Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

Next week will see a motion from the Dáil reform committee to increase this slot from 15 minutes to 30, if that is to what Members agree.

Today 21 Members have indicated, but it is highly unlikely that we will reach all 21.

The motion is a welcome development.

Returning to my previous question, if the Secretary General in the Minister's Department was aware of a major cost overrun and did not inform her, what action would she take?

Ring PricewaterhouseCoopers.

My understanding of the Deputy's question is based on the debate under way and I have already answered him in that regard. I believe what the Ministers have said.

The question was simple.

We have to wait for another report.

I asked the Minister what she would do.

If my Secretary General knew about a cost overrun-----

The Minister would fire him.

-----knew exactly what it was and waited a number of months, I would have questions. I would not be satisfied with it. I understand from what the Ministers have said that that was not the case in this instance.

We learned as we came into the Chamber that in September senior officials in the Department of Health were aware that the cost overrun was reaching a figure of €391 million.

It is reported in The Irish Times and on RTÉ. The minutes are there. We will have the copy when we leave this Chamber. Senior staff of the Department of Health knew that the overrun of that project was €391 million in September. A month later, with the Minister for Health sitting beside him, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, delivered a budget to this Chamber under false pretences because somebody knew, at least senior officials knew, at that stage that there was a massive hole due to the overrun on expenditure on the children's hospital. We are asked to believe that a number of senior staff in the Department of Health did not tell their Minister. We are then asked to believe that the Minister, Deputy Harris, did not tell the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, who was in negotiations with him during the budget, and then we are told that we must wait for the PwC report.

The time is up.

I will finish on this. The PwC report-----

The Deputy's time is up.

I am just finishing on this.

No, the Deputy's time is up.

The Taoiseach stated the PwC report would hold individuals accountable and identify individuals who made particular mistakes, and yet the terms of reference do not allow for that.

The Deputy's time is up.

It is more spin and not enough substance. Will the Minister, Deputy Zappone, stand over the fact that the report on the €391 million figure is being issued today?

Deputy Doherty is taking his colleagues' time.

I myself did not get a chance to see that. I understand from Deputy Doherty's question that he is taking as a fact what he has read about that report.

The minutes of the board meeting.

The minutes of the meeting.

The minutes of the board are published.

I will stand by what I stated previously about the report that is coming to us. That is when we will get our answers to the questions.

Is it credible that the Secretary General would attend at a board meeting, have a minute given to him that there was an understanding because there was an invoice for this overrun, and that he, as the Accounting Officer of the Department of Health, would conduct bilaterals with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and not mention any of that? How could there be a rational budgetary process that was looking at every cent in the context of the overruns for last year and the potential costs for this year without that being mentioned? Is that credible?

I understand that the Deputy has these questions. That is all I would say, first of all. Is it credible? I do not know what was going on in the mind of the officials in having some sense of how they could ensure that whatever negotiations were going on would result in something that was good. I do not know what was going on in their minds. I understand the Deputy's question whether it was credible. I understand that the Deputy is asking that. There is a question but I am not going to answer it.

I raise an issue I have raised on numerous occasions over the past two and a half years, that is, access to medicinal cannabis. Mr. Kenny Tynan is a father of four from Roscommon who a number of years ago was diagnosed with a brain tumour and last year was granted a medicinal cannabis licence by the Minister. Unfortunately, that licence did not involve reimbursement. Somebody, in the interim, has paid for the first three months of medical cannabis. Obviously, that person cannot continue to do so, putting Mr. Tynan in a stressful situation for his family.

The substantial issue is the medical cannabis programme which was proposed two years ago. As of yet, there is nothing. This programme is not up and running. If the programme was up and running, reimbursement would be guaranteed, as would access. There are families who must leave the jurisdiction to go to Barcelona to get medical cannabis for their children. As Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone is quite progressive on this issue.

The Tynan family are constituents of mine. Indeed, Deputy Gino Kenny and I have been in contact over this. I will not take up time. I would certainly support the comments being made here on behalf of Mr. Tynan and his family. It is a critical and difficult situation. I hope the Minister will be able to give some clarification and good news to us today.

Obviously, I will not comment on an individual case on the floor of the Dáil. As the Deputies opposite will be aware, there is a compassionate access programme that is consultant-led. Provided it is prescribed by a consultant, the Minister has the authority to sign access to that.

Work is ongoing, as the Deputies will be aware, within the Department. Deputies Kenny and Murphy will be aware of the progress we are trying to make in the area as a whole. Obviously, Deputy Kenny's Bill is part of that consideration, notwithstanding some of the difficulties that are presenting with it. Other than that, I cannot go any further when it is an individual case.

Is there a date for the programme?

I call Deputy Mattie McGrath.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Zappone, and her honest and fresh approach in trying to answer questions to the best of her ability.

I worked hard to try to get rural proofing put into the programme for Government and we were supposed to have rural proofing. An Post is closing post offices. I am talking about Clogheen in County Tipperary today. An independent review is supposed to be setting up an appeals system. They are no more independent than my sheepdog at home because An Post is writing the letters to answer them. An Post makes it so difficult for new people to take the post office. It wants too much space in the shop and has too many regulations. It is too expensive, prohibitive and with fewer services. Departments are also sending out letters every day encouraging people to transfer their business from post offices to banks. Will the Government do something to halt the attack on rural post offices which provide a vital service for rural areas? In Clogheen, people will have to walk or try to get a taxi, if they can get one, or bus or whatever to neighbouring parishes.

The time is up.

I thank the postmistress, Ms Margaret Moroney, for such sterling work there over the decades.

The following is a letter from an Intreo office manager:

Customers who are in receipt of a Jobseekers payment who have reached the age of 62 years of age, now have the option of having their Social Welfare payments paid into their bank account.

If you wish to have your payment paid into your back account, please complete the enclosed form and return to this office.

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is actively trying to rob customers from our post offices, which we are trying to keep open.

People have a choice. People should have a choice.

It is in the programme for Government that the Government wants to protect them. Will the Government make up its mind?

People cannot be forced. Deputy Healy-Rae knows well.

Does the Government want to close them? Why is the Minister of State shouting in the background?

I thank the Deputy. Can we get an answer?

Does the Government want to keep them open? They closed the Mastergeehy post office, outside of Waterville, a couple of weeks ago. It is a disgrace. Let them make up their minds-----

I thank the Deputies.

-----and stop sending out these letters.

Let me hear the Minister.

I have a rural postmistress as well. I appreciate the Deputies' questions. I will ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, to engage with the Deputies directly, and if he needs to talk to the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, so be it.

Luaitear i gclár oibre an Rialtais go ndíreoidh an Rialtas ar chothú fostaíochta sa Ghaeltacht trí Údarás na Gaeltachta agus go gcuirfear straitéis i bhfeidhm chun fás fostaíochta a leathnú amach. Luaitear é sin sa phlean gníomhaíochta, sa phlean náisiúnta, agus sa mhéid sin cáipéisí eile nach bhfuil mé in ann iad a chur in iúl anseo. In ainneoin sin, tá sé tagtha chun solais go bhfuil an comhlacht HID Global, atá lonnaithe i gcroílár na Gaeltachta ar an Tulaigh in Indreabhán, ag athlonnú go dtí cathair na Gaillimhe. Ar lámh amháin tá an Rialtas ag rá go bhfuil an Ghaeltacht thar a bheith tábhachtach agus go bhfuil sé tábhachtach fostaíocht a chothú agus jabanna agus poist a choinneáil ó thaobh na Gaeilge agus inmharthanacht na Gaeltachta de ach, ar an lámh eile, tá an chosúlacht ar an scéal go bhfuil áisíneachtaí an Stáit, Údarás na Gaeltachta agus an IDA, ag obair as lámh a chéile chun an comhlacht seo a mhealladh ó chroílár na Gaeltachta go dtí cathair na Gaillimhe. Tá na hAirí sinsireacha agus sóisearacha ar an eolas faoi sin. Tá gá le soiléiriú, le beart práinneach, agus le cruinniú le Teachtaí agus le muintir na háite.

Is drochscéal é seo don Ghaeltacht ach, buíochas le Dia, tá na poist ag fanacht i gContae na Gaillimhe agus ní bheidh aon phost caillte. Tá an scéal faoin ábhar seo agus faoin gcinneadh seo fada. Beidh HID agus Údarás na Gaeltachta ag déanamh ráiteas inniu nó amárach faoi seo. Beidh mé in ann caint faoin scéal tar éis na ráiteas sin.

It is most appropriate that I ask Deputy Zappone, who is Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, on behalf of 25 very ill children, when the HSE leadership meeting will take place to approve nusinersen, marketed as Spinraza, for all of those children suffering from spinal muscular atrophy. Last night I received an impassioned appeal from a grandparent which states:

This is a very anxious and fearful time for SMA suffers ... My gorgeous witty intelligent and physically invalided 8 year old granddaughter ... is anxiously awaiting its approval. I'm fearful, with so much going on at present ... that the approval of Spinraza may fall through the cracks.

Will the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs please use her good offices? We need to know the date in this month and we need to have certainty of the decision that will be taken.

As I stated in the House yesterday the meeting of the senior leadership team in the HSE is due to take place next Thursday when this matter will be discussed. This is not to say that it will be agreed there but the recommendation has come up to the senior leadership team. They will meet on Thursday, 14 February.

Will the Minister, Deputy Zappone, please notify me?

At yesterday's Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health the Secretary General, Jim Breslin, said that he received a formal briefing from the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board on the serious risk of the cost overrun. I understand that three days later Mr. Breslin met with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, at a meeting in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The cost overrun was fresh in his mind. Two issues have occurred here: the Secretary General withheld very serious and important information regarding this capital cost overrun or the Ministers knew unofficially and they are not admitting to that. Either one of these has happened and I want the Minister to bring clarity to that matter. Clearly the biggest capital cost overrun in the State was known to officials in June but we have no information or clarity on the issue and it is important that the Government brings clarity to the House. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, has said that he knew nothing of it until November, three days after the Secretary General received a briefing. Is the Minister saying that Mr. Breslin did not mention a word about the children's hospital at that meeting?

Will the Minister tell the House if he believes it is credible that this information was known by senior people in the Department of Health and kept from the Minister? Do any of the Ministers on the Government benches today believe that this stacks up? Do any of them want to answer this? Will they stand up and say they believe this has credibility? This is beyond a joke at this stage. Nurses and midwives are on the picket lines. Do the Ministers think it is lost on the nurses that the Government has endless money for a children's hospital and not a shilling for nurses? Do the Ministers think that nurses want to see members of the Government sitting in here folding their arms and shrugging their shoulders while saying they will have to wait for the PwC report? We cannot wait. Does this stack up? Does Fine Gael believe it has credibility? I ask the Ministers please to answer the question.

On the same question, it is not credible for the Minister to say that he was not aware of the report. We need to know if the Minister for Finance came to the House with a budget while knowing there was going to be a massive overrun? Did the Minister for Finance mislead the Dáil with the figures he gave to Members? All parties sit down and do their own pre-budget submission on the figures we believe will happen. Was the Minister well aware that this overrun was going to happen and did he come to the House knowing that fact?

I believe I have answered those questions. I understand, just as the Deputy does, the concerns of the nurses. Just because I am sitting here does not mean that I do not understand that. The initial question from Deputy Jack Chambers was whether the Secretary General had withheld the information or are the Ministers telling the truth. I believe the Ministers are telling the truth. With regard to the question on whether the Secretary General withheld information, the use of "withhold" implies that he did something wrong and I do not believe that he necessarily did anything wrong.

Did he pass the information on?

Did he have that information on the night of the meeting?

There is a row going on between the Government's own Fine Gael Deputies in Wexford about the local electoral areas and boundary changes. There are also problems in Kerry where parishes like Kilcummin have been divided into two. Parishes such as Gneeveguilla and Rathmore are also being divided into two. People are very angry. In Wexford the Minister of State, Deputy John Paul Phelan, has asked the local authority to respond or make submissions with regard to any concerns they have on boundary changes. Is that same opportunity open to people in Kerry when part of Kilcummin is put in with Ventry and Dingle? People have real concerns that their issues and problems will not be dealt with as they were when they were being dealt with in Killarney.

I thank Deputy Danny Healy-Rae for the question. I understand that it is in promised legislation but I will ask the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, to get back to the Deputy directly.

That concludes Questions on Promised Legislation. With ten Deputies remaining it is not possible to take everyone.