Topical Issue Debate

Agriculture Scheme Payments

As I am sure the House and the Minister are aware, we have a serious problem in the agricultural sector with regard to the significant number of farmers who are waiting to get GLAS payments. The first tranche or 85% of payments were due to be paid before the end of 2016 and most farmers expected that would happen. The payments only started to flow in the final days of December 2016. Since then a number of farmers have received their payments but until recently in excess of 10,000 farmers had not received their payments. I understand the number has reduced to approximately 6,500 farmers who have not received the 85% payment.

All kinds of reasons and excuses have been put forward by the Department when contacted which range from technical hitches and difficulties with IT systems but in many cases no excuse at all has been given. The trend I and other Deputies have observed is that when a representation is made on behalf of an individual and the herd number and circumstances are given, in a couple of days or weeks someone from the Department gets in touch to say the issue has been resolved but the farmer did not have to do anything, which tells us that there was nothing on the farmer's side causing the problem. Whatever the problem is, it lies in the Department. The blame has been placed on the Minister and the Department and it would be useful if he would acknowledge that an issue arises with the IT system in the Department that is causing the problem. We are being told that if an issue arises on the system indicating that a farmer will not be paid then the physical application must be accessed and someone must examine it line by line to find out what is wrong. In the context of thousands of applications that seems an absurd system. On behalf of the many farmers who have still not been paid I demand that the Minister pay the money to all of the farmers and if there are problems they can be sorted out later. If some deduction or penalty is required to be made that can be taken from the remaining 15% of the payment. There is no reason to withhold the payment from farmers, many of whom are in dire straits. I have come across farmers who have had to sell sheep to make ends meet, sheep they need to keep on the land to meet the requirements of the GLAS payment. It is totally counterproductive for the Department and the Minister to sit on their hands and not to sort out the issue. It is time the farmers were paid their money. They are in dire straits and many of them are in debt. Bank managers are phoning them to find out where they can get their next payment and they do not understand that there is a technical hitch somewhere in the Department preventing farmers from getting their money. I know a response will have been prepared for the Minister of State by somebody in the Department outlining an excuse, but it is past time for excuses. It is time to make sure that farmers are paid all their money within the coming days, not weeks or months.

Before I read the reply, first, nobody is sitting on their hands and, second, I understand the scheme better than anyone because I was involved when it was being designed.

One thing I will say is that if a scheme is expanded to the level that GLAS has been expanded in order to encompass so many people and if one considers the options and tries to ensure that everybody is compliant, it will inevitably lead to some complications. I reassure the Deputy that nobody is sitting on their hands

I welcome the opportunity to outline the current position regarding the 2016 payments under GLAS and the previous model, the agri-environment options scheme, AEOS. These agri-environment schemes deliver important environmental benefits by supporting farmers to undertake actions that will enhance Ireland's agriculture sustainability credentials into the future. A maximum annual payment of €5,000 is available GLAS, with provision for payment of up to €7,000 - known as GLAS+ - where, in a limited number of cases, farmers are required to give exceptional environmental commitments. Applications under the first two tranches of GLAS resulted in almost 38,000 farmers being approved for the scheme in its first year of implementation. This represented an unprecedented level of interest in the first year of any agri-environment scheme. Just under 14,000 applications were received under GLAS 3, which closed in mid-December last. Approvals have now issued in respect of over 90% of these applications, with the remainder currently being examined by the Department with a view to issuing further approvals where appropriate. This will bring overall participation in GLAS to well over the targeted participation level of 50,000 farmers.

In respect of 2016, just over 8,600 participants in AEOS were due payments. AEOS 2 participants completed their five-year contracts on 31 December 2016. Under the EU regulations governing this scheme and all other area-based payment schemes, a full check, including cross-checks with the land parcel identification system, must take place before final payment can issue. As all AEOS 2 participants will be receiving their final payments under the scheme, rechecks on payments made for all scheme years must be completed before final payment can be processed. This is the same procedure as applied to AEOS 1 participants finishing in that scheme.

To date, AEOS payments for 2016 amounting to over €21 million have issued. The remaining 2,000 cases are currently being checked and payments will continue to issue on an ongoing weekly basis as these cases are cleared. The 2016 payments represent the first full year of payment under GLAS. At the end of December 2016, there were approximately 37,500 active participants in GLAS, of whom 27,400 received payments valued at over €97 million. This represented 85% of their 2016 payments. Payment can only issue where all the required validation checks have been successfully passed. As issues with outstanding GLAS cases are resolved, they are being paid in weekly payment runs. Further payments are issuing on a weekly basis, with payments valued at over €110 million now issued and over 84% of participants now paid. There are approximately 5,900 cases awaiting payment. Further payments are issuing on a weekly basis.

GLAS has a range of over 30 actions available for selection by participants and each of them must be verified under EU regulations. As a result, there are different reasons why payment may not have issued. Given their complexity, many of these issues require review on a case-by-case basis. In cases where it has been identified that additional information is required from the farmer, this information is being requested. The Minister and the Department are well aware of the need to process all 2016 payments without delay and are ensuring that all resources required on both the IT and administrative side are directed towards resolving the outstanding queries on these cases.

All of us are conscious that payment can only be issued where all required validation checks have been successfully passed. To my mind, that is 100% of the payment. The issue here is that these farmers are waiting for the first tranche, namely, that 85%. Neither the farmers nor I can understand why they cannot receive that money. If there is an issue with checks, that can then be dealt with in on the remaining 15%. There is no need to hold up these farmers' money in these circumstances. While I understand that the Department has a job to do and that we are under EU scrutiny and have all these hurdles to jump, ultimately, it is the farmers' money. They entered into a contract with the Government to get it. Under the latter, a period was set for them to receive their money and the Government is in breach of that provision.

I appeal to the Minister of State to not just tell us that the Department must carry out more checks and validation, that each one must be checked and that farmers must come back with more information. In the vast majority of cases, the farmer has nothing further to do. All that seems to happen is that a check is run through the Department and that when the latter has time to do so, it pays the money. Pay the money now and do the checks later. In the odd case where there may be an issue, it can be taken out of the 15%. The reality is that the Department holds all the cards when it comes to this situation because it has all the other schemes it holds on to as well and there can be cross-compliance with all of them. There is no reason the GLAS money cannot be paid immediately, particularly as farmers need it. The Minister of State is a farmer and he is aware of the circumstances in which many in the farming community find themselves. They are in debt. If they are in debt, pressure is being put on them and the Department is holding up their money, the Government needs to act now to pay that money to the farmers.

Would that it were the case that we could just pay the money. Under EU regulations, we cannot do so. In the first instance, approximately 54% of the payment is EU rural development fund money. There are six schemes under the rural development programme - GLAS A and C, the beef data and genomics programme, the sheep welfare scheme, the targeted agricultural modernisation schemes and the knowledge transfer programme with locally-led environment schemes to come - across 12 regional offices. In respect of tier 1, 2 and 3 of GLAS and the various options, they were designed to broaden the appeal of it and get as many people as possible involved. However, the minute one does that and de-simplifies the position, one creates a problem.

Ireland is second only to Finland in terms of the speed with which it makes payments. I cannot say so definitively but I would be surprised if Finland has as many schemes and as many complicated schemes as Ireland. There is no doubt that we are on target to draw down all of our rural development programme money. I have seen a couple of cases down through the years where people were paid and that money was then recalled. It is not an issue with which one needs to deal on too regular a basis. In respect of the final check relating to digitisation, we saw how the EU looked for €180 million back. That is why we had the hold up on digitisation and identification in respect of over 90,000 parcels last year. We got that figure down to €60 million, which the Department absorbed rather than pass it on to individual farmers.

It is not that simple a matter to deal with. I wish it was because I know plenty of people who are waiting for their money. However, they can be reassured that everything is being done. I am constantly in touch with people who are upstairs. An entire office is dedicated to this issue and is going through it. If the Deputy was over there and saw the officials working as assiduously, efficiently and diligently as they can, he would see it in a different light.

Addiction Treatment Services

I am grateful to be given the opportunity to speak on this issue, which is a concern for many people in the Finglas area. The Finglas Addiction Support Team, FAST, works tremendously hard in partnership with participants, their families and communities to create a more inclusive society in Finglas and to ensure participants become active citizens in the context of their own well-being and that of their local community. I had the pleasure of meeting the FAST team at its centre last year and getting the chance to talk to those involved. It gave me a great insight into the work it does on a daily basis to help people in the Finglas area who are struggling with drug or alcohol addiction.

In April 2013, the Dublin North Addiction Service commenced a cross-task force pilot initiative.

This initiative, known as the community alcohol response and engagement, CARE, pilot project was rolled out on a phased basis across three task forces - Finglas, Ballymun and the regional task force - between September 2014 and June 2015. Under the CARE initiative, FAST made an application in 2014 for the funding for the appointment of two clinical nurses for the centre. These appointments would go a long way in helping the centre achieve its goals and its vision for those who benefit from the great work from this centre and in general, the Finglas area.

I fully appreciate that the Department and the HSE have an obligation to remain within their respective allocated budgets. However, it has now been three years since FAST made the application for these positions. Every year it receives the same response that these posts will be kept under review for Estimates for the following year's budget and every year they are kept waiting.

Having studied the three-year strategic plan for FAST from 2014 to 2016, some of the findings relating to the profile of the Finglas community are concerning and as a public representative for Finglas I feel the Government can be doing more to ensure services such as FAST are funded adequately.

I hope I can be in a position to go back to residents and service providers in the area and say that the Government is working for areas such as Finglas and for its residents. However, the Government needs to be aware of the barriers that are in place to tackle the issues that are occurring in disadvantaged areas, such as Finglas, which are faced with drug use, violence and incidents of suicide. While, indeed, these incidents are not limited to Finglas and affect many communities in the north Dublin area, the fact is that FAST as a service is based in Finglas, FAST needs these resources and FAST is not getting these resources.

The funding by the Department through the HSE for the appointment of these positions would go a long way to helping people in this area. It would also be a positive message from the Government that it has not forgotten about those living in these areas, and to the hard working service providers who work day in, day out and who are trying to enact positive changes within these communities.

While I appreciate that the Minister of State is working within limited budgetary constraints, I ask her and the Department to reflect on the fact that this request has been there since 2014 and has been deferred consistently year on year, and yet the need is no less great now than it was then.

The Health Service Executive has provided the Department with an update regarding the funding for the appointment of two clinical nurses for the Finglas Addiction Support Team through the Community Alcohol Response and Engagement, CARE, initiative.

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the general manager for social inclusion and addiction in the Dublin north city has approved this programme. It is seen as a vital issue in combatting a community alcohol response. The two clinical nurse specialists will operate covering Finglas-Cabra, Ballymun and the regional task force area of Swords, Balbriggan and Howth.

Finglas Addiction Support Team will work in partnership with Ballymun action project and also the community care programme in Swords. This inter-agency approach will be a part of a clinical governance structure led by the Health Service Executive's director of nursing.

This Government is committed to tackling alcohol misuse in Ireland and the widespread harm and pain it causes. Alcohol is causing significant damage across the population, in workplaces and to children, and carries a substantial burden to all in society.

The Health Service Executive provides services to prevent and treat addiction to alcohol. Those who present for alcohol addiction treatment are offered a range of interventions namely, initial assessment, comprehensive assessment, the Minnesota programme, brief intervention, individual counselling, self-help, peer support or a combination of these. The delivery of these services is based on the four-tier model of treatment intervention and services are designed to respond to the individual's specific identified needs.

This care model implies that clients should be offered the least intensive intervention appropriate to their need when they present for treatment initially. Interventions range from community and family based supports, to primary care services through to specialist support services in either the community or residential settings.

Inter-agency working between the HSE, drug task forces and multiple other community, statutory and voluntary agencies form the basis of this delivery as the target is to provide services where possible in a community environment.

Counselling and rehabilitation services provide care to those presenting with an addiction through one-to-one counselling and onward referral to other statutory and voluntary groups where appropriate. The HSE also provides funding to a number of voluntary service providers which treat drug and alcohol addictions.

The Dublin North City and County Addiction Service commenced a cross task force pilot initiative in April 2013. This initiative, known as the Community Alcohol Response and Engagement, CARE, pilot project was rolled out on a phased basis across three task forces - Finglas, Ballymun and the regional task force - between September 2014 and June 2015. A review of this pilot project was published in September 2015.

CARE aims to provide a comprehensive treatment service for adults over 18 years presenting with a full range of alcohol related problems, to include brief intervention, information and education, one-to-one key working and motivational group programmes.

It is essential to have a public health policy response which seeks to reduce the number of people engaged in the harmful use of alcohol. The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill contains a package of measures aimed at reducing alcohol consumption in Ireland to 9.1 litres per person per annum - the OECD average in 2012 - by 2020, and to reduce the harm associated with alcohol.

The Bill, along with other measures, will bring about a cultural shift in how we view and consume alcohol. As a consequence, we will see an improvement in both the physical and mental health well-being in the population. The Bill commenced Committee Stage in the Seanad on 26 October 2016, and will resume in this session of the Oireachtas.

Bang on time. I thank the Minister of State. There are two minutes to conclude for Deputy Rock.

First, it is rather impressive that the Minister of State managed to land it bang on time. She must have rehearsed the timeline for that speech.

The Deputy got a positive answer.

I thank the Minister of State for her sustained and consistent commitment to this work. Since she was appointed as a junior Minister she has given this sustained focus. It also speaks positively for the Government's priorities that she has done so.

In terms of the answer itself, it is very positive. I would be glad to report that back to FAST.

I would appreciate if the Minister of State might be able to follow up in the future with a few practicalities in relation to the recruitment dates and when this service will be on-stream. That would be helpful and beneficial.

Specifically on FAST, the reply addresses my question. Also in the broader sense we can see a lot of the work the Minister of State and the Department are doing and that they are working with different agencies to achieve. I am grateful for that.

I very much welcome the answer and I thank the Minister of State.

I certainly will follow up on the recruitment dates and any other information the Deputy thinks might be necessary to move staff into place. I will do that as soon as tomorrow.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stát agus leis an Teachta. I can see they are two very happy Deputies.

Deputy Rock is elated.

I hope Deputy Ó Broin has as much happiness.

I am not so sure I can sustain this level of happiness.

Occupational Therapy

I hope the Minister of State pleases me as much as she did her party colleague.

I do not know about pleasing.

There are 130 families in my constituency in the South Dublin County Council area who urgently need adaptations to their local authority properties. These are tenants who, either because of physical disabilities or because of accident and injury, desperately need stair lifts, walk-in showers or home extensions. They need these through the local authority disability and mobility adaptations grant scheme. The problem is their grants cannot be processed because the HSE, in the relevant community care area, does not have the necessary occupational therapy staff to provide the reports.

What is particularly galling for those in my constituency in Clondalkin and Lucan is that across the Naas Road in the neighbouring HSE community care area, which is also in the same local authority, the HSE has the staff to progress the adaptations. A resident of Clondalkin today cannot have his or her application progressed whereas a resident in Tallaght can have his or hers progressed. That is causing a particular problem.

This is not a new issue. This difficulty has been ongoing since 2015. I was on South Dublin County Council at the time and we raised it with the HSE locally. We raised it with the local authority management. There had been ongoing negotiations between the HSE and the heads of service in South Dublin County Council to try and get this issue resolved.

In some cases, we are talking about families who have not been able to have their application progressed for as many as 24 months. One woman, for example, has a stair lift that is no longer functioning and is in urgent need of that repair, and she has not been able to progress that application for almost two years.

Another family have had shower works completed upstairs but urgently need a stair lift to allow the family member access those adaptations. However, they cannot have that progressed. Not only had I raised the issue when I was on the council but I had asked my party colleague, Deputy Mary Lou McDonald, to raise it with the Minister in the previous Government as far back as 2015.

More recently, South Dublin County Council, to try to progress the matter, offered to pay half the cost of these occupational therapy, OT, reports on an interim basis until such time as the Health Service Executive, HSE, was able to recruit staff. While the HSE has given some indication that it might be willing to deal with that, the reality is that the 130 families who desperately need these adaptations still have not got their cases progressed.

Does the Minister believe it is acceptable that, depending on where they live, a family can have an urgent adaptation grant progressed, that is, somebody in Tallaght, while somebody literally across the road in Clondalkin cannot? Does she not accept that, effectively, this is a geographical discrimination that does not just affect constituents in Dublin Mid-West but in other HSE service areas?

The most important question is what the Minister and the Department intend to do. How will they ensure that the relevant HSE community care organisation, area 7, has the staff it needs to progress these cases as a matter of urgency? What assurances can the Minister of State give to the families, some of whom will be watching these proceedings this evening, that she is doing everything in her power to ensure they will not have to wait any longer before the OT reports are available and their applications can be progressed?

We hope the Minister has some good news.

I will try my best. I am taking this Topical Issue on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, who unfortunately cannot be here this evening.

A Programme for a Partnership Government commits to a decisive shift within the health service towards primary care in order to deliver better care close to home in communities across the country. Community occupational therapy is a key component of a multidisciplinary primary care service and can play a significant part in supporting people to remain living in their own homes and communities.

Occupational therapy has, as one of its core values, the principle of enabling people to remain in their own homes and communities. For this reason, services are often provided in the client’s own home and advice and assistance is given in regard to minor house adaptations to allow the client greater independence and support in their own homes.

With regard to the particular issue raised by the Deputy, the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, has been advised by the HSE that the provision of occupational therapy housing adaptation reports to councils in community healthcare organisation, CHO, area 7 is not standard. Currently, reports are provided in Dublin south west and Dublin south city but not in Dublin west or in Kildare-west Wicklow.

To review the effectiveness of the service provided, I understand a review over a six-month period was undertaken by the HSE in Dublin south west. The results showed that only 44.4% of reports written by occupational therapists were submitted by clients to their local council and only seven, or 4.5%, of the 154 clients reviewed had work completed. Another finding was that where works were completed, they were not uniformly following the specifications of the reports. The HSE believed that this level of activity proved unsustainable, given the poor outcomes for clients.

To address the large increase in demand for the occupational therapy input and taking account of therapist resources, a recent meeting between personnel from primary care in CHO area 7 and the housing, social and community development units of South Dublin County Council had a successful outcome. Agreement was reached that the HSE will provide the staff resources to address the outstanding 126 reports with funded support from South Dublin County Council. Furthermore, the HSE and South Dublin County Council are in discussions to agree a more streamlined process in the future to ensure assessments are completed in respect of applicants who are most likely to proceed with the works.

The Deputy may be interested to know that an occupational therapy service improvement group has been established by the HSE. This joint primary care and social care project will include a detailed analysis of waiting times and resource deployment across the country. The group’s objective is to complete its work by March 2017. It will seek to make the services more responsive to people’s needs and also to put in place a standardised approach to the delivery of occupational therapy services across the country.

The group will agree revised models for primary care occupational therapy services to include development and agreement of care pathways, workforce planning and an implementation plan. These are priority actions in the HSE primary care operational plan for 2017. I will address some of the other issues the Deputy raised when I respond again.

I thank the Minister of State for the response. I have had all of that information for over a month, both in replies to parliamentary questions and from the HSE locally, so there is nothing new in what she said to me here today. It is very disappointing that the HSE has asked the Minister of State to present the results of the survey in the way in which it did. Not all surveys will be submitted to the local authority because the occupational therapist report is to determine whether somebody has an adaptation grant need. In some cases the occupational therapist's report will say they do not, therefore, a report will not be submitted where it is not supporting the requirement.

The other point I would make, and the Minister will know this well from her own local authority area, is that the waiting time once someone gets on the list for the adaptation grant can be two years. That is not the direct responsibility of the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, in her current role but the reason is because the local authority adaptation grants have been slashed in the past six years, something which the Minister of State would have supported in her support for Fine Gael's budgets over that period. There will be a small take-up within six months of receiving the OT's report but the idea that those two statistics suggest that this is not an appropriate use of HSE staff time is appalling when we consider the level of disability and limited mobility these people have in their own homes.

I presume the Minister of State will not be able to reply to my last question other than repeating what she has said but she said that resources will be provided. When will they be provided? When will the 130 families who urgently need occupational therapy reports have the occupational therapist in their house assessing the level of need? When will they have the reports that can be submitted to the council? Every month in which there is a delay in that resource being provided means a further delay before they start to join the queue of the local authority for the funding to provide the grant. Telling me something that I, and these families, knew months ago is of no use to me. I would like to know when the resources will be provided, when these families will get the reports and when will they finally get the adaptations they so urgently need.

I cannot remember the question the Deputy asked at the start but my answer would be "No". He spoke about the difference between people living in Tallaght and Clondalkin in terms of the length of time it takes for them to be assessed by occupational therapists. I will not disagree with the Deputy because I am dealing with that problem in my own constituency where people have to wait a long time. As the Deputy said, that is because there are not enough staff members to quickly process the applications.

I do not have an answer to the question as to when the 130 reports from the occupational therapists will be seen to but the Deputy should have no doubt that I will come back to him on that because I also want to know the answer. The reply from the Minister of State, who unfortunately could not be present, indicates clearly that the occupational therapy service improvement group has been established by the HSE. It is all very well establishing a group and to have a paper on that but the people the Deputy, me and every Deputy in this House look after want to be assured that if somebody is in need of a chair lift, an adaptation to their bathroom or anything else that it will be done in a speedy manner.

The Deputy is right to a certain extent but he is not always right. A good deal of money has been put into providing adaptations to people's bathrooms but the difficulty is that when people submit the applications sometimes they have not completed the forms properly. I know from talking to people in South Dublin County Council and Dublin City Council that there is a need for people to include all the information sought to make sure they can be dealt with.

I will give the Deputy a typical example. Two weeks ago, a lady from Inchicore, where I live, came to see me. She applied for a grant for her bathroom to be adapted. She is an old age pensioner who lives on her own. By last Monday she had confirmation from Dublin City Council that her application was approved and that the work would go ahead. I am not saying that is happening everywhere and I would not disagree with what the Deputy said but I will make sure that the Minister of State or I will come back to the Deputy with the specific answer to the question he asked.

Commercial Rates Valuation Process

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this issue for debate. The revaluation process has finished in counties Longford and Westmeath and caused huge anxiety and stress to many businesses. I acknowledge the good work done by various chambers of commerce, including those in Longford, Mullingar and Athlone, and town teams which organised public information evenings following the revaluation process and arranged for officials from the Valuation Office to visit and speak to concerned businesses.

Recently, the Commissioner of Valuation revalued properties owned by public utility companies such as Electric Ireland, An Post and Eir for the purpose of paying commercial rates in each local authority area. It beggars belief that the local rates of these semi-State companies will be substantially reduced on the basis of the commissioner's decision to revalue their properties, while, at the same time, a yawning €21 million deficit is being left in the budgets of local authorities. It is clear that the current system of valuation discriminates against small businesses. I will share with the House correspondence I received from Moate Action Group on the implementation of the Valuation Act 2001. It states the town has suffered badly since the beginning of the recession and lists closures which have taken place, including of seven shops, a bank, a restaurant, two solicitor practices, a post office, a bookies, a major hardware store and a steelworks plant. On the positive side, three premises have opened, including a bike shop, a barbers and a computer shop.

Moate Action Group was established to fight back against the recession, but it finds it dispiriting that the work it has done in the past two years is being hampered by Government diktat from Dublin. It also states the fight for rural regeneration is not easy and that the previous general election should have been a wake-up call for the Government and rural Deputies. The town renewal scheme is welcome, but the rate revision has the potential to forestall any recovery. A local businessman recently asked me why there was a focus on rates. The issue does not affect only Moate. The rates bill for a GP surgery in Longford increased from €750 to €1,500. The rates bills of a drapery store in Granard increased from €2,766 to €4,620. The rates bill of another smaller shop increased from €500 to €1,270. The rates bill of a pub in Ballymore increased from €800 to €4,200. The rates bill of a shop in Castletown Geoghegan increased from €800 to €2,600. I could go on and identify more shops throughout the constituency. This came out the very same week the action plan for rural Ireland was launched. People ask me how we can speak about an action plan for rural Ireland when these exorbitant costs are being placed on businesses which have been fighting so hard for the past six or seven years to try to stay afloat.

I acknowledge the line in the revitalising rural Ireland plan that there is specific action being taken to determine the feasibility of enabling local authorities to introduce rates and alleviation schemes to support rural development policy. I have asked the Department to develop proposals in this regard for inclusion in the general scheme of the rates Bill. The programme for Government states with regard to commercial rates that the Government will implement the Valuation Act which was designed to speed up the cumbersome revaluation process, that it will closely monitor its effectiveness and introduce further measures if it does not see sufficient improvement. When can we expect to see these improvements? I acknowledge that the Government has committed to reassessing how rates are charged to businesses, but in the meantime they are being crippled. While the process of revaluation is ongoing, will the Government introduce an ability to pay clause in order that some businesses can come forward with verified documentary evidence such as certified accounts or tax returns because they simply do not have the money to pay? All I am looking for is a reprieve for these businesses while the Government follows through on its commitment in the programme for Government and that given at the recent launch in Ballymahon.

On behalf of the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I should point out that the Valuation Office came within the aegis of the Department of Justice and Equality with effect from 1 January 2016. Under the Valuation Acts 2001 to 2015, the Commissioner of Valuation who is independent in carrying out his functions has sole responsibility for the maintenance of valuation lists for all commercial properties in the State which are used by all local authorities in the calculation of rates. The Minister for Justice and Equality has no role in that regard.

Under Irish law, there is a distinct separation of functions between the valuation of rateable property and the setting and collection of commercial rates. The amount in rates payable by a ratepayer in any year is a product of the valuation set by the Commissioner of Valuation, multiplied by the annual rate of valuation decided annually by the elected members of each local authority. Having a modern valuation base which reflects contemporary market conditions is important for the levying of commercial rates on a fair and equitable basis across all economic sectors. This has been the policy of successive Governments for many years and is the express purpose of the national revaluation programme being rolled out by the Valuation Office on an accelerated basis under the direction of the Commissioner for Valuation. This is the first revaluation of all rating authority areas in more than 150 years. The revaluation provisions in the Valuation Acts 2001 to 2015 provide for the revaluation of all rateable property within a rating authority area so as to reflect changes in value due to economic factors, differential movements in property values or other external factors such as infrastructural changes in the vicinity of a property and changes in the local business environment.

As the Deputy will be aware, a revaluation is a revenue neutral exercise from a local authority perspective. I am advised that the general outcome of the revaluations conducted to date has been that approximately 60% of ratepayers have had their liability for rates reduced following a revaluation and that approximately 40% have had an increase, a pattern which is expected to be replicated elsewhere as the programme advances. The current phase of the national revaluation programme is known as REVAL 2017 and covers the revaluation of all rateable properties in counties Longford, Leitrim, Roscommon, Westmeath, Offaly, Kildare, Sligo, Carlow and Kilkenny, where a revaluation is being undertaken for the first time since the 19th century. The current phase also includes the second revaluation of the South Dublin County Council area. The revaluation in all of these counties will be completed in September and become effective for rating purposes from 2018 onwards. The next phase of the programme covering a further batch of local authority areas yet to be decided will begin immediately thereafter.

The Valuation Acts expressly require the Valuation Office to produce valuations that are correct, equitable and uniform. An extensive system of redress is available to ratepayers dissatisfied with a proposed valuation. A dissatisfied person can make representations to the Valuation Office within 40 days of the date of issue of the proposed valuation certificate. The Valuation Office will consider the representations and may or may not change the proposed valuation, depending on the circumstances of each individual property. Ratepayers who are still dissatisfied can lodge a formal appeal to the Valuation Tribunal, an independent statutory body established to hear appeals against decisions of the Commissioner of Valuation.

To be fair, the Minister of State is right as an appeals process is under way. She stated 60% of ratepayers had not seen an increase, but 40% did. Some saw an increase of anything up to 400% and they simply do not have the money to pay as their businesses are struggling. I listed a selection of examples of such businesses stretched across the constituency of Longford-Westmeath. The programme for Government includes a commitment that the process will be accelerated. I acknowledge that it has been, but the programme also includes a commitment that its effectiveness will be monitored. As I stated, 40% of businesses have seen substantial increases in their commercial rates bill and they simply cannot afford to pay. A commitment was given by the Government at the recent launch of the revitalising rural Ireland plan in Ballymahon. Will the Minister of State commit to examine the introduction of a new fairer and more equitable system? Will she tell me when will it be introduced? When will we have new legislation in place?

The Minister has been on a local authority, as I have, and she knows that they are restricted by national legislation in what they can do. We need new national legislation that will bring in a fairer, more equitable system that takes account of a person's ability to pay, the turnover and profitability of a business etc. When will new legislation be brought before the Dáil so that all Members can have an opportunity to have an input into it?

I understand that it is not proper to the Minister of State's Department but will she ask the relevant Minister to look at introducing an ability to pay clause in the current legislation as a temporary measure? I am not asking for a free-for-all but a clause for those who show, by documentary evidence such as certified accounts or tax returns, that they do not have the ability to pay. We want to keep rural Ireland open and one of its biggest problems currently is the high cost of commercial rates.

I do not have the specific answers to the Deputy's questions but I will inform the Minister in question and ask him to get back to the Deputy. This is the first national re-evaluation to take place in over 150 years so it is important that the process is completed as soon as possible. A number of small businesses in my constituency have seen rates go up by €3,000 or €4,000 and I understand the points the Deputy is making. I will make sure he gets an answer in the next couple of days.