Topical Issue Debate

Mental Health Services Provision

I recently attended a protest outside the department of psychiatry, St. Luke's General Hospital, Kilkenny, with members of the Psychiatric Nurses Association. They were protesting about the quality of care that they are able to give to patients in that facility. I have visited patients at this facility for a long time but it has not been updated. It requires significant capital expenditure and investment in staff.

Staff are put to the pin of their collar. It is unfair to staff and to patients that the current situation would be allowed to continue. Yesterday, there were 51 patients in a 44-bed unit. Patients were being admitted to sit on chairs on which they were asked to stay and sleep while waiting for a psychiatric service, and that is not good enough. The staff attended that protest in their own time. They did not vacate the wards. They came in from their lunch breaks to highlight what they see as being an unfair system and very poor care for the patient.

Some of those there for the long term are in an inappropriate setting. They are waiting for placement elsewhere. People cannot get counselling services. Some patients are being told they will have to wait for three to six months before they are seen. If one is in a community setting outside the hospital, the same waiting list prevails. How can one tell someone who is in a crisis regarding mental health that he or she will have to wait for three to six months? There are volunteer organisations on the ground, such as Taxi Watch founded by Derek Devoy. It monitors those who may be on the verge of suicide and brings them to the attention of relevant services. What can the services do when they are underfunded, understaffed and under pressure in the department of psychiatry? I am not saying that for political purposes. Those central to delivering the care are saying it. The HSE is referring patients who are looking for counselling services to Teac Tom, a voluntary organisation in Kilkenny city. It provides immediate, on-the-spot counselling services but the HSE refuses to pay for the service because it believes it is referring the individual to a service that is run on a voluntary basis. How can that be? How can the Minister of State allow that to continue? I stood on that picket line with a friend of mine, a councillor, Joe Malone, who is associated with the care of those who need care for their mental health and well-being.

What will the Minister of State do to provide capital expenditure and the needed staffing requirements? What plans are there to extend the department of psychiatry? When will an extension or refurbishment of that centre be provided for? This has gone on for a long time and someone has to cry stop before we have another death by suicide. It is that critical. I invite the Minister of State to visit the service, to visit Teac Tom and to talk to Derek Devoy in the other service, and to see first-hand what is going on in the department of psychiatry. We also need investment in the management of that service. It is deplorable that the managers of a service cannot see the issues confronting their staff and that the management is not planning ahead for the numbers attending the service and the staffing levels required. I draw the Minister of State's attention to the fact that the same circumstances prevail with the Waterford services.

I thank Deputy McGuinness for raising this important question. I know from his work in Kilkenny that he cares passionately about mental health services. Carlow-Kilkenny mental health services focus on delivering a broad range of primary and community-based services as well as specialised services for children, adults and older people. These services are provided in a number of different settings, including the individual's own home, inpatient facilities, outpatient clinics, acute day services, day hospitals and day centres, and high, medium and low support community accommodation.

The 44-bed department of psychiatry based in St. Luke's General Hospital, Kilkenny, is the designated approved centre for acute inpatient services in the area of Carlow, Kilkenny and south Tipperary. This enables all acute inpatient admissions to be managed at a single site. Referrals to the department of psychiatry are through a consultant psychiatrist who makes the clinical decision to admit based on the level of acute presentation or need. I am pleased to say that I am informed by the HSE that there are no waiting lists for admission to the acute inpatient service. The HSE acknowledges that at times there can be issues of over-capacity at the department of psychiatry, which I take the Deputy's point about. When this occurs, all additional controls relating to risk management are applied. This includes ensuring that staffing levels are at an appropriate level. Regarding staffing, a number of posts are with the national recruitment service to be filled and are currently being filled in a temporary capacity.

In addition to the department of psychiatry, a dedicated psychiatric liaison team operates from the emergency department in St. Luke’s General Hospital. All service users presenting to the emergency department who require psychiatric assessment will receive that assessment within agreed timeframes in line with the relevant department of psychiatry or emergency department guidelines. Onward referral pathways are agreed with all service users upon completion of a psychiatric assessment in the emergency department. Pathways can include admission to an acute unit, referral to a relevant community mental health service team or referral back to a person's own general practitioner.

In line with A Vision for Change and Mental Health Commission recommendations, there have been significant developments in the area of community mental health services. The comprehensive development of community mental health teams has brought together key professionals to provide a wide range of mental health interventions on a multidisciplinary basis to service users in the community. This approach is based on assessment of a person's needs. The HSE has assured me that any waiting times for community mental health teams are in line with the national key performance indicator requirements. In addition, the development of the home-based services teams in Carlow and Kilkenny has ensured the delivery of a service that facilitates recovery in the service user's own home environment.

I am glad to have the opportunity to share with the Deputy the continuing steps being taken to improve mental health services in this area. The Carlow-Kilkenny mental health service is engaging in the reform programme to realign services to primary care networks in line with national policy. The aim is to facilitate integration of services and to seek to provide a seamless service to service users. In addition, there is a significant focus on the involvement of the service user in the management of his or her illness, through initiatives such as involvement centres and a recovery college. I hope this information has addressed the issues raised by the Deputy to his satisfaction. I will report back on the other issues he has raised with me to the Minister, Deputy Simon Harris.

That is not good enough. The Minister of State has not addressed any of the issues. As I said to him, there are 44 beds and 51 patients. How can the Minister of State tell me that is good health care, whether for mental health or otherwise? How can he say to a family waiting for a counsellor for three to six months that is satisfactory? I respect that the note the Minister of State read was probably given to him by the HSE. It is a load of nonsense. It is not true. The Psychiatric Nurses Association of Ireland went out on a picket line - its members went out on a protest march. They did not do that for fun. The reply the Minister of State has given does not answer the questions. It is very unfair to put that ráiméis on the record of this House without addressing the real trauma that affects the families of those who are patients in the department of psychiatry in St. Luke's General Hospital in Kilkenny. I ask the Minister of State to come and see it for himself. He should visit it and see the capital expenditure that is needed. It is obvious. Will he please explain to me why the HSE can outsource its counselling service to a voluntary organisation and not pay for it? It is reprehensible that our Government would stand by and watch what is going on in the south east and in the department of psychiatry in St. Luke's General Hospital and not do something about it. It is unacceptable that the management would not acknowledge the fact that it is not delivering the services, that there are inappropriately placed people in the department of psychiatry and that young people and others are asked to come in as patients and take their place on a chair and sleep there.

Mental health issues are not the same as a broken leg; they mean a broken life. We are putting people's lives at risk if we do not accept the fact that our services are falling down around us and we are not prepared to acknowledge it. It is not just that the Minister of State is not prepared to do so. The HSE and the Department are also not prepared to do so because they wrote the briefing note for him. They have, therefore, told a story that is absolutely misleading. The Minister of State should meet union representatives and talk to them about this. He should visit the hospital and at least acknowledge the fact that something has to be done. People who are suffering from mental health issues and poor well-being are in a situation where services cannot cope with what is happening. I ask for a better response and that the HSE be forced to acknowledge what is happening on the ground.

I said I would convey the issues raised by Deputy McGuinness to the Minister. The Deputy made critical points about the current situation being unfair to the staff and the patients. It is unacceptable for people to have to sit on chairs. He also mentioned the fundamental question of capital expenditure on the refurbishment of the centre. In Kilkenny, there is significant focus on meaningful involvement of the service users in the management of their illnesses with the development of recovery-focused services. Six actions are being undertaken: the development of involvement centres, which are peer-led support services located in Carlow and Kilkenny; the development of a recovery college that delivers programmes for people who have lived experience in mental health; the delivery of wellness recovery action planning, WRAP, which is a programme to help people to manage their mental health; a class programme that supports service users and their relatives; projects, which focus on recovery from mental ill-health; and service user forums, which facilitate service users to feed back on service delivery and development of service initiatives.

I take the Deputy's point about major problems emerging. It is important that Ministers see what is happening first hand and that they engage with psychiatric nurses. I am very much open to that. It is also important to acknowledge that, in budget 2018, an additional €35 million has been allocated to develop mental health services and that the Minister has also committed an additional €55 million in funding in 2019, delivering a total of €105 million in additional funding for the implementation of A Vision for Change over the three-year period 2017 to 2019. I want to see exactly where the money is going. I take the Deputy's point that if issues are raised in Kilkenny they have to be dealt with in a comprehensive way and I will bring that message back to the Minister.

Medicinal Products Availability

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this issue. Those living with phenylketonuria, PKU, have been engaged in a protracted campaign to get access to the drug, Kuvan. Over the past eight years, access to Kuvan has been assessed and rejected by the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics, NCPE, on two occasions, namely, in 2009 and 2017. That process is questionable when it comes to orphan drug assessments. A review into all orphan drugs is under way and that should be welcomed by all parties in the House. Even though Kuvan is readily available in most European countries, it is not available for those living with PKU in Ireland. The drug has the potential to transform a person living with PKU. The irony, incredibly, is that the drug is made in Cork and that Ireland has the highest rate of PKU, a genetic condition, in the world. I understand a decision will be made on provision of the drug soon. Hopefully, the Minister of State will have good news and there will be a positive outcome for those living with PKU.

The issue of orphan drugs has been raised a few times since I became a Member. The people requiring them have rare diseases and they cannot access certain drugs. There is clinical evidence but there is also the issue of a price being put on these conditions and on people's lives. The Minister of State will probably agree that is completely unacceptable in society. Hopefully, he will have good news and those living with PKU will get the good news this week to the effect that they can access this drug.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue and for his work since he became a Member on alternative medicines. I also thank him for having an open mind, as there have been many times when I have strongly agreed with him. I commend him on pushing this agenda.

Securing access to new and innovative medicines in a timely manner is a key objective of the Minister and the HSE. That is why the Department of Health has put in place a robust legal framework under the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Act 2013, which gives full statutory powers to the HSE to assess and make decisions on the reimbursement of medicines, taking account of expert opinion as appropriate. The Act specifics the criteria to be applied in the making of reimbursement decisions, which include the clinical and cost-effectiveness of the product, the opportunity cost and the impact on resources that are available to the HSE. In reaching its decision, the HSE will examine all the relevant evidence and will take into account such expert opinions and recommendations that are appropriate, including from the NCPE. This ensures that reimbursement decisions will be made on objective scientific and economic grounds. Medicines represents one of the largest areas of expenditure across the health service and is expected to increase again in the years ahead. That is why the challenge is ensuring access to new and innovative medicines in an affordable and sustainable way.

Kuvan was first assessed in 2009 under the national pricing and reimbursement process at that time. However, it was concluded that insufficient evidence was available to support the pricing and reimbursement application submitted by the then promoter, Merck Serono. In December 2015, Merck Serono advised the HSE that the market authorisation for Kuvan was to be transferred to BioMarin in 2016. The HSE met the new market authorisation holder in May 2016 and was advised that the company would be submitting a new pricing and reimbursement application relating to this medicine. The new application was assessed by the NCPE in September 2017 and, in its report to the HSE, it did not recommend Kuvan for reimbursement because it was not deemed cost-effective. However, I would like to make it clear that the HSE leadership, which is the ultimate decision-making authority on reimbursement decisions, has yet to make a decision on the new pricing and reimbursement application submitted by BioMarin. The HSE met the company recently to discuss the report from the NCPE and to explore commercial options. The Department of Health has been advised that the HSE drugs group and the HSE leadership are expected to consider all relevant information, including any commercially confidential offering during the first quarter of 2018.

All Members received an email from the PKU Association of Ireland earlier. The association does amazing work for those living with the condition. I had no knowledge of PKU until a few months ago. It has been enlightening and educational to find out about the condition and how it can be treated. All members received the email and the PKU community is hoping that there will be a positive outcome on Thursday.

I know the Minister of State said the ultimate decision is for the HSE but I hope there can finally be some good news for those living with PKU in Ireland.

The Deputy is right that the decision is expected very soon. According to the memo I received from the HSE, it will be in the first quarter of 2018, and while I hear that it could be in the next couple of days, that will be announced independently. It is very important that the HSE is the decision-making body on the reimbursement of medicines under the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Act 2013. It is the HSE, and the HSE alone, which will make the final decision on whether Kuvan will be reimbursed, taking into consideration the statutory criteria as specified under the 2013 Act. This Act does not give the Minister for Health any powers in the reimbursement process. The HSE does not require approval or consent from the Minister or the Government when it is making a reimbursement decision.

Schools Building Projects Status

Ar an gcéad dul síos ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Aire Stáit as ucht a bheith anseo anocht chun an rún seo a fhreagairt. Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil chomh maith leis an mbord bainistíochta – na tuismitheoirí, na múinteoirí agus le foireann uilig na gaelscoile i gCluain Meala as ucht an tsár-oibre atá déanta acu le 23 mbliana anuas. Bunaíodh an Ghaelscoil i gCluain Meala in 1994 agus fuair an scoil aitheantas sealadach ansin. In 1996 fuair an Ghaelscoil aitheantas buan.

Gaelscoil Chluain Meala was founded in 1994 and received provisional approval in that year. Two years later, in 1996, it was granted permanent recognition by the Department but today, 23 years later, there is huge frustration in the school community because of the huge delay in progressing the building of a new school for Gaelscoil Chluain Meala. Progress has been tortuously slow over those years. The school is currently accommodated in an 1830 building which was used in more recent times by South Tipperary County Council as part of its engineering and stores offices; indeed, I worked there myself when I worked with South Tipperary County Council in both the stores section and the planning section. As it is very old, the building is totally unsuitable and not fit for purpose. Classrooms are overcrowded, playground space is extremely limited and toilet facilities are inadequate. There are no parking facilities and the building is damp and difficult to heat, with poor ventilation - the list goes on.

When the school was established in that building, it was thought that in a short number of years the school would be located in a new building but, as I said, progress has been tortuously slow. The school started with 45 pupils and two teachers whereas it now has 210 pupils and 11 teachers. It has been promised on a number of occasions that construction would start. For example, in November 2015 it was indicated that it was in the programme and that construction would commence in 2017 but that has not happened. The current situation, as I said, is that there are 210 students, 11 teachers, support staff, clerical staff, cleaning staff and caretaking staff in the school, as well as a naíonra. It is long past time that this school would be given approval and that construction would commence. We are aware the capital programme will be announced in the coming weeks. The school is asking for confirmation that the new school building will be funded in that capital programme and that construction will commence in 2018, as is urgently needed.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline to the Dáil the current position in regard to the major building project for Gaelscoil Chluain Meala. The major building project for this school is at an advanced stage of architectural planning, stage 2b - that is, the detailed design stage - which includes securing the statutory approvals, such as planning permission, fire certificate and disability access certificate, and the preparation of tender documents. These have all been completed and the design team has submitted written confirmation that it is satisfied that the tender documents are complete, correct and in compliance with the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014 and Department of Education and Skills tender documentation requirements. This project is included on the six-year programme announced on 17 November 2015 to go to tender and construction.

Gaelscoil Chluain Meala is a co-educational school. The project brief is for the refurbishment and renovation of the existing primary school, which is a protected structure. It is to include eight classrooms, shared spaces, library, ancillary accommodation and staff parking. The project comprises repairs to the existing building and the construction of a new eight-classroom extension, including a general purpose room and ancillary accommodation.

The Deputy will be aware of the funding pressures on the capital programme and the need to focus limited funding on the provision of additional school places to cater for demographic demands. The Department's overall capital allocation for 2017 was €693 million, of which €531 million was expended on the schools capital programme. This included completion of 46 major school building projects, along with expenditure on smaller additional accommodation projects, emergency and summer works, site acquisitions and the payment of a minor maintenance grant to all primary schools. The Department is currently reviewing its programme for capital expenditure in 2018 and into 2019. Building projects, including the project for Gaelscoil Chluain Meala, will be considered in that context. Officials from the Department will shortly be in contact with the school regarding a timeframe for progression of this project.

I thank the Minister of State for her response, although we were aware of most of the points made. This has been a long-delayed project. I again ask the Minister of State to ensure the project is in the capital programme to be announced shortly and that it is funded for construction to commence in this year. It has been a long and tortuous process over the last 23 years. It had been expected to be five or six, or even ten, years but to be 23 years down the road without the commencement of the project is simply unacceptable. I hope the funding will be made available and that the project will be commenced this year.

In a reply to a parliamentary question that I asked last November, the Minister stated that he was awaiting documentation from the school. I wish to confirm that all that documentation is now with the Department and that nothing further is awaited from the school.

This has been a long and tortuous process. The school community at Gaelscoil Chluain Meala looks forward to the approval of funding under the capital programme in the next three to four weeks so that building can commence in 2018.

I thank the Deputy. I have taken a note and will ensure that the Minister and the officials in the building unit hear about this tomorrow.

GLAS Payments

The delay of green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, payments because of IT payments has been a debacle. According to my numbers, 500 people are still awaiting payment in Kerry, accounting for approximately €2.5 million. Since he comes from this background, the Minister of State will be conscious of how important this money is for low-income earners within the farming community. Many of the farmers awaiting payment have large overheads. Some have been unable to meet their bank loans. Others have had to borrow because their children are attending third level education. They have outstanding bills from co-ops for fertiliser and so on.

Nationally, thousands have had their payments delayed because of the problem with the online application system. This has been ongoing for three years and is not getting any better. In fact, it is getting worse. There seems to be no end or solution in sight. In the west, commonage management plans had to be drawn up before 31 October. Due to a problem with the digital process, many farmers - shareholders in commonages in particular - have been unable to make their online applications.

When can the 500 people in question expect to be paid and, from a national perspective, how does the Minister of State hope to deal with this ongoing problem with online applications?

Before I begin, I wish to acknowledge Deputy Ferris's tireless work as his party's spokesperson on agriculture. In particular, the work he has done on behalf of fishermen in Kerry throughout his career in politics has been second to none.

I have followed the Minister of State's career. He is a practical, sensible and down-to-earth man. I want a simple answer from him. Last year, IT problems held up GLAS payments. We told farmers that they had done everything right but that the Department had IT problems. There were IT problems the year before last as well. My office has been in Agriculture House for many years and I 100% respect the staff working there. They are second to none. However, I do not understand what "IT problems" means. If I am a small hill farmer or someone who is struggling and relying on my cheque to come in the post, I want to know what a bloody "IT problem" is. Will the Minister of State tell us so that we can go home to Kerry and tell the farmers that Deputy Ferris and I are referring to what the problem is and that the Department will solve it?

It is not fair. Each of us gets paid every month, week or so on, but these people rely on that payment. They want it and are relying on us to come to Dáil Éireann to fight for them. I am not blaming the Minister of State. I am only asking him to explain what these IT problems are. If the farmer has done everything right and all his or her documentation is right, what is the IT problem? These farmers need their money. They have to pay contractors from last year. They must pay for silage. A farmer cannot buy straw anymore. A round bale of silage is beating €30 and is difficult to find. Will the Minister of State please help us and give us the answer?

I thank the Deputies for raising this matter, which gives me an opportunity to set out the current position regarding GLAS payments. I have just come from the Irish Farm Centre-----

The IFA might help the Minister of State out.

-----where I attended the IFA's AGM for a questions and answers session with the Minister, Deputy Creed, who would normally take this Topical Issue debate. This question, among others, was raised. I had to return and deputise while the Minister and the Taoiseach joined the IFA great and good for dinner.

The Minister of State might give more answers than he would. The Minister of State knows more about it.

I am here to answer for everyone.

I am pleased with the level of payments made in the past three months. Almost €1.7 billion has issued to farmers in that time, which is the highest amount ever paid. Indeed, Ireland leads other member states in terms of our implementation of the rural development programme and has the second highest drawdown rate of EU funds.

GLAS is the most popular scheme ever run under a rural development programme in Ireland. The original target of 50,000 participants was surpassed well ahead of the target date, such is the popularity of the scheme. Given that the first approvals under the scheme run from 1 October 2015, it is a remarkable achievement to have exceeded this target within a period of 15 months.

GLAS has a maximum annual payment of €5,000 under the general scheme with provision for a payment of up to €7,000, known as GLAS+, where the farmer is required to give exceptional environmental commitments in a limited number of cases. Last year, we paid out almost €200 million under GLAS and have continued payments each week into the new year.

Like previous agri-environment schemes, GLAS supports participants in improving their agricultural productivity and practices in a sustainable manner. The scheme delivers overarching benefits to the rural environment and addresses the issues of the mitigation of the impacts of climate change, the enhancement of biodiversity and the improvement of water quality. It provides valuable support to participants who deliver public goods and environmental benefits that enhance the sustainability credentials of Irish agriculture.

The scheme is co-funded by the national Exchequer and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, EAFRD. As required under EU regulation, two payments issue in respect of each year, these being, the advance payment followed at a later stage by a balancing payment. In 2016 and again in 2017, the advance payment represented 85% of the annual payment with the balancing payment being 15%. In 2017, advance payments commenced on schedule in November and continue to be made on an ongoing basis as tranches of cases are cleared.

There are 49,700 active participants in GLAS. By the end of this week, more than 40,000 of these will have received their 2017 advance payments, valued at €161 million. This represents over 87% of farmers eligible for a 2017 advance payment.

In more than 3,000 of the outstanding cases, applicants remain ineligible for payment until they complete the steps that they must take before the Department can process their payments. There is nothing that we can do to advance these payments until the applicants complete their obligations. In most of these cases, this relates to outstanding documentation, which they must submit. As soon as this is received and assuming everything is in order, my Department will move immediately to issue payments.

The main issues include the need for advisers to submit farm nutrient management plans to the dedicated online system, commence commonage management plans in the case of participants with a commonage action and submit the required documentation in the case of the low-emission slurry spreading and rare breed actions.

To be clear, many of these payments are not delayed, as has been suggested. It is simply the case that it is not possible for the Department to make them.

Deputies Ferris and Michael Healy-Rae have one minute each.

It is hard to know who to believe here, to be quite honest. AgriLand.ie reports that the Department is arguing that the agricultural consultants, ACs, are being unfair to it, as are people like myself and Deputy Michael Healy-Rae, who raise these issues in the House in the interests of the people we represent, particularly the small farmers who are trying to survive on very marginal land. The ACs make it quite clear that they are not going to be the scapegoats. They say that payments for GLAS training days are being held up-----

I apologise, to whom is the Deputy referring?

The ACs, the agricultural consultants, who are the management plans people. They say that training days are required to be completed before the end of the year and if participating farmers missed the deadline of 31 December, then the 15% balancing payments will be withheld until the appropriate training is complete. The training is being carried out by the ACs but they are not being paid, the farmers are not being paid for attending the training days and a 15% deduction is being applied if training has not been completed by 31 December. Somebody is not telling us the truth.

Effectively, 500 farmers in our county have received nothing because of what the Department says is an error in the IT system. That has to be sorted out and it is up to the Minister and his Department to sort it. It is not up to Deputy Michael Healy-Rae and myself to sort it out. All we can do is raise the issue.

The reply is totally unacceptable but I am not blaming the Minister of State. He did not write it but whoever did does not have the first clue about agriculture. We know about the people who have not submitted their nutrient plans and about such cases but the people we are talking about are not in that category. The category of people we are talking about are those who are 100% compliant. The Department is saying they should be paid but that it cannot pay them because of an IT problem. I am not getting at the Minister of State but I ask him again to explain, on the record of the Dáil, the IT problem in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine at present because that problem is holding up payments. People at the other end of the phone in the Department are telling farmers that the Department cannot pay them because of an IT problem. We had this last year and the year before that. Where else can Deputy Ferris or I ask this question only in the House? I do not want to put the Minister of State to the pin of his collar about it but can he answer the question himself? Has anyone in his Department told him what the bloody IT problem is? He can imagine how frustrating it would be, were one in Glencar and seeking payment. They rely on us to come up here and demand answers. What is the IT problem?

To go back to the issue concerning the ACs raised by Deputy Ferris, I do not quite understand what that is about but I will try to find out. This is the first I have heard about trainers or participants on one-day training courses not being paid. They would normally get the cheque in the afternoon when they are leaving-----

The ACs have not been paid. Farmers are supposed to get €158 and the ACs are owed €80 per participant.

That is certainly something that needs to be looked into but I cannot answer the Deputy on it now.

The Department is incompetent.

I do not think it is fair to say that about the Department. We are the most efficient of all EU member states in drawing down money. The Deputy might not like to admit that but it is actually the case.

In terms of the IT problem, I must make it clear that there are now three GLAS schemes in operation. There is a myriad of options and permutations, which overwhelmed the IT system. A lot of effort has been made to try to improve the situation.

What about the farmers?

The Deputy can make flippant comments if he wishes but I am trying to answer the question that was put to me. This time last year, 27,300 farmers had been paid, which was only 72% of the active participants at that time. At the end of this week, 49,700 will have been paid, which is 87% of participants. Improvements have been made although I know that is cold comfort to the people who have been left behind. Deputy Healy-Rae, whose office is located in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, will acknowledge that people are working night and day to try to get all of the claims picked through and sorted out. Some of the applications have had to be done on an individual basis. When the pay button was hit but the applicants were not paid, the applications had to be manually re-examined, as far as I understand it. That is the nearest I can come to defining the IT issue.