Topical Issue Debate

Anti-Social Behaviour

Like me, I am sure the Minister was horrified to receive reports about the incident that occurred at Clongriffin DART station on Tuesday night. This was a very shocking and traumatic experience for the passengers and Irish Rail staff who witnessed the atrocious anti-social and criminal behaviour that occurred. What was reported in the media as "an unprecedented graffiti attack" seems to have been much more sinister, with up to 20 young people, allegedly wearing balaclavas and armed with knives and lumps of wood, blocking the doors of a train at approximately 10.30 p.m. More shocking still is that it appears there may have been two rival gangs the members of which then fought among themselves to damage the train. We cannot imagine the terror for the passengers on that Dublin to Malahide DART train.

Regrettably, although this attack reached a new level of depravity, it is not an isolated incident. In recent years, a small number of miscreants seem to have repeatedly vandalised this station and terrorised commuters. I have visited the station many times and have contacted An Garda Síochána and Iarnród Éireann since 2016 to convey the complaints and annoyance of so many citizens from the area. I had previously requested that a full-time security team be placed at this station, for regular Garda patrols and for the installation of a full CCTV system and other increased security measures. This week, I again contacted our local superintendent and chief superintendent of An Garda Síochána to ask what they are doing to improve security at the station and ensure passenger safety in light of the appalling incident on Tuesday. I repeatedly contacted former Irish Rail CEO, David Franks, and have now also contacted the acting CEO, Jim Meade, regarding this criminal activity.

For approximately eight years before its opening in 2010, the people of the new estates in Beau Park and Clongriffin, in Dublin 13, campaigned for the Clongriffin DART station and were delighted with its impressive design and facilities. However, over the past three years, particularly since the middle of 2016, I have received numerous emails, calls and visits from concerned constituents who are living in fear. Clongriffin, Belmayne and the Coast in Dublin's north fringe are growing areas in which many young, hard-working families with children live. There is a wonderful sense of community among the people who live there, with regular and well-attended community meetings, although the delivery of education, health, shopping, crèche and security facilities has been dismally slow from the main developer, Gannon Homes, Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council. Residents believe that Clongriffin DART station is being targeted because of its distance from the district Garda station, which is located over three miles away in Coolock. Residents report that it can take over 20 minutes for gardaí to arrive on the scene of an emergency. In some instances, where residents have reported stolen cars, suspicious behaviour and other anti-social behaviour, particularly in the station and near Fr. Collins Park, I am told that it has taken over an hour for gardaí to arrive. For most of my political career, the people of Donaghmede - a large parish of more than 4,000 houses where many of the north fringe estates, including Clongriffin, are located - have demanded their own Garda station, but have never got it.

It has never been realised.

The station has been targeted for a long time. Irish Rail has had to replace the front two main windows on numerous occasions before finally opting for an unbreakable front option which is not as aesthetically pleasing. During last summer, 42 out of 45 of the glazed panels had been smashed or shattered. Two weeks ago, during the daytime, there was also a robbery of a cash-in-transit van.

The residents of Clongriffin are growing tired in their efforts to create a positive community spirit only to have repeated attacks on their public transport facility and neighbourhood, and there is a growing unease over using their local DART station. This disgraceful nonsense has gone on long enough. It is now critical that Irish Rail, Dublin City Council, Fingal County Council, Gannon Homes, Cairns Homes and other key stakeholders get together with public representatives and An Garda Síochána to ensure that this breakdown in law and order stops immediately and never reoccurs.

I thank Deputy Broughan for raising this important matter. I am pleased to be able to respond.

I am aware of the serious incident that took place earlier this week concerning a number of youths who vandalised a DART train as it arrived into Clongriffin station. The youths in question then proceeded to engage in other serious anti-social behaviour and accost members of the public. This is completely unacceptable behaviour and will not be tolerated. I am advised that this incident is now the subject of an official investigation by An Garda Síochána, in conjunction with Irish Rail, with CCTV footage being reviewed to help identify the culprits. Photographs were also taken at the scene of the graffiti tags which are also being circulated in order to identify any links with known graffiti offenders and I encourage anyone with information about this incident to contact An Garda Síochána as soon as possible.

In terms of tackling this particular type of crime, I am advised by An Garda Síochána that Garda management engages extensively with transport operators and a range of regional and local operations has been put in place to address incidents and issues that have arisen at specific locations. There is ongoing communication between An Garda Síochána and the respective control centres, and access to good quality CCTV helps provide assistance to gardaí when investigating serious incidents, such as what we saw in Clongriffin earlier this week.

I listened carefully to Deputy Broughan and take on board the points he raised. He will be aware that An Garda Síochána already employs a wide range of operational measures aimed at tackling public order offences and anti-social behaviour. These measures are underpinned by the existence of a comprehensive legal framework, which assists the Garda in tackling this type of crime. Addressing local community concerns in relation to public order and anti-social behaviour is a key focus of An Garda Síochána's national community policing model and a range of strong legislative provisions are available to An Garda Síochána in this regard, including those under the Criminal Damage Act 1991, the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994, the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 2003, and the Intoxicating Liquor Acts 2003 and 2008.

The type of behaviour we witnessed in Clongriffin this week has no place in civilised society. For its part, the Government remains committed to ensuring that An Garda Síochána has all the necessary resources to tackle all forms of criminality in our communities. In this context, the Deputy will be aware that some €1.65 billion has been allocated to the Garda Vote for 2018 and €98.5 million has been provided for Garda overtime for 2018, which will also assist with Garda operations to tackle the type of problems we saw this week.

The Government is committed to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country in order to maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and to deter crime. Budget 2018 will support the continuation of this high level of investment in the Garda workforce and ensure that the vision of an overall workforce of 21,000 by 2021 remains on track.

I listened to Deputy Broughan's remarks on stakeholder engagement and stakeholders being brought together and I agree with the Deputy.

I thank the Minister for his reply and the report on the official investigation which is now taking place. However, at this stage words are meaningless. Residents and commuters want action. Most of all, my constituents want those involved in behaviour such as that which occurred in Clongriffin DART station last Tuesday night to be apprehended, put into the juvenile diversion programme, and prosecuted, if necessary. Resources must also be put into increased security at Clongriffin station. The incidents are occurring because perpetrators are getting away with it. That station cost €22 million almost a decade ago and it has been under sustained attack, which is now worsening. We need a permanent, static security presence there indefinitely. The Minister must assure me that the safety and well-being of my constituents and our commuters is paramount.

It is not just Clongriffin DART station which has been under this kind of attack in recent years, however. The Howth Junction and Donaghamede DART stations to its south have also suffered a great deal. I have lost count of how many times I have had to contact Irish Rail and An Garda Síochána about vandalism, threatening behaviour, lift breakdowns and so on at the stations. These incidents are part of a wider issue of anti-social behaviour in areas of Dublin Bay North which I raised with the Minister and the Taoiseach only months ago. I have also raised the cuts in community policing over the decade of austerity. The Minister knows I have repeatedly written to him about dangerous joyriding and criminal behaviour in other areas of Dublin Bay North. The behaviour in Clongriffin is escalating and will lead to a very serious incident with people getting hurt or even killed. The time for action is now.

I repeat my invitation to the Minister, which I have issued to him a couple of times in the past six months, to come out to Dublin Bay North to meet our community in Clongriffin and the other districts in the constituency, local Garda officers, Irish Rail staff, and local authority staff. I ask him to make that visit and see at first hand the resources that are necessary to ensure that this crazy, wild west-type behaviour never happens in this city again.

It is clear that this is an issue of concern and something on which Deputy Broughan has strong views, as indeed do we all. It is important that we work together to eradicate this type of unacceptable behaviour in our society. I am advised that the incident in Clongriffin remains under active investigation by An Garda Síochána. Every effort is being made locally to identify those involved.

I am further advised that close contact is being maintained with local and senior management in Irish Rail and other transport providers, and An Garda Síochána has a good working relationship with the public transport providers in the district. There are patrols by uniformed and plain clothes gardaí, including personnel on foot patrols, and other community engagements are maintained in the vicinity of the area where this incident occurred. I can assure Deputy Broughan that I remain in ongoing contact with the acting Garda Commissioner on all new and emerging crime trends. I am committed to ensuring that An Garda Síochána has all the necessary resources required to deal with this type of criminality in our communities, including the type of unacceptable criminal behaviour we saw this week in Clongriffin. I assure Deputy Broughan of my ongoing support.

Public Liability Insurance

Recently, my party colleague from Limerick, Deputy Maurice Quinlivan, met with the Alliance for Insurance Reform there. This alliance is a non-political group that brings together 20 civic and business organisations from across Ireland, including charities, representing 35,000 members, over 633,000 employees and 41,300 volunteers. Over many years, the cost of public liability insurance has been a consistent problem. Not alone does it affect small and medium-sized businesses, pubs and other local social activities across Ireland, and in rural Ireland in particular, but it also affects things such as children's playgrounds, GAA social centres, and taxi drivers. It has had the effect of closing down many small enterprises, with the consequence that people are becoming unemployed.

It also affects the hotel industry, small garages and practically every aspect of this huge source of employment right across this country. Obviously some form of regulation is badly needed to prevent the vultures, the insurance companies, pushing up the cost of insurance. The cost of insurance is a crippling factor for those trying to create jobs or make businesses viable. This report is a damning indictment from a non-political organisation. There is a lack of response to the massive problem of escalating costs.

I understand the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation has been examining issues surrounding the cost of doing business in Ireland over the past year. I welcome this and I have read part of the report, much of which is very progressive and long overdue. The implementation of that report will be of huge importance for the sustainability of small and medium-sized enterprises. All commercial representative groups have cited insurance costs as a threat to the viability of businesses across Ireland. That is part of what the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation was told.

IBEC described how insurance costs are not merely high but enterprise-threatening in areas such as hospitality, distribution and retail. It went on to say that the solutions to the problems of insurance costs are remarkably simple, but politically challenging. I think that is a very adequate statement. It is politically challenging. For too long this House, irrespective of who has been in government, has failed in its responsibility to stand up to the big insurance companies and to protect the people who need to survive and to be viable and who continue to employ tens of thousands of people right across Ireland.

According to a recent survey from the Irish Hotel Federation, more than 80% of hoteliers have said that rising insurance costs are having a significant negative impact on their businesses. That is a huge indictment. That indictment is also a challenge for all of us to try to ensure that insurance costs are reasonable and that our businesses will continue to be able to afford insurance and afford to survive.

I thank the Deputy. This is a good opportunity to answer the question on insurance. There is one line from the report which is very relevant. It says that if we have high awards, we will not have low premiums, and we have very high awards in our insurance sector. All one has to do is look at any of the awards at the moment. Some of them are quite staggering.

Both I and the Government are very conscious of the difficulties that increased insurance costs generally, and in many instances the limited availability of cover, are having on small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as on businesses overall and on community activities. Consequently, following the publication of its report on the cost of motor insurance in January 2017, the cost of insurance working group undertook an examination of the employer liability and public liability insurance sectors in its second phase of work.

While a number of the recommendations in the motor report are relevant to the area of business insurance, in particular, the recommendations regarding the book of quantum, the Personal Injuries Assessment Board and the establishment of the personal injuries commission, it became clear in preparing that report that there was also a pressing need to examine the drivers of the rising cost of business insurance. The second phase work culminated in the publication on 25 January 2018 of the report on the cost of employer and public liability insurance, following its approval by Government. This new report makes 15 recommendations with 29 associated actions to be carried out, which are detailed in an action plan.

The recommendations, covering three main themes, include actions to increase transparency, such as providing improved data sharing and collection processes and reviewing the level of damages in personal injury cases, which I spoke about at the very start. One action to review damages is to request that the Law Reform Commission undertake a detailed analysis of the possibility of developing constitutionally sound legislation to delimit or cap the amounts of damages which a court may award in respect of some or all categories of personal injuries. As the Deputy knows, personal injury cases are civil cases and these Houses do not interfere in the level of costs awarded in such cases.

Another recommendation of the report is to improve the personal injuries litigation framework through a number of measures, including ensuring potential defendants are notified in sufficient time that an incident has occurred in respect of which a claim is going to be made against their policy. One of the big things we want to ensure is that the time periods contained in the General Data Protection Regulation and the data protection laws, which are kicking in on 25 May, align in respect of insurance. For example, if people have an obligation to erase video or any imagery taken in their premises within a period of 28 days, they must be given the opportunity to store it so that they can use it when defending a case taken against them.

The most important of these measures to improve the framework is tackling fraudulent or exaggerated claims and ensuring that suitable training and information supports are available to the Judiciary to assist in the fair and consistent assessment and awarding of damages in personal injury cases.

All 29 actions are scheduled to be implemented before the end of 2019, with 26 of those actions to be completed by the end of this year. The fifth quarterly progress update is due to be published tomorrow and will focus on the implementation of both of the primary reports. I am pleased to inform the Deputy that, in respect of the eight actions from the report on employer and public liability insurance due for completion in the first quarter of 2018, all eight deadlines have been met. It is appreciated that these eight actions, in the main, can best be described as stepping stones to the implementation of broader policy initiatives such as improving the engagement process between insurers and policyholders with claims submitted against them, and ensuring that enhanced communication between An Garda Siochána and the insurance industry will lead to more effective investigation and prosecution of cases involving insurance fraud.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. If the recommendations are implemented, and the Minister of State says they will be by the end of 2019, it will certainly go some way towards addressing this ongoing abuse. I refer in particular to fraudulent and exaggerated claims and to a sharing of data and so on in respect of what I would consider serial claimants who have persecuted premises, small businesses, people involved in car accidents and so on. One sees many of the same names coming up again and again.

It has really been brought to my attention recently, with regard to somebody I know well, that the insurance companies are reluctant to challenge a claimant. This is often because the companies fear it would cost more to challenge the claimant in court. As a result of this, the person who has the insurance gets a loading on their policy because the insurance company pays out. The companies have a responsibility and need to face up to it. The fraudulent claimant is one thing but the reluctance of insurance companies to adequately represent the people whom they insure, as they should, is another. The Minister has said we expect this by the end of 2019.

Yes, all actions.

It will certainly go some way towards helping to reduce insurance costs in order to protect small and medium-sized businesses, social clubs, play areas and even county councils around the country in respect of their public liability. We have seen time and time again that they are being persecuted with fraudulent claims and so forth, but this will go some way towards helping them and I hope it works out as the Minister of State said in his reply.

One of the things I found early in this process was that different companies have very different business models. There is a very great difference between FBD's model and Aviva's model. They all operate and they are all profitable but they all operate in different ways. One of the biggest issues in the conversations we will have in these Houses will be the capping of claims. As I have said, it is a civil matter. Are these Houses able to get involved? I do not know. We have asked the Attorney General for his view. He is strongly of the view that we should go down the route of the Law Reform Commission and ask it to put together a report to which stakeholders could contribute.

Subsequent to that, we will see what can happen. People have access to courts, as allowed for in our written Constitution.

For me, there are pathways that have to be improved. With regard to data and imagery, I mentioned that people should have the opportunity to protect themselves. On too many occasions, I have heard people say they were told 18 months after the event that there was a claim coming and that they had no method of protecting themselves. That is wrong so we are going to rectify it.

I met the Minister for Justice and Equality, who just left the Chamber, and we are satisfied the analysis was that the legislation in place was sufficiently strong to deal with somebody making a fraudulent or exaggerated claim and did not need to be improved. However, where a judge in a case says some part of a claim has been exaggerated or is fraudulent, we have to improve the pathway between the parties in court and between the Garda and DPP. In the context in question, however, the sanction is sufficiently strong but the pathway was poor. We are, therefore, trying to do everything I have described. The process is to be concluded by the end of the third quarter of this year. We will be in a position to have many of the recommendations concluded. The focus on people who are fraudulent is one thing but the Deputy should note that, for every fraudulent claim, there are many more exaggerated claims. In Ireland, people do not view an insurance payout as the sum of money required to put one back in the position one was in before the event leading to the claim; they ask how much they can get out of it. We must try to defeat that.

Animal Identification Schemes

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this as a topical issue today. I also thank the Minister, Deputy Creed, for coming to the Dáil to respond.

The issue I wish to raise is the unilateral decision by the Minister, announced a couple of weeks ago, to introduce mandatory electronic tagging for all lambs under the age of 12 months, even when they are going directly to the factory from the farm. This move was taken by the Minister without consultation. It was landed on the farming organisations and representatives without any notice. One questions why there are farm organisations and farmer representatives if the Department and the Minister are not going to engage with them and treat them as the stakeholders they are in our agriculture sector. Although there was some consultation and although there were meetings between the farm organisations and the Minister in the summer of 2015, there has been no real engagement whatsoever since. There were points of dispute with regard to how electronic tagging could be introduced at that stage. The Minister has not made an effort to resolve these matters since then.

The Minister very opportunely took the decision to announce the unilateral decision on the same day that the Common Agricultural Policy budget and associated cuts were announced. I wonder whether the Minister considered it to be a good day to bury more bad news. Obviously, the very difficult news that we were going to have a challenge regarding the Common Agricultural Policy budget was going to dominate the headlines.

There seems to have been a lack of preparation and proper consideration by the Minister. There are a few points to which I would like him to respond clearly. The first is on the cost of introducing electronic tagging. When lambs are going straight from the farm to the factory, a tag that costs 18 cent currently suffices. With electronic tagging, that cost will increase to €1.05, amounting to a 90 cent increase. The IFA estimates this will result in an overall cost of €2 million, borne entirely by farmers. The Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association and the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association, along with the IFA, have opposed adamantly the Minister's approach to this and have stated how they have been ignored in the process.

What engagement has the Minister had with the factories on seeking a contribution from them towards the cost? The new system will be of benefit to the factories and assist them in streamlining their processes. There should be a contribution from them to assist.

The Minister introduced a sheep welfare scheme last year and there was under-expenditure in this regard of €7 million. A sum of €25 million was budgeted and €18 million was allocated. Surely the Department could assist with the cost.

On the timing, the Minister is seeking to make electronic tagging mandatory from 1 October. I am interested in hearing the rationale for picking that date. If the Minister is seeking to ensure clear identification of this year's crop of lambs, showing their origin, he should note most of those lambs will already have left the farms by 1 October. Surely it would make more sense to introduce the initiative in the following year.

What plans does the Minister have to introduce a sheep database? Will he consider it? Does he believe there can be full traceability with electronic tagging without introducing a database alongside it?

Overall, I ask the Minister to think again. Unfortunately, he is not working with the stakeholders involved - those who will be involved in implementation. It is a disgrace that the Minister ignored farmers to this extent. The unilateral move shows he is out of touch with them. Unfortunately, that is consistent with how he approached the fodder crisis and other crises experienced by the farming community over the past couple of years. I ask the Minister to draw a line and start to engage. He should try to ensure this issue will be addressed hand in hand with farmer representatives.

I thank Deputy Charlie McConalogue for raising the matter. I am surprised he did not refer to the fact that I engaged in extensive consultation with him and Deputy Martin Kenny when they called to the Department. They got a full briefing on electronic identification, EID.

I would not call one meeting extensive.

One cannot argue that there was no consultation at political level. There was consultation at farm organisation level in 2015. There was consultation with farm organisations in the context of the sheep welfare scheme, which was worth in the region of €20 million to the sheep industry. Therefore, I do not accept there has not been consultation, both formal and informal, at political and farm organisation levels.

I announced the mandatory extension of EID for all sheep in a press release issued on 2 May 2018. The new rules will require all sheep sold from 1 October 2018 to be identified electronically. I announced also the introduction of a one-off support measure, up to a maximum of €50 per keeper, for the first purchase of EID tags.

Electronic tag readers and associated software are included as eligible investments in the TAMS to assist sheep farmers in flock management. There will be no change to the identification requirements of sheep aged over 12 months, all of which will be required to be identified with a full EID or bolus set. This measure was necessary as the current sheep identification system is overly complex, relying heavily on the reading and transcription of lengthy identification numbers at all levels of production. The current system relies almost totally on paper records, leading to avoidable errors at all stages of the movement cycle of the animal, including at slaughter.

Let me outline the benefits of EID to the sheep industry as a whole. Full EID in sheep will simplify the sheep tagging system and will significantly reduce the onerous administrative and record-keeping burdens currently imposed on sheep farmers as they move sheep to livestock marts, slaughter plants and export assembly centres. The new rules will provide a more robust sheep traceability system and will further support the development and sustainability of the sheep industry, as detailed in Food Wise 2025. EID will enhance our opportunities for market access to third countries, including the USA, as well as considering the potential of sheep meat access to Japan and other markets. The move to full EID and the inclusion of EID readers as an eligible investment in TAMS will make the recording of the movement of lambs off farm much more convenient and will greatly simplify the paperwork involved for sheep farmers.

Animal health is a significant concern for the Department in the context of the sheep traceability system. Trace-back is required from perspectives of food safety and animal health. Producers will have a significant reduction in both the administrative burden and the time and effort associated with the movement of sheep, and will have more accurate records, thus reducing the risk of a cross-compliance penalty related to sheep. Societal and market expectations regarding food traceability are increasing in line with electronic developments. In the interests of the highest standards of protecting the food chain and public health in general, reducing the administrative burden on farmers and underpinning the animal health status of the national flock, the extension of EID to all sheep is a necessity.

While I accept that additional costs will accrue to farmers in extending EID to all sheep, they will benefit from a significant reduction in the labour requirements for dispatch documents that must accompany all sheep on movement. At present, keepers are required to complete the individual tag number of each sheep presented in a batch, a task that is very onerous and open to error and can result in the loss of traceability. Under the new system, marts and factories will operate as approved central points of recording and will provide the presenting farmer with a printed list of all tag numbers scanned in a particular batch, which in turn can be associated with the corresponding dispatch document. Accordingly, the farmer will only be required to record the total number of sheep presented. All other information such as the name, address, flock identifier, etc., is pre-printed on the dockets.

The Government is keen to ensure that we make further progress on sheepmeat access to third countries in 2018 and beyond. Ireland has market access for sheepmeat to 45 countries at present, compared to our beef access to 65 countries, and exports of dairy products to almost 180 countries. Opening new markets for sheepmeat access, including potentially valuable markets such as the United States of America, Japan and, in due course, China, is therefore a key concern. The enhancement of the current sheep identification system will allow the sheep sector to further develop and build on the impressive performance which, in 2017, saw this sector increase the value of its exports by 12% in volume and 12% in value to €310 million, supporting some 35,000 farm families directly in addition to supporting several thousand jobs indirectly in rural areas.

I asked the Minister a significant number of questions when I outlined the problems with how he has gone about doing this. I have not had any answers to those except for the stock response which was mostly outlined in the press release announcing this decision. I asked the Minister about the factory contribution and whether that is something he sought assistance with in his engagement with the meat industry, or if he sought a contribution from it about the issue. The Minister has outlined how farmers should be glad that there will be a saving of labour with lambs leaving their farms. There will also be a significant saving of labour for the factory. I would have thought the Minister would have engaged with them to seek some contribution. I outlined that if lambs are going straight from the farm to the factory, if a farmer has 50 lambs, they will all go from his farm with his tags and it will cost him an additional €50 now. That is a significant cost for an enterprise and for farmers where the average sheep farm makes €15,000 a year. We should not be so flippant about the cost implications for them and placing the entire burden on them.

The Minister outlined that there was consultation. I remind him that any consultation he had with the farming organisations dates back to summer 2015. If there has been more consultation since then, the Minister might outline what it was. All the farming organisations, including the Irish Farmers' Association, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association, and the Irish Natura And Hill Farmers Association, INHFA, have been annoyed at how the Minister has gone about doing this. He might outline that to us. I remind the Minister that the consultation he had with political parties amounted to one meeting.

The Deputy did not ask for any more. I gave a comprehensive briefing and he did not ask for any more.

There was one meeting which I attended.

I appreciate that the Deputy did.

I will remind the Minister of what I said at that meeting. I said that there was some merit to be explored in electronic identification tagging and that it had to be done in a way that bore in mind that the cost should not be on farmers. I also said that the Minister needed to consult with the farming community. There has been no consultation since that meeting.

The Deputy's time is up.

The Minister has acted unilaterally and in a way that ignores their important role as stakeholders despite the fact he expects them to implement this new regime. I ask the Minister to answer those-----

The Deputy's time is up.

-----questions and if he will go back to the drawing board, engage with farming communities and come back to this in a way that means everybody works together to address this issue.

I do not propose to go back to the drawing board or to change the proposal in any considerable detail. I will address the Deputy's issue of a factory contribution. We can take costs out, such as administration from the farmer, which is a cost and labour requirement. If one brings in a batch of lambs, one reads it one's self, one by one, transcribes it and then puts it into a dispatch document. That cost is all gone now. There is a cost gone at the factory because the lambs will walk up the chute and be read with an electronic wand. Taking out all those costs will deliver a better return to the primary producer. More importantly, we should reflect on the cost of not doing it because our traceability system for sheepmeat is not fit for purpose. EID is the best available technology. I have never hidden from the fact that a cost is associated with it but we need to reflect on the costs and opportunities forgone by not having it. I can clearly state that, in the context of market access, for the US, Japan and other markets, not having this form of traceability is a critical issue. If there was an incident where we failed to recall, not only would it be an issue for our sheepmeat sector, but it would reflect poorly on our entire meat export industry. We have an effective traceability system for bovines but we do not have it for sheep. We should reflect on that calmly. Having met with them, I do not think any farm organisation is opposed to the principle of EID. I accept the point that it is about the detail of it. In any scheme such as this, we need to make a decision about introducing it and that decision has now been made for 1 October. There are many issues to be worked through relating to the existing stock of tags, etc. I hope we can resolve that. This is the right thing to do. I do not know quite whether Deputy McConalogue is in favour of EID or not but, in the interests of the sheep industry, this is the right thing to do. There is a cost but there are also costs associated with not doing it.

Emergency Departments Services

I raise the need for investment and expansion in the emergency department of Cavan General Hospital and the minor injury unit in Monaghan General Hospital. Cavan's emergency department is attended by approximately 32,000 patients each year. It is a busy and highly utilised service that is under huge pressure with its current layout and facilities. It has ten examination cubicles, which is clearly inadequate to deal with 32,000 patients. Admitted patients who do not get a bed on a ward are kept in the examination cubicles, further reducing the availability of examination beds and causing further delays in the assessment of new patients in the emergency department.

The resuscitation room is inadequate. There is one trolley space and no room to accommodate another trolley. It is not lead-lined and the radiology department is reluctant to do portable X-rays in that room for that reason. It is difficult for staff to manoeuvre around the room during cardiac resuscitations or when dealing with trauma patients. There is only one small triage room in a hospital and emergency department that has a throughput of 32,000 patients. It needs at least four triage cubicles. We need a minor operation theatre in the emergency department and we have no designated paediatric area in the emergency department which means, as the Minister of State knows, that children are currently assessed and treated alongside adults.

We have inadequate facilities for women who are pregnant or gynaecological patients. We have no appropriate isolation facilities in the emergency department. Our reception area is small and cramped and there is no privacy for patients. We have only three public toilets in the emergency department, which is insufficient for 32,000 patients annually. This is against a backdrop of staff working night and day, above and beyond the call of duty to take care of their patients. The Taoiseach said he wishes more people would use the minor injury units, such as in Monaghan, to help to cut back on waiting times in emergency departments, such as in Cavan General Hospital, but in 2011, the HSE cut the opening hours of Monaghan's minor injuries unit back from a good service from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week to a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. service from Monday to Friday. It is a ridiculous move when our local emergency department in Cavan General Hospital is overcrowded and working with inadequate facilities.

All of this is against a backdrop of appalling ambulance response times, particularly in Monaghan, where people are losing their lives. In recent times, a young father of two suffered a cardiac arrest in Ballybay, County Monaghan. He waited almost an hour and a half until the ambulance arrived. The doctor on call arrived after the ambulance. Tragically, that man lost his life before the ambulance made its journey to the nearest hospital. His family truly believes that he could still be here today if the ambulance response had been prompt on the night in question.

The RCSI hospital group has submitted an application for funding to the Department. Will the Minister approve that request? Will he extend the opening hours at the Monaghan minor injury unit and broaden the facilities that are available? Will the Minister and Minister of State meet with the family who lost their son that night because it took the ambulance so long to arrive at the scene of a dying man?

Unfortunately, the Minister cannot be here so he has asked me to convey his apologies. I will read the reply and then come back to the Deputy regarding some of the issues she raised. On behalf of the Minister, I thank the Deputy for the opportunity to update the House on this matter.

We are all aware that this winter was particularly difficult for our health service. The most recent verified figures show emergency department, ED, demand continuing to rise through March 2018. Nationally, ED attendances have grown by 3.7% by the end of the first quarter, with subsequent ED admissions up 3.3% when compared to the same period in 2017. Of course, any increased demand was further exacerbated by the severe weather associated with Storm Emma in early March. ED attendances at Cavan General Hospital have increased marginally by 0.2% and there has been a 3% decrease in attendances by patients 75 years or older as compared to this time last year.

While there has been an increase nationally in patients on trolleys, I assure the Deputy that the Minister is committed to breaking the cycle of overcrowding in our health service. As part of budget 2018, €40 million was provided to respond to winter pressures, of which 60% - €25 million - was allocated this year for social care measures. This includes €3.5 million for 480 additional transitional care beds and €18 million for 1,080 additional home support packages during winter. The Minister is fully aware of the need for additional capacity during periods of peak demand. The Deputy may wish to note that over 200 additional beds have been opened this winter.

As the Deputy may be aware, the hospitals in Cavan and Monaghan operate as one hospital serving the local population, with the ED located in Cavan and the facilities in Monaghan focusing on elective care and the streaming of appropriate patients to the minor injury clinic. In recent years, Cavan General Hospital has seen a number of investments in its services, in particular a new waiting area and additional treatment space in the emergency department in 2009, an acute medical assessment unit, AMAU, and a new cystic fibrosis outpatient suite. The AMAU officially opened in 2014 and consists of a ten-trolley treatment area, including two single rooms. It provides urgent assessment and care for patients with medical conditions and facilitates more capacity for patients presenting direct to the AMAU and medical patients who previously were being assessed in the ED.

I appreciate that this is a scripted answer but I must point out that there is very little relating to the issues I raised today. The one small token concerns what I am talking about, which is the ED and in respect of which we are given figures for 2009, which is nearly ten years ago. I know the Minister for Health visited the hospital recently to open the fantastic new cystic fibrosis outpatient unit. However, somebody standing in the ED in Cavan General Hospital would see that all of the issues I have outlined to the Minister of State are accurate and in no way exaggerated. People walk in the door and are straight into reception. They must give their personal details right across the counter and the entire room is obliged to listen to them. We are talking about personal details about their family, age and date of birth, all of the information that someone would never discuss with a total stranger, least of all in an ED.

Apart from all that, we are talking about 32,000 patients in terms of the footfall for the accident and emergency department in Cavan General Hospital. This department services a huge region, not just County Cavan. As the Minister of State clearly outlined, Monaghan Hospital lost its ED. Since then, the minor injury unit, which is a fantastic facility, has had its hours reduced. Therefore, Cavan General Hospital, particularly in the context of the ED, is crying out for investment and expansion. These are not my words. They are the words of the staff and patients who attend the ED. It is my understanding that the RCSI group has submitted an application. It was hoping for capital funding investment from the Government. I also understand that there is no mention of Cavan General Hospital in the national development plan, which does not bode well for people living in the Border region who depend on the ED in Cavan General Hospital to service a huge area. I accept that it works hand in hand with the minor injury unit but the latter also has very limited opening hours. In general, who has a fall or breaks his or her arm between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.? Those kind of things generally happen after hours or at weekends. I ask the Minister of State to respond to the specific questions I asked. Will the Department grant the application that has been made by the RCSI hospital group? Will it extend the opening hours in the minor injury unit in Monaghan General Hospital? Will the Minister and Minister of State meet with the Dempsey family, which had such a horrific experience based on the ambulance response times in Monaghan?

Unfortunately, I cannot answer some of the specific questions because I am not familiar with Cavan General Hospital. I take the Deputy's concerns on board, particularly those relating to the minor injury unit and the fact that the opening hours have been cut. I see that as a very real issue so I will relay that. I do not have any information about the application. All I can tell the Deputy is that further investment in Cavan General Hospital will be considered within the overall acute hospital infrastructure programme. I do not have a timeframe. In saying that, I will ask the Minister whether he would consider meeting the Dempsey family. I have taken some notes on the other issues raised by the Deputy and will refine them when I go back up to my office.

Would it be possible to get responses from the Minister for Health on the three specific questions? I appreciate that the Minister of State is not-----

I assure the Deputy that any time I take a Topical Issue, the first thing I do afterwards is go back to the Minister's office. The second thing I do is send on emails outlining all the questions that were asked. I cannot be responsible for whether people reply but I complete matters on my end in order to ensure that people's concerns are raised. I expect the Minister to respond to the individuals. If that does not happen, I would appreciate it if the Deputy would come back to me because I will continue to pursue the matter on her behalf.