aging population.

It did not get funding for phase 1 but has clearly indicated that phase 2 and equipment could be considered. As an organisation, the hospice is not in a position to continue to fund the capital. It is engaged in fundraising to subsidise the revenue side, in other words the staff costs. I appeal to the Minister to look specifically at this case. It is one of the few opportunities we have where the development has taken place and the asset is there. We are not saying we need this in five years' time. It is here now but it needs the funding. These people are not in a position to continue to provide that level of funding without State support.

I thank Deputies Lahart, O'Callaghan and Curran for raising this important issue. It is the intention of the Government that people will be provided with the palliative care services they need regardless of their diagnosis, age or whether they die in a hospice, acute hospital, nursing home or at home. Significant progress has been made in recent years to improve access to specialist palliative care services. Currently, 93% of people receive specialist palliative care services within the community within seven days of referral while 96% have access to a specialist bed within seven days.

Specialist palliative care is now provided in 11 locations countrywide and the number of specialist palliative care beds will reach 217 once all 15 beds in Kerry Hospice are open.

The successful development of palliative care service in Ireland has been based on a long-standing tradition of positive engagement between the voluntary and statutory sectors. Organisations such as Our Lady's Hospice have played a vital role in this work by collaborating with the HSE in a very positive way on a range of fronts to strengthen the provision of palliative care. Those who have experienced hospice care personally or for a family member almost invariably describe it as one of the bright spots in what can be a very difficult stage of life.

On a personal note, and no more than many in this House who have experienced the type of palliative care that can be provided across the country, I know very special people work in the service. They prepare those of us who will live on and those who are dying for death. It is something we need to do a little bit better in our society.

In late 2015, Our Lady's Hospice embarked on a redevelopment of its palliative care unit in Harold's Cross to provide single rooms to ensure the dignity and privacy of patients and their families. The rooms will be built in clusters of six around a courtyard and will be designed to allow family visits and overnight stays.

In addition, the current palliative care area will be refurbished to house the day hospice and community palliative care team. The total cost of the redevelopment will be around €20 million and the hospice has now suggested that the HSE provides a contribution of just under €5 million to fund the redevelopment.

It is a shame the Minister of State cannot read her entire reply because there is a positive paragraph. We will await the second part of the reply.

As I said, everybody has a personal story. The nurses and care team in the hospice in Harold's Cross held the hand of my late father as he passed from this world during his dying days. The hospice outreach team helped us to care for my late mother until she passed away at home.

The HSE would win many friends if it provided funding for outreach teams. Additional funding for the second phase would allow the hospice to reach out to far more families. One hospice nurse can visit 550 families a year. Additional funding would be very helpful.

I have fundraised on a number of occasions for the hospice, and it is the easiest thing in the world to raise money for the service. That should not excuse the State or HSE from providing funding for a service that has saved the State hundreds of millions of euro over the past number of decades and which provided the best, most comprehensive and professional care for people in their dying days.

It is important to put on the record that the reason why my colleagues and I put this issue on the agenda today is because on 21 November the HSE refused the application that was submitted by Our Lady's Hospice for funding. The agency did so on two grounds. First, it said it could not approve it because the application was made retrospectively. Second, it said each agency has to follow the same procedures and submit applications in advance of the project being progressed.

In respect of the first reason, the hospice was within the timeframe for submitting the application - it was not retrospective. The HSE has been aware of the project for over two years. In terms of the second reason, the conditions in which people were living in the hospice palliative care unit were degenerating. The build and fit-out had to take place as a matter of urgency in order to ensure patient comfort and safety and the best possible environment for end-of-life patients.

In the circumstances and in light of what the Minister of State has said, I urge the HSE to consider the next funding stage positively as it is an invaluable service that provides help to all of the people of Dublin.

Unfortunately, the Minister of State did not get to read the last line of her reply, but I will read it. It states: "However, it may be possible to consider a HSE contribution to future phases of Our Lady's redevelopment subject to funds being available at the relevant time and normal procedure of and governance conditions being followed." We should take some encouragement from that.

Our Lady's Hospice in Harold's Cross has funded the redevelopment to a large extent itself. In addition to that, it is also subsidising current expenditure in terms of staffing and so forth. The situation is not tenable.

I would like to leave here today with just one commitment from the Minister of State. If the HSE planned the way forward for the hospice I would feel a lot happier. The HSE should examine the entire funding stream, whether revenue, capital or current expenditure. If the Minister of State could give such a commitment today, I would greatly appreciate it.

Our Lady's Hospice & Care Services receives €23.7 million in annual funding from the HSE to fund all of its services. The HSE is responsible for the management of the health care of the State and the delivery of approved capital projects, all of which must be approved in advance of development commencing and comply with normal public service governance and accountability requirements.

The capital funding, the HSE has told me, is now already fully committed and unfortunately at this point there are no additional uncommitted funds available to meet the current request from Our Lady's Hospice. However, it may be possible to provide a contribution to future phases, and I believe the HSE could encourage it, subject to funds being available at the relevant time and normal procedure and governance conditions being followed.

I am glad to note Our Lady's Hospice management team and the HSE are fully engaged. Any future information and documentation will be provided within the timelines for future relevant funding decisions. I will, of course, commit to bringing the concerns of Deputies to the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, in regard to ensuring that the next phase is positively considered.

Sitting suspended at 4.20 p.m. and resumed at 4.30 p.m.