Topical Issue Debate

Local Authority Housing Rents

Draconian rent increases for local authority tenants have been introduced by Tipperary County Council since 2 July. It has no regard for the effects these huge increases have on the tenants concerned. They have been introduced without the specific approval of the local councillors, on the basis that management claims the making of a differential rent scheme is a function for the manager and not the elected members.

Section 31 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 made the making and revocation of a differential rent scheme a reserved function of local authority members. This provision was never introduced, despite promises it would be as far back as 2011. A similar provision to make the revocation or making of a differential rent scheme a reserved function of local authority members was included in the Local Government Reform Act 2014. That was on the basis the Government was delegating to local councillors new functions at the same time local councils, town councils and borough councils were being abolished. There is now confusion as to whether that provision in the 2014 Act is operational.

I have a copy of a statutory instrument that seems to suggest the Act is operable. It is SI 214 of 2014 in the name of Phil Hogan who was the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government at the time. One section of the order states 1 June 2014 is appointed as the day on which the Local Government Reform Act 2014, in so far as it is not in operation, comes into operation.

The increases are draconian and I have numerous examples. To give a flavour of the type of increases introduced, the rent of a family of four comprising two young children and both the husband and wife on social welfare with one on a carer's allowance went from €39.80 to €91.80, a difference of €52 per week or €208 per month. I have a number of similar cases. These draconian increases should and must be reversed. What is the position in the making of a differential rent scheme? Is it a reserved function of local authority members? If not, when will it be made a reserved function as set out in the 2009 and 2014 legislation? It is clear that management in councils throughout the country is now using this confusion to impose huge and savage increases on local authority tenants.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter, which I am taking on behalf of my colleague, the Minister. I thank him for the opportunity to outline the current position. In response to his final question, my understanding is this is not currently a reserved function for local authority members. I will try to get an answer on the effect of SI 214 of 2014 on the differential rent scheme.

Section 31 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, which has not been commenced, provides that the Minister may make regulations providing for matters to be included in a rent scheme to be made by a housing authority, including the manner in which the financial circumstances of households and their ability to pay rent shall be taken into account in determining rent. This includes the level, type and sources of household income that may be assessed for the purposes of determining rents; the manner in which adjustments may be made to the rent in respect of any obligations imposed on the tenant under the tenancy agreement relating to the maintenance of the dwelling; the amount or method of calculation of any allowances in respect of rent that may be made for dependants; and the procedure for rent reviews during the period of a tenancy, having regard to any changes in household circumstances or income levels. Section 31(7) of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 provides for, among other provisions, the making or revocation of a rent scheme to be a reserved function. However, as indicated earlier, this section has not been commenced.

The practice of a national differential rent scheme was abandoned in 1986, when rent setting was devolved completely to individual housing authorities, subject to broad principles laid down in departmental guidance. Housing authorities are also empowered under section 58 of the Housing Act 1966 to include charges in the rent relating to costs of works and services provided to dwellings under the Housing Acts. The current practice involves a disparate approach across housing authorities to rent setting for accommodation funded wholly by the Exchequer. Whereas all housing authorities charge rents related to household income, similar households in similar accommodation are charged varying amounts of differential rent depending on which local authority is letting the accommodation. Individual authorities also differ on matters such as types and amounts of income reckonable for differential rent purposes. On that basis it is recognised that a greater degree of national uniformity needs to be introduced.

Considerable work has been carried out by the Department in developing a national rents framework, including common income thresholds and disregards. The new system aims to be more equitable and transparent, with regulations setting out a common method for determining household income across the country for rent purposes. This work is now being examined further in light of a broader commitment in Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness to review the disparate systems of differential rent for social housing in place across local authorities. The objective is to ensure housing supports are fair and sustainable, to prioritise those on the lowest incomes and to avoid creating welfare traps that may prevent people from either returning to work or the private housing market. The Minister expects the results of this review will be available shortly and on foot of that we will consider the appropriate next steps.

I thank the Minister of State for the response but it is the usual Department script. We need to know why, nine years after the 2009 Act, the rent differential scheme is not yet a reserved function for local authority members. It is now four years since the introduction of the Housing Act 2014. Reserving this function for local authority members is an element of both Acts. Will the Minister of State clarify the position of SI 214 of 2014? The increases that have been introduced are horrendous. The example I provided indicated a more than 100% increase but I have numerous others.

There is a new method of assessing incomes of joint tenants or of partners and spouses. It imposes a 20% rather than 10% assessment of additional income. In many cases, there are husbands and wives, spouses or partners where one has a half-rate carer's allowance. The new system reduces the €107 per week of the half-rate carer's allowance by €21.40, or 20%. These carers are looking after spouses or partners on a 24-7 basis but they are effectively being cut by 20%. There is a similar issue with family income supplement, as workers on very low incomes entitled to family income supplement lose 20% under these new rent rules. These are horrendous increases. When will the process become a reserved function, as indicated in two Acts going back over nine years? We have heard promises before but they have not been implemented. When will the reserved function be implemented finally?

The only answer I can give the Deputy is that the results of the review undertaken by the Minister and his officials on his behalf are imminent. Following that, a scheme for a more uniform system of differential rent will be introduced. That is the Government's proposal. I am not sure why the original proposal from the 2009 legislation has not yet become law. I will endeavour to find out. The Deputy cannot expect to ask about SI 214 of 2014 and expect me to know the answer off the top of my head but I will get the answer to that question. The review's results are imminent and the Minister has indicated he will act on it.

It is unfair that there is not a common yardstick for different types of income in the calculation of differential rents across local authorities and the Deputy is right to point that out. That is one of the main purposes of the review. This stems from the fact that the common scheme disappeared in 1986 and was replaced with individual rent setting by housing authorities. There are 31 of them now and there would have been many more in 1986. The purpose of the review that the Minister will act on is to ensure the same broad standards and system apply in the calculation of differential rents in Tipperary County Council, Kilkenny County Council and every other local authority in the country. I will revert directly to the Deputy on SI 214 of 2014.

Protected Disclosures

There is a review ongoing by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform of how protected disclosures legislation is operating.

The case shows the legislation to be operating in a shambolic way when it comes to Cork Institute of Technology. A protected disclosure was made from CIT in 2012 and was acknowledged as such – I have a copy of the email acknowledging it. The disclosure was repeated in 2017. It was mishandled across the board, including by the Higher Education Authority and the Department. Evidence was given before the Committee of Public Accounts but I do not believe it stands up to scrutiny. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, are all aware of this.

The individual in the case who took out the protected disclosure has been out of work for more than four years without an income. This is not the way these issues should be treated.

The president of the college has not dealt with this issue appropriately. The HEA has not dealt with it appropriately and, dare I say it, the Department has not dealt with it appropriately. All along, this person has been without an income because of doing the right thing. The Minister of State is well aware of this case. It is strange for myself and the two Deputies opposite. We come from Tipperary, Kilkenny and Sligo and yet we are raising an issue relating to Cork Institute of Technology.

I appeal to the Minister of State to use her offices to deal with this issue and give faith back to people so they can make protected disclosures.

I have read over the minutes of the meeting at which this was raised. My experience of this case informs me that the Committee of Public Accounts was grossly misled, perhaps deliberately. I can say as much from my experience of the case and from reading the minutes.

The vice president of this particular institution is responsible for finance and human resources. He acknowledges receipt of a protected disclosure. He suggested ways and means of dealing with the protected disclosure. He made no effort whatsoever to protect the individual involved. As a result, the person has had no income since 2014. That is not the way to do business and it is certainly not the way to put information before the Committee of Public Accounts.

I have looked down through the minutes. Many statements are incorrect and misleading. There is an onus now on the Department to accept the disclosure made in 2012 and to acknowledge that it happened. I have it before me in writing. The Department should take the necessary steps to compensate the person concerned and to deal with the issues raised. They were raised by someone who has experience in governance and good practice and who was a decent employee of the college. Yet, that person is being blackguarded by the same college and by the Department. It is not right and the Minister of State should intervene.

The vice president of Cork Institute of Technology said the college attempted to engage but that the individual did not engage. That is a lie, quite frankly. This person went to the chair of the board of CIT, the chairman of the audit committee, the vice president of strategy, the head of the school and faculty, the vice president and the registrar. All these approaches occurred in 2012 and 2013 but no action was taken. In August 2017 the person requested to meet the new president. This was refused and the person was not granted a meeting. In June 2017, the person wrote to each member of the board of CIT. This was clearly ignored and was not reflected in the minutes of the board. The vice president said before the Committee of Public Accounts that he accepted that risk management as a methodology within CIT was not well-developed at this stage. At the same meeting, the president stated that serious failures in governance existed.

How can we expect anyone to have confidence in this institution? This is about protecting taxpayers' money. No matter who is in government, it is a case of circling the wagons and throwing the whistleblower under the bus. That is what we are doing: we are throwing someone under the bus and leaving that person with no salary. On the one hand we encourage all people to come forward and tell the truth. That is only so long as they know that when the do the shutters will come down in lightening fashion. Instead of a policy of delay, deny and defend, the Minister of State should do what is right by this person and the taxpayer.

It is probably not wise, Deputy, to accuse someone outside the House of lying.

I am only being guided by the minutes and the facts in terms of the documents.

Maybe you are, but it is still not-----

Sometimes privilege exists to be used in the appropriate fashion and I do not take it back. Thank you.

I take it that you do not take it back, Deputy, but I am still suggesting to you that it is not a wise course of action.

Thank you for your suggestion, a Cheann Comhairle. I know you have my best interests at heart but I am thinking about the taxpayer.

We are all concerned for the taxpayer.

I thank Deputy Alan Kelly, Deputy John McGuinness and Deputy Marc MacSharry for raising this issue.

The Deputies will be aware that the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 provides a detailed and comprehensive legal framework to allow any worker who is penalised for making a protected disclosure to secure redress. The Act is supplemented by the procedures that all public bodies are required to put in place under section 21 for the making of protected disclosures and for dealing with such disclosures.

The Department of Education and Skills operates within this legal framework when dealing with protected disclosures. The Deputies will appreciate that there is a legal responsibility on the Department to protect the identity of the individual who makes a protected disclosure. While respecting this legal responsibility, I am happy to provide the Deputies with an update on the specific issue raised today. I can confirm that the Department received a protected disclosure relating to CIT in May 2017. There have been 12 steps to the process since then. In line with the agreed procedures within the Department, the disclosure was referred to the Higher Education Authority for examination. Under step two, I understand officials from the HEA made initial contact with Cork Institute of Technology in July 2017 to provide the officials with an outline of the allegations, but in a manner to protect the identity of the discloser consistent with the strict confidentiality provisions set out in section 16. The HEA has also met the discloser to discuss the allegations in more detail.

Under step three, following an initial response from CIT, officials from the HEA met the discloser to discuss the disclosures in more detail. Under step four there was subsequent correspondence between the HEA and the discloser arising from that meeting. Under step five, in light of the additional information arising from this subsequent engagement with the discloser, the HEA has recently taken further steps to examine the issues raised. Specifically, under step seven, the HEA wrote to the chair of the governing body of CIT on 29 June seeking the definitive response from CIT to the allegations.

Under step eight, the HEA has asked CIT to respond to a specific set of questions relating to the disclosures. The HEA sought confirmation that CIT is satisfied that academic staff in the department in question are not engaged in any external activities that are in conflict with their roles in CIT. The HEA sought confirmation that academic staff in that department have sought the necessary approvals to engage in external employment outside CIT. The HEA sought confirmation that CIT is satisfied that there has been no breach of the code of conduct for employees by academic staff in that department. The HEA sought details of the actions taken by CIT to investigate any previous or similar complaints or allegations made about those same issues. The HEA also asked whether CIT has suffered any adverse financial impact as a result of the practices that are alleged to have happened in the protected disclosure.

The Department and the HEA know that this has been going on for six years. The Minister of State provided information about the response from the HEA on 20 July. Although welcome, this does not acknowledge the fact that this has been an issue since 2012.

I have in my possession, as do my two colleagues, the email showing that this disclosure goes back to 2012. This person has been out of work since 2014. No one with knowledge about this case would make a protected disclosure. I appeal to the Minister of State to use her offices to ensure the person who made the disclosure is reinstated. The HEA has responded to the requests of the Minister of State.

Will she, please, get them to look at what they said in their last three appearances related to Cork Institute of Technology before the Committee of Public Accounts, the last being only two months ago when they were asked if there had been any protective disclosure prior to 2017, even under draft policy, and they said no. This issue must be put to bed. The Minister of State knows about it, as does the Department, the HEA and the president, as well as the college and its board, although, for some reason, it is not included in its minutes. They have all known about it for some time. It is disgraceful that it has not been dealt with one way or the other in six years.

I respect the Minister of State's intervention; however, it is clear from the response that neither she, CIT nor the Higher Education Authority, HEA, is dealing with the reasons the whistleblower made the protected disclosure in the first place. It is because she was treated badly having made the disclosure. The whistleblower needs to be put back in employment and there must be recognition of what was done in the context of the information she gave to Mr. Paul Gallagher. Bearing in mind how the legislation is meant to protect whistleblowers, like the draft policy of the college in 2012, they should, in conscience, pay the whistleblower from 2014 onwards. That is what is stated in the legislation. Will the Minister of State ensure the HEA which, incidentally, takes its time in responding to Deputies will make sure she is put back on salary and compensated, dating back to 2014?

For the record, I gave the protected disclosure directly to the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton. I passed it to him, but nothing really constructive has happened since.

In order that there can be no doubt, I can testify that the whistleblower is sane, highly competent and skilled in the area of governance and that she was thrown under the bus. I will give the email to which Deputy Alan Kelly referred to the Minister of State as soon as I conclude in order that she will definitely have it.

We need to start by paying the person's salary and backdating it. The Department of Education and Skills botched its response to the second disclosure in 2017, to which Deputy John McGuinness referred. It contacted CIT through back channels without telling the whistleblower, which was entirely against its own code of conduct. The wagons were circled to see what story the Department and CIT could put on it to save their faces and that of the HEA. CIT continue to dream up ways of destroying the individual who, as the other Deputies have noted, has not worked since. CIT has failed to comply with the request made by the HEA and the Department in May that it sort out any whistleblower in May 2014 prior to the passing of the Act. It did not do so. What we need is goodwill on the part of the HEA and the Department, as well as closure. They need to take control of the matter, with CIT, and get this done. Ultimately, the whistleblower did it with only taxpayers in mind. It is time we did the right thing by them.

One of the Deputies mentioned the date of 20 July. We will receive informed responses to the questions we put to CIT by that date.

The Department is satisfied that the issues raised in the protected disclosure received by it in May 2017 are being addressed by the HEA in accordance with the provisions of the Protected Disclosures Act, by which I am bound.

Only now; they covered it up.

My understanding is-----

What is the first sentence?

Will the Deputies, please, let the Minister of State continue?

As I said in my first sentence, the Department received the protected disclosure in May 2017. The discloser has been kept informed of progress. CIT has been asked to respond by 20 July to the allegations made. The HEA, not the Minister, will determine the appropriate next steps to be taken based on the response.

Returning to what the Deputies asked about the meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts, I am not aware of any aspect of the record of that meeting on 24 May that needs to be corrected. The meeting discussed a number of issues related to CIT, including whether it had received a protected disclosure prior to 2017. The Protected Disclosures Act has retrospective effect to the extent that redress can be sought by a worker for penalisation for making a protected disclosure made before the legislation was commenced. Any concern raised internally, prior to July 2014, when the Protected Disclosure Act came into force, would have been a matter for CIT to deal with, whatever policies and procedures were in place at the time.

The Minister will have the emails.

The Department is not aware of any specific instance where the record of the Committee of Public Accounts needs to be amended arising from anything stated by an official of the Department or the HEA on 24 May.

We are going to give them to the Minister of State.

Please, Deputy.

May I finish? It is a matter for the representatives of CIT to determine whether there is a need to correct any statement they made at the meeting.

That concludes consideration of that particularly vexed matter.

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services Provision

I do not know if the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, was here earlier when the Taoiseach was boasting about living up to the commitments made in the programme for Government about expanding capacity in child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS. I do not know how he or the Minister of State could square that boast with the decision made two weeks ago by the HSE to close one of the most successful child and adolescent day care centres, the Linn Dara CAMHS unit in Cherry Orchard Hospital. It was closed on 6 July for possibly five or six months. It has played a vital and highly positive role in the lives of many young people who have availed of its services since it opened. The decision to close it is ridiculous and follows on from a decision made last year to close half of the inpatient services for the months of June, July, August, September and October last year.

Every parent I know who had a child attend the Linn Dara CAMHS unit in Cherry Orchard Hospital has had very positive experiences and praised the service and the staff, in particular, and acknowledged the benefits for his or her child. Closing the service is a retrograde step which will add huge pressure on inpatient services not only in the future but also now, as those who cannot access the day service will try to get their children into the inpatient service. It will also put pressure on the local adult mental health services because the parents of children will have to reach out somehow to get some help or seek relief for their children, as well as some access to psychiatry, social workers, nurses, occupational therapists, dieticians, social care workers, speech and language therapists and educationists who are available in the day services provided in the CAMHS centre. It is a multi-disciplinary service which has worked well. I commend the Mental Health Warriors who have protested against the closure and will arrange another this Thursday.

I ask the Minister of State to intervene to ensure the centre will reopen as quickly as possible, which means tomorrow or this week.

I echo what my party colleague said. It is a bit like "Groundhog Day". I raised the closure of 11 beds last year. Approximately 12 months to the day - there may be a couple of days in it - I am raising the decision to close the outpatient clinic at Linn Dara at a time when the 22 inpatient beds are full. According to the staff members to whom we have been listening, the HSE is not putting a sufficient focus on this. We had the same situation last year and - lo and behold - we are back with the same old thing this year. There is no such thing as forward planning. Things are breaking down. The Minister admitted earlier this year that those closure of the Linn Dara beds has put pressure on adult admissions into mental health services. For two years, this House has been debating the need to keep children out of adult services. This is another example of the failure to engage in forward planning.

I am aggrieved about the reply I received to a parliamentary question I tabled in respect of Linn Dara services, which asked "the Minister for Health the estimated annual cost of reopening the closed CAMHS" beds at the centre. It is ironic that I received the reply in question on 5 July, which was the day before the closure of the outpatient clinic. Even though I had asked about the annual cost of reopening the beds, I was told in the reply I received that it had been decided to reduce temporarily from 22 to 11 the number of inpatient beds available at Linn Dara. I was advised that this temporary reduction was applied from June 2017 to October 2017 and was necessary because of ongoing nursing staff shortages. I was further advised that funding was maintained throughout the year to assist with the reopening of these beds. It is like saying, "We gave them a bucket with no ass in it and sent them to the river to empty it". Twelve months on, we are in the exact same situation. All we are getting is absolute waffle from the Department. It cannot even answer a question. I asked for costs. There is no forward planning. If we keep going down this road, we will lose more people and more staff. Individuals and their family members and friends are suffering, unfortunately,

I thank Deputies Ó Snodaigh and Buckley for raising this important issue. I know they are genuinely interested in mental health services. The policy of the HSE, as reflected in its annual service plans, is to provide age-appropriate mental health services to people under the age of 18. In view of the significant additional funding that has been provided over recent years, I reiterate this Government’s commitment to the development of all aspects of mental health, including that relating to young people. The Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, is continuing to make the case for further resources annually, in line with evolving demands and in accordance with the commitments set out in A Programme for a Partnership Government.

The HSE service plan for 2018 commits to further developing child and adolescent mental health services, known as CAMHS. This is happening against a background where the demand for CAMHS increased by 26% between 2012 and 2017. Various youth mental health initiatives other than the specialist CAMHS service are also being progressed. We have 69 CAMHS teams and three paediatric liaison teams supported by approximately 75 CAMHS beds nationally. Further beds are planned to come on stream as quickly as possible. The Government has funded an additional 140 psychiatric nurse undergraduates places each year to help to improve the planning and delivery of services over the coming years.

The issue of staff recruitment and retention, particularly in the sphere of CAMHS, is a key difficulty that is being addressed on a steady basis by the HSE. These are two key issues in this debate. The recent appointment by the HSE of 114 assistant psychologists and 20 psychologists will help to develop counselling services in primary care. It is anticipated that these posts will deal with less complex child and adolescent cases, thereby reducing the demand on CAMHS. The Minister of State recently approved ten new posts for advance nurse practitioners that will be specifically directed to the CAMHS service nationally. These new practitioners will play a key role in delivering better service co-ordination where local service pressures are greatest.

The HSE Linn Dara CAMHS service covers a population of approximately 420,000 across County Kildare, west Wicklow and south-west Dublin. There are seven multidisciplinary community CAMHS teams for these areas. The HSE has indicated that a decision was taken by the Linn Dara management team to temporarily suspend its day programme from Friday, 6 July 2018 to maintain essential community and inpatient services. It is expected that the day programme will reopen in September or October. This decision was taken due to psychiatry and allied health professional temporary staffing shortages in the community sectors.

To maintain essential provision of services, psychiatry and multidisciplinary staff have been reassigned from the adolescent day programme to maintain other key community-based Linn Dara services and manage their overall capacity at this time. The small number of young people who were scheduled to attend the adolescent day programme will continue to attend their existing community CAMHS teams and to receive appropriate individual and therapeutic programmes. The HSE has a statutory responsibility to ensure safe, adequate and sufficient service provision to all areas of the CAMHS service. The Linn Dara inpatient unit will remain fully operational as normal, with 22 beds and functioning community teams available. I assure the Deputies that the Minister of State will keep this matter under close review. All efforts will continue to be made by the HSE to address the ongoing service difficulties at Linn Dara.

This closure is unacceptable and inexcusable. I agree with Deputy Buckley that this is a question of forward planning. As the Minister of State said, the Linn Dara CAMHS unit in Cherry Orchard hospital covers a population of nearly 500,000 people. This means that more than 200,000 young people no longer have access to day programmes. The Minister of State has said they have access to local CAMHS services, but that is not what many of those involved need at this stage. Most of them have been through the CAMHS service and have been referred to the day service for a particular reason. If they are unable to access those day services for a number of months, it could be detrimental to their health and future well-being. I urge the Minister of State to get the HSE to look at this again now, rather than waiting until September or October before deciding when this service will be reopened. It needs to be reopened now.

I thank the Minister of State for his answer. He mentioned HSE policy. The HSE is unable to plan. I question the Government's commitment. We do not have enough time to go through these issues. The Minister of State referred to 69 CAMHS teams. How many of them are fully staffed? I would not like to see a CAMHS premier league because there would not be too many teams playing against each other. It is not good enough to say this is a staffing problem. Surely we should have moved on over the past 12 months. It is a HSE problem and a Department of Health problem. It appears that the cost of getting staff to work in providing these services is too high a target for the Government. It seems to be afraid to spend money. The problem is that we are putting children at risk. When we, as legislators, put children at risk, it is not just their problem - it is our problem and the Government's problem as well. I reiterate that we should not try to fix something that has not been broken.

I thank the Deputies for raising this important issue. I commend them for mentioning that there are some positive experiences in child and adolescent mental health services. Of course I will bring the views they have set out during this debate to the attention of the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly. They have raised some important issues. As I have mentioned, some 69 CAMHS teams and three paediatric liaison teams are supported by 75 CAMHS beds. It is planned that further beds will come on stream as soon as possible. We have to face the reality that staff recruitment and retention is a particular issue for the CAMHS service. I take on board the strong points that have been made about the failure to engage in future or forward planning. We have to look at that issue and address it strongly. We must ensure we get value for money for patients from the 26% increase in spending. In the context of this debate, I am referring particularly to young people with mental health issues. I will bring back the Deputies' concerns to the Minister of State to see whether they can be responded to positively.

Mental Health Services Provision

I welcome the opportunity to raise this important issue with the Minister of State. As a member of the Joint Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care, I recently paid a visit to my local Offaly-Laois child and adult mental health service, CAHMS, located at St. Fintan's Hospital in Portlaoise. Built in 1832, it was formerly known as St. Fintan's Asylum. It is an intimidating building and much of it is in a poor state of repair. Even the main entrance steps are damaged, with grey timber panels on either side attached to the railing. The first impressions are not great. Internally, however, the Laois CAMHS facility has been upgraded and is modem and bright. The Offaly service is also run out of this old building. It has not been refurbished but I was delighted to learn on the day of my visit that there are plans to move to a modern premises in Tullamore, which will result in a better experience for young people. The new premises will be more accessible to them and their parents.

While on my visit, I was extremely concerned to learn of plans to reduce the staffing levels in the young adult mental health service, YAMHS, in Offaly and Laois. This service is specifically targeted at those between 16 and 18 and has a fully functioning team and no waiting lists. I was dismayed to learn during my visit that, at a time when the Government's stated objective is to prioritise mental health services and increase the resources for youth mental health services, the HSE management team in CHO area 8 is planning to cut three full-time equivalent posts in the YAMHS. This means that one psychotherapist position, two nursing posts and an administrator are due to be cut by the HSE. This proposal flies in the face of a cross-sectoral commitment to improving mental health services for children and young adults. We are all aware of the vital importance of access to services and treatment in a timely manner for young people who find themselves distressed or in an emergency. I know from my dealings with local families who have engaged with the YAMHS in Offaly and Laois that they are highly complimentary of the quality of the service and the dedication and commitment of the multidisciplinary teams working there.

I am informed that the service is currently meeting targets for all its performance indicators but the proposed cut to staffing levels would inevitably damage the capacity of the service to cope with the ever-increasing number of referrals it is receiving. Over five years, the service has dealt with 1,000 referrals. What plans has the HSE to deal with the young people from 16 to 18 who may be referred over the next five years? Reducing the staffing levels in the YAMHS is just going to place increased pressure on the CAMHS, which is trying to manage significant waiting lists in Offaly and Laois. Is it intended to put those patients back into the CAMHS where there are existing waiting lists? How will emergency cases be dealt with?

I understand that, year on year, the number of children and young people engaging with the service for diagnosis and treatment for conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is increasing. It is important that our children and young people have access to early intervention and that the necessary professional supports and services be provided at the appropriate time.

Psychotherapists play a pivotal role in the delivery of the youth mental health services, as do the specialist nurses. The operation of the service requires skilled administrators. All play a vital role in the lives of the young people who need to access the service. I am perplexed as to why staff numbers are being reduced at a time when anxiety among young people is at an unprecedented level. There are myriad reasons for this but there is emerging evidence that social media have a large role in this.

We must ensure that the proposed cutback in this area does not happen. Can the Minister of State confirm the accuracy of the reports that one of the psychotherapists working in the YAMHS in Laois and Offaly will be leaving their position at the end of July and that two nurses and an administrator will have to leave their posts? What is the reason for this? Does the HSE intend to get rid of the YAMHS altogether? It seems to be providing a service that we all aspire to. Should the HSE not be trying to replicate this model across the country instead of trying to get rid of it?

I thank Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy for raising this important issue. I am well aware of the great work of the Oireachtas committee, particularly on this issue.

There are six CAMHS teams in the midlands mental health services. The staffing levels of these teams are currently at or above the national average. The staff allocation for the two young adult mental health service, YAMHS, teams in the midlands is also above the national average. The level of staff in Laois-Offaly YAMHS is at 222.6% of the figure in A Vision for Change and that for Longford-Westmeath YAMHS is at 182.4% of the figure in A Vision for Change. As such, the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, has been informed that the HSE intends to reconfigure the staffing levels by removing any unfunded posts, which do not form part of the sanctioned allocation. This is necessary to provide a service within the allocated resources available and to comply with the policy in A Vision for Change.

Mental health remains a priority for the Government. This is reflected by the allocation in budget 2018 of an additional €35 million for new service developments, bringing total HSE mental health funding to around €910 million this year. Since 2012, around €200 million in additional funding has been provided for this care programme, and some 2,000 new posts were approved. The HSE continues to enhance various aspects of its CAMHS, including improved access at local level for areas such as Laois and Offaly. There has been increased funding for CAMHS for Laois-Offaly, rising from €1.387 million in 2011 to €2.528 million in 2018. The overall staff number for the service increased from approximately 16 in 2011 to 34 in 2018. It should be noted that there has been a significant increase in activity levels for the respective years. For example, the number of referrals received increasing from 167 to 1,044. New appointments offered increased from 146 to 797, and the number of new clients seen increased from 107 to 484.

The HSE service plan for 2018 will further develop all aspects of CAMHS, including inpatient or community-based care. This is a strategic priority action in the plan, against a background where the population of children is increasing and where demand for CAMHS has seen a 26% increase since 2012. Approximately 18,800 referrals are expected for HSE CAMHS nationally this year, with in the region of 14,300 being seen by this specialist service.

Among the other CAMHS-specific measures included in the HSE service plan for 2018 are: an initiative to increase the number of CAMHS referrals to be seen this year by 27% over the number in 2017; provision for a seven-day-week service for CAMHS to ensure supports for young people, in line with Connecting for Life; and improvement of the day-hospital services within CAMHS. The HSE is also focusing on enhanced access for older adolescents to specialist mental health services, along with continued appropriate placement and care in CAMHS-specific settings.

I must also mention the broader menial health activity in this area. The HSE midlands, Louth and Meath community health care organisation, in partnership with community, voluntary and statutory organisations, is developing a regional suicide prevention action plan for the counties of Laois, Offaly, Longford, Westmeath, Louth and Meath. This local strategy is aligned with the national strategy to reduce suicide, Connecting for Life, in which young people have been identified as a priority group for support and prevention.

I just cannot accept this diminution in the service when the Government is increasing budgets to the mental health services every year and, crucially, when the demand for the service is also increasing. That staffing levels are above the national average, that there are no waiting lists at this point and that the services are dealing with the emergencies when they come to them point to the success of the YAMHS team. I would not be penalising it by suggesting it is overstaffed, wishing it luck and stating that its staffing number will be reduced to that of others that are not able to deal with those they need to deal with when they need to do so.

The HSE has no grade for art therapist. Art therapy is widely accepted as an important aspect of therapy and treatment for young and old alike. Now it seems that position is to be dispensed with. That the HSE does not even have a grade goes to show how little it emphasises something of such importance to young and old alike.

The HSE's stated position in its mission statement on mental health is to "Promote and protect the mental health of the population, to provide effective services to those who need them making the best use of existing resources and to seek to continuously improve those services making best use of the resources available". How can the HSE stand over this decision given the negative consequences for the remaining staff and young patients who are and will be accessing the service? This development is completely avoidable. I really resent what the Minister of State said about the service being overstaffed. The 2016 census indicates Ireland's population of people aged between ten and 24 years is expected to increase to more than1 million in the next seven years.

There are still far too many young people dying by suicide across this country, especially young men, so we have a duty to maintain and expand our mental health services in the years ahead. The services that are succeeding and capable of delivering to young people and young adults should be maintained, not reduced.

The figure for overall spending in 2018 is €910 million. That is a huge increase in spending on mental health services over the past number of years. The second point, which is important, is that in April there were 10,008 people employed in mental health services in this country. That is an increase of approximately 193 compared with 2017. Another important point is that the staffing levels in CAMHS teams in the midlands mental health services - there are six teams - is at or above the national average for CAMHS services. The staff allocation for the YAMHS in the midlands is significantly above the average of 58% of A Vision for Change. The HSE has informed the Department that it is necessary to reconfigure its staffing levels by removing any unfunded posts which do not form part of its sanctioned allocation.

On the specific issue the Deputy raised, I will convey her concern to the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, that he look again at this issue. The locally based multi-agency response to self-harm and suicide is in final development and when launched will support local communities to respond to suicidal behaviour. The Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, has also asked his officials to continue to monitor the ongoing delivery of services in Laois and Offaly in conjunction with the HSE. Finally, I will refer all the issues and concerns Deputy Corcoran Kennedy raised to the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly.