I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, for coming to the House, hopefully to give me some answers.
Topical Issue Debate
I will do my best.
I have grave concerns about the proposal for a waste transfer station at the Poolboy area of Ballinasloe in respect of health and safety. Such a facility could see up to 100 heavy goods vehicles, HGVs, weighing up to 30 tonnes travelling through the town. This will bring increased dangers for cyclists, pedestrians and road users. I will go through some of the main points in the four minutes allotted to me.
I will begin with the question of safety. Safety of the community of Ballinasloe is of the utmost concern. Why is the executive on Galway County Council considering a facility that will involve hundreds of ten, 15 and 30-tonne multi-axle vehicles driving past an acute hospital with a catchment area of 100,000, a secondary school, health centres, built-up urban residential areas and playgrounds? The only available access is through the town. There is also a debate on diesel fumes, which could be another major issue.
The second concern is proximity, which is a major factor in health and environmental concerns. Why is this facility located less than 2 km from Ballinasloe town centre, which has a population of exactly 6,654 people as per the census of 2016? Why would this particular area be considered an appropriate location? It is the largest urban area outside of Galway city centre. Then there is the question which is puzzling most people. Why were another 73 acres purchased for the development of a refuse transfer station? That certainly puzzles a lot of the public in that region.
I will speak briefly about the planning permission. Planning permission for the facility has been approved within an area of Poolboy within the urban district council boundary to which a 1998 High Court order applies. Why did the executive of Galway County Council contravene the 1998 High Court order? The campaigners proposed a policy of a waste industry-free zone within 10 km of highly populated urban area at a meeting with the Minister on 17 January. What progress has been made on this policy, which would bring health benefits to the Irish population? There are several issues in respect of this matter. At present, the people of Ballinasloe are pushing for more industry in the town and I acknowledge things are happening there. The people in the hospital and in the community certainly do not want this facility at Poolboy.
In many respects, Ballinasloe could be thought of as a forgotten town. It has lost a huge amount of jobs but there is still a great sense of community. With more jobs, development and employment coming into the country, they are battling hard in that town and region to get more jobs. The town is on the motorway, 40 minutes from Galway city. Ballinasloe can certainly expand again after losing a couple of thousand jobs over several years.
I know that Deputy Doyle is not the Minister who has full responsibility for this matter and I thank him for appearing in the House to give me some answers. Where do matters stand concerning this transfer station? What is going to be done about the huge public opposition in that region? Several months ago I was at a public meeting that was attended by more than 600 people. It is a live issue. I will give the Minister of State an opportunity to reply, to see what good news he might have for me.
The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, unfortunately is out of the country and is unavailable to respond in person. I have been given his speaking notes and will try to respond to any other issues the Deputy may raise in my later reply.
I understand that Galway County Council has granted planning permission for a waste transfer station that will receive waste and recyclables. Within a building at the facility, these materials will be unloaded and reloaded to larger vehicles for onward transfer to their waste facilities. Issues pertaining to the planning policy and the legislation do not fall within the Minister's remit and are matters for my colleague, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy.
My understanding of the current situation is that the company involved has made an application to Galway County Council for a waste authorisation to infill the site in question. Galway County Council is considering the submissions it has received on that application. I also understand that a further waste authorisation to regulate the waste activity at the transfer station itself would be required in advance of this facility beginning to operate. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment is precluded under section 63 of the Waste Management Act 1996 from exercising any power or control over specific cases of a local authority's performance of its statutory functions under the Act. Furthermore, waste management planning, including infrastructure planning, is the responsibility of the local authorities under Part II of the Waste Management Act 1996.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, I understand that the Minister met members of the Poolboy community in January 2018 to discuss and tease out a number of issues around this matter. I fully appreciate that the community has concerns. However, the Minister's role in waste management is to provide a comprehensive legislative and policy framework through which the relevant regulatory bodies, such as local authorities and the Environmental Protection Agency, operate.
In this regard, should the company involved apply for a waste facility permit to operate a waste transfer station, it will be open to the public to make written submissions on that application. Galway County Council would then be required, under the Waste Management (Facility Permit and Registration) Regulations 2007, as amended, to have regard to such submissions in making a decision on any proposed application.
More generally, where a waste facility permit has been issued by a local authority, the person carrying on the waste activity must comply with the conditions of the permit, including that the activity is carried out in a manner which does not cause, and is not likely to cause, environmental pollution. In essence, I understand the local community has concerns about the proposed development but I would urge the community to continue to engage with the statutory processes in place which regulate such developments.
I acknowledge that my constituency colleague, the Minister, Deputy Naughten, is unavoidably absent today. I also acknowledge the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle's reply and thank him for coming to the House to deal with this issue.
In many respects Ballinasloe is the forgotten town of County Galway. It has suffered major economic setbacks in recent years but there is a great community spirt in the town. Huge efforts are being made at local level to attract investment and enterprise. Ballinasloe has, I am told, some €26 million worth of sports facilities, a strong school base, a fabulous new library and prime office space, and it could be an ideal commuter town based, as it is, between Athlone and Galway city. However, it needs a lot more funding, although that is a debate for another day.
From talking to people in the community and in industry there, I can tell the Minister of State that the fear of this transfer station being put on their doorstep, just 2 km from the town, is causing extraordinary upset and annoyance. I accept that, under the 1996 Act, the Minister is precluded from getting involved in certain aspects of this. However, we, as politicians, have to take responsibility. The people of Ballinasloe and other places elect us and they expect me and others, such as the Minister, Deputy Naughten, to find a solution to these issues. In my view, putting this transfer station on a 73 acre site on the edge of Ballinasloe town is wrong. The community is determined to fight back and to bring jobs back into the town but while there is huge community spirit, it can be knocked back by something like this happening out of the blue.
I refer back to the High Court judgment on the old dump, which had to be closed under order of the court. Now, we have this transfer station going across the road from where the dump was, which is another very serious legal issue. I want to know what monitoring is currently being done by the EPA on the gas emissions from the landfill which, as I said, is directly adjacent to the site that is now proposed for another dump. By the way, this is located very close to the River Suck. The Minister of State knows a fair bit about our rivers and lakes, and he will know there is serious flooding along the River Suck. Raising the land levels there will cause major flooding into the town of Ballinasloe.
I rest my case - I have made it as strong as I can. I am making it on behalf of the people of Ballinasloe. I hope I am not being over-dramatic about it because it is a very serious issue. I again thank the Minister of State for coming to the Chamber to answer questions on the issue.
The Deputy has certainly made the case very strongly on behalf of the people who have expressed concerns. I know Ballinasloe very well and I appreciate it has suffered from many issues, including bypasses, downturns in the economy and changes in employment structures. However, it is a town that is ideally placed to fight back, given its location.
To reiterate, the planning permission granted contains a condition that the development be limited to handling 23,400 tonnes per year or a new planning permission will be required. An environmental impact assessment is required for facilities which take in more than 25,000 tonnes. The current limiting factor under the planning permission is that level but there are also the other planning permissions that have to be considered. In addition, given an environment impact assessment will be required, the EPA will also have a role in this.
I do not have information on the issue of the EPA monitoring of the closed landfill. I suggest the Deputy writes to the EPA and the line Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to check whether the closed facility is subject to ongoing monitoring or at least to check its status.
There are statutory processes in place through both the local authority and the EPA. It is very important that, through the submissions process, local concerns are articulated and heard, and that clarity is given. I take the point that the size of the site is a cause of concern not just for what is already there, but in regard to what may be there in the future. That is something typical when we see an application like this come in.
As the Minister of State is aware, Storm Emma and the Beast from the East caused major grief and hassle all over the country last week. Much of the damage and grief was temporary and although it caused a lot of hassle at the time, people were left in their homes despite the damage to homes, the water shortages and the power cuts. Although it was very hard, it was temporary. However, the damage to farms and farming livelihoods is way more long term.
What systems have been put in place for farmers in Cork South-West and nationally who have experienced extreme losses as a result of the recent weather conditions, especially in circumstances where milk was not collected and buildings collapsed, resulting in the loss of animals in some instances? Over the course of the week, my office in Cork South-West has been inundated with constituents relaying instances of the difficult situations experienced by them during the recent weather conditions. In particular, members of the agricultural sector seem to have been very badly affected.
Farmers were already coming to terms with the fodder shortage and, in my opinion, the inadequate response from the Department by way of the fodder crisis fund, which only served to accelerate prices in an already strained situation. Now, on top of this, they face potential financial ruin as they count the cost of collapsed buildings, the inability to get milk delivered to creameries and, worst of all, the loss of cattle and sheep due to the extreme elements and unprecedented snowdrifts. I am advised that costs could run into tens of thousands of euro and, clearly, farmers could not have made allowance for this.
Amazingly, there is no recourse for farmers in circumstances of severe weather patterns. This is despite the Government refusing the option of including a scheme in Ireland's 2014-20 rural development programme which would have provided an opportunity to compensate farmers for losses to agricultural land and to production caused by bad weather. This was remiss of the Minister and it is a decision that has left many farmers without the option of an annual compensation scheme, particularly in circumstances where climate change is having a greater impact year on year. It goes without saying that an application for a permanent weather compensation scheme should be included in the next rural development programme submitted to Brussels. It would obviously not be retrospective and, therefore, of little significance and little help in the current situation experienced by west Cork farmers.
Given the Department has been running a huge underspend across a number of programmes, I call on the Minister, Deputy Creed, to give an undertaking to allocate some of this underspend to a dedicated compensation fund that farmers may access. This should be implemented immediately and compensation should be payable in a timely manner, without the need for arduous and convoluted paperwork. I am very fond of my farmers in west Cork. I am asking the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, to please put some compensation in place and to not make it hard to access, with lots of form-filling and toing and froing. My farmers need compensation and they need it now.
There is still 3 ft of snow outside my front door. Maybe we are a little more accustomed to it than others. A couple of my roofs are damaged. I appreciate the nature and extent of the damage.
Throughout the period of adverse weather conditions last week caused by Storm Emma, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine was directly involved in a co-ordinated response as a member of the National Emergency Co-ordination Group, NECG, convened by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, the lead Department in severe weather incidents. While the south and east of the country bore the brunt of the storm and its after effects, many other areas experienced disruptions to daily life and the business of farming to a greater or lesser degree. The storm proved particularly disruptive as farmers coped with challenging weather conditions alongside the normal busy workload of spring, calving, lambing and winter feeding. The key on-farm challenges revolved around preventing the freezing up of water supplies at a critical time for lactating animals, the provision of fodder and shelter to stock against the worst of the snowfall and dangerous conditions for farmyards and environs. Delayed turn-out of some stock is increasing the demand for fodder and accommodation. The targeted, localised scheme to provide a subsidy for long-distance transport of fodder is open and available to farmers affected by fodder shortages in the west and north west of the country.
Throughout this period and immediately afterwards, departmental staff, together with Teagasc, worked at local level to ensure that the farming community had access to the best advice on how to cope with the numerous issues thrown up by the storm. To support those in more immediate difficulties the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine emergency phone line for animal welfare issues remained open and attended at all times. All requests for support were responded to. I recognise the significant assistance the farming community provided within the wider community at this busy time as farmers looked in on neighbours, cleared roads and helped to restore access to more remote rural areas.
At sectoral level, the Department worked closely with all stakeholders and with industry to minimise disruption to critical activities, including milk collection services. I am happy to be able to report that all major issues were resolved in the shortest possible time thanks to the co-ordinated efforts of farmers, industry and departmental staff. As the storm abated and the sector slowly returned to normal, it became clear that the main problem centred on damage to horticulture and other on-farm structures. Such structures will principally be insured and it is important that insurance companies respond rapidly and flexibly to the needs of their farmers customers. It is important to emphasise that public support cannot be provided for insurable risks.
In order to respond where possible to the issue of structural damage, it is appropriate to consider what aspects can be addressed through on-farm investment support schemes operated by the Department. With that in mind, I have asked the officials to explore the possibility of a targeted re-opening of the 2018 scheme of investment aid for the development of the commercial horticulture sector. The ability of the scheme to react to evolving situations is a key strength in supporting this highly dynamic sector. Support under the scheme is available for a range of capital structural investments such as improvement to structures and facilities. It does not cover replacement of stock or structural repairs. In respect of other farm structures such as sheds and outbuildings, I have instructed officials to fast-track the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, applications for farmers affected by the recent storm. I urge these farmers to make contact with the TAMS section of the Department directly or through the contact details for scheme which are available on our website.
I thank the Minister of State for his reply but I note that much of his time was spent describing the damage that was done. I am very aware of that. There was moral support in place during the time. Farmers were able to access advice. They need compensation. The Minister of State says he is reopening a scheme but some things are not covered by it. I would like a broader scheme to be brought in. I hope these were unique weather conditions. If they were not, we might be better prepared for another one. Money talks. I ask the Minister of State and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, to think about opening up a new scheme.
I also acknowledge the help farmers, especially in my locality, gave people living in the towns. Tractors came in from all sides to enable people to leave their houses. Even though they were undergoing much pain and hassle, farmers stepped up to the mark and helped their neighbours in town.
I realise that the condition of rural roads is outside the remit of the Minister of State but the weather made this worse. Many flood prevention measures need to be put in place. Several Departments should get together and make a plan because with the effects of climate change this was not a unique occasion.
In respect of the roads, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, have requested all local authorities to assess the cost of the damage and the cost of engaging contractors and others to carry out work such as clearing roads. Some cannot do that yet because where I come from the roads are still white so no one can tell what damage has been done. It will be another week or two before it all thaws and the damage is manifest. That affects all rural dwellers.
I understand that very little milk was dumped. Glanbia moved straightaway to price any milk that had to be discarded at 20 cent per litre and every effort was made to minimise that issue. I think it was down almost to single figures. The board of Dairygold is meeting to consider a scheme in the order of 10 cent to 15 cent a litre, in an effort to show solidarity with their suppliers and to help them. With regard to structural damage, it is too easy to let insurance companies off the hook. They have a moral duty to longstanding customers, some of whom have not experienced an event such as this since 2010-11 and before that 1982. Farmers around the country have paid many premiums for insurable assets and have never claimed. There is a moral duty on insurance companies to engage with these people. In the long term, they will get it back. I hope we will not have another weather event. In some buildings where there is structural damage fatigue was probably setting in and they needed to be upgraded. If that is done, and the same applies to the difference between old glass and the stronger glass nowadays, it should prevent a more frequent occurrence of this damage. We have much to do. We should acknowledge the good work that went on and the solidarity shown across rural communities. It has brought out the best in many cases, epitomising neighbourliness and community spirit.
I am speaking on behalf of a three year old boy from Killeagh in County Cork, Adam King. He has been waiting for a wheelchair since last July. I have been asking the Minister for Health about this for several months when Adam can expect to receive his wheelchair. It is a shame that when there is an increased allocation of resources, particularly to the Health Service Executive, HSE, that facility cannot be afforded to a three year old boy. His parents, Fiona and David, say that his dignity and safety are compromised daily.
Without a wheelchair, he is forced to spend much of his time on the ground on all fours. He has a walking frame but his mother, Fiona, says that it is too heavy to manoeuvre comfortably and he tires quickly. He can walk extremely slowly for a few metres before needing a break and, as I said, he is on a waiting list for a replacement walking frame since July 2017. He is due to start preschool in August and will need to be trained in the use of the wheelchair in advance to do everyday tasks. For example, he will need to learn how to hoist himself from it onto the toilet. I find it a little undignified to have to make the case in this House for a three year old child at a time when we have increased resources.
The manner in which the waiting list is operated is a cause of major frustration for Adam's parents. Last December, Adam was top of the Enable Ireland list but since then he has fallen back to fourth on the list. At the rate at which wheelchairs are allocated his mother, Fiona, estimates it could be May or June before his application is approved. There are no complaints by the family against Enable Ireland. Adam's parents say that his therapists from a physiotherapy and occupational therapy point of view are wonderful. Their critique is of the HSE resource allocation group which meets fortnightly, or monthly. At those meetings all the disability organisations, including the COPE Foundation and Enable Ireland, present their waiting lists, indexed in order of clinical need and applications for aids and appliances are also received from community health care organisations and acute hospitals on behalf of patients who are being discharged. While Fiona and David recognise that Adam is de facto competing with adults who are in the acute hospital system, they would in no way wish for anybody else to be deprived of their services if they have a more urgent need but they, and I, fail to understand, as I am sure would anybody in this House, why at a time when we have increased resources owing to increased tax intake, economic growth and so on, the methodology used to allocate resources cannot be looked at afresh so that we do not have competing with adults for what is a basic human right.
Yesterday, the Dáil debated a motion on the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is ironic that Adam is not having his rights or entitlements enforced.
I thank Deputy Sherlock for raising this issue. I extend my sympathies to Adam and his family for the difficulties he is experiencing. I understand that his case was considered at today's fortnightly meeting, but I do not have information on the outcome of it. As I understand it and as the Deputy described, new priorities can disrupt a ranking on a waiting list and I can understand how that can create frustration for families. Overall, I am told that in the Cork and Kerry area, where there are applications from young people under the age of 18 for appliances of this nature, 80% are dealt with within six months. Deputy Sherlock's point in regard to the methodology that is being deployed in this regard is an important one. I understand from the Department that it has identified a need for an improvement programme in these type of schemes and work in this regard, which is being led by the HSE primary care team, is at an advanced stage. The aim is to improve the quality of service and the sustainability of the approach, to establish national standards and to ensure equity of access, value for money and good processes and management systems. There is a recognition that the system does not offer the type of certainty, standards, equity of access and clarity for the families involved.
I will ask the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to specifically request that the HSE, in undertaking this improvement programme, take account of the comments made by Deputy Sherlock in regard to the experience of this particular family. I understand that Adam is top of the list as of 27 February. However, I take the point the Deputy makes that the possibility of other applicants being deemed to be more urgent creates a difficulty that I can well understand. I will bring the Deputy's concerns to the Minister's attention. As I said, there is at least an acknowledgement that change is needed in this area in terms of the approach that is being taken.
I welcome the Minister's reply. To be fair to him, he has empathised with the case. I welcome his comments in regard to the Department having identified the need for an improvement programme in areas in which there is an allocation of sources. The bottom line is that this three year old child's social development is being affected because his immobility is being limited and he cannot join in and play with other children. We need a speedy resolution of this case. I believe there is money available to do this and that the methodology by which money is allocated can always be changed. I hope that Adam can receive his wheelchair in a timely fashion. I hope that it will not be 2019 before he receives what is effectively a human right. Article 7.2 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD, states that in all actions concerning a child with disabilities the best interests of the child shall be a primary concern. According to Adam's father, as waiting lists and practices are not common across jurisdictions how can we as a nation genuinely believe that Article 7.2 of the UNCRPD can be enacted in what appears to an unequal system?
I welcome the Minister's comments. I hope that in raising this case in the Dáil cognisance will be taken of the fact there is a three year old boy in our midst who needs a wheelchair now.
I can sympathise with the Deputy saying that waiting lists are inappropriate. In many ways, they are. Every day in this House a new procedure or application is highlighted that could be funded and there is a debate about the allocating of resources to it. We all feel the need to prioritise those cases. Waiting lists appear to be an inevitable part of health services across the globe. I do not envy the Minister for Health, even with the extra money he is getting, being able to resolve these issues. It is encouraging that the HSE has recognised that this is an area where it can do better and improve the consistency, quality, sustainability and fairness of the system. I hope that the improvement programme I referenced earlier will not only benefit Adam as his case is dealt with but will move us to a position where cases like Adam's can in the future be dealt with in a better fashion.