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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 14 Feb 2019

Vol. 979 No. 4

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Medical Products Supply

It was with great concern I received telephone calls in regard to the provision of incontinence pads to older people by the HSE. I raised this issue in a parliamentary question and it was passed on to the HSE. We need to look at the human side of this issue. Caring for older people, loved ones, is a challenging task at the best of times. People caring for people with disabilities face the same challenge. These people should not have always to fight for basic things to be done right. Unfortunately, people do have to fight constantly to get basic services. I understand that the delivery and supply of these hygiene products was very good until procurement came into play. The centralised procurement process, from the children's hospital to incontinence pads, is leading us to innumerable difficulties. People can no longer depend on the right quantity of product being delivered or on timely delivery. Everyone will accept a one-off blip, even Homer can nod, but when there is a continuous problem the situation becomes serious. As I said, it should never have happened.

When I raised the issue with the HSE, it responded that following a national tender process Freightspeed was the successful bidder and awarded the contract for the delivery of incontinence wear and that while it has encountered some issues around supply it is working hard with Freightspeed to improve the situation. National procurement discounts local deliveries, local suppliers, the people we rely on and the people who care. When are we going to go back to a system of procurement that is based not only on price but on service and reputation? I suggest that these contracts should be tendered for locally not nationally because regular, reliable local suppliers are being pushed out by the big people who do not have the same attention to the individuals as was there in the past.

Any of us facing the same situation involving faulty delivery as that facing people in the west of Ireland would ask that we put people ahead of the god of this procurement process that just seems to make a shambles of procurement from the highest level with the overruns on the children's hospital right down to just delivering a few incontinence pads in time, on time and all the time.

I thank the Deputy for the opportunity to address this issue on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Health. The community funded schemes are a collective name for the many products, supports, supplies and aids and appliances provided through the HSE community services for eligible persons. Their main purpose is to assist and support service users to live at home and also to facilitate hospital avoidance and assist with early discharge from hospital. The products are prescribed by consultants, GPs, public health nurses, continence advisers, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and dieticians. The products include incontinence wear that is delivered to healthcare settings such as long-stay residential services and to persons in their own homes.

The HSE has a national contract for the supply of incontinence products. Following a tendering process, the HSE selected a new product supplier and a new product distributor in 2018. I understand from the HSE that the new contracts have involved a lot of changes in the range of products and their distribution. There have been some issues relating to the timely delivery of products under the new contract. In 2018, the HSE put measures in place, including additional staff, an electronic management system and training of drivers to address initial difficulties. The HSE has informed the Minister for Health that it is continuing to work closely with the contracted delivery partners to ensure that the problems experienced by some service users in the CHO west region and other CHO areas are addressed as a matter of priority.

A governance structure has been put in place to oversee the national contract for the supply and delivery of incontinence products to ensure the timely delivery of these products to eligible persons in their homes across all CHOs. This involves each CHO putting in place additional controls and monitoring measures in respect of the ordering and distribution of these products. To support this process, additional administration staff have been put in place to carry out this work. The HSE is committed to ensuring that these service improvements will result in an enhanced and more efficient service for all. In the meantime, service users should let their local public health nursing service or health centre know if they are experiencing difficulties with supply of products.

I am not blaming the Minister of State. She gets these answers to read out. What we have just heard here blows my mind. The Government set up this national procurement system to save money. What result did we get? We got chaos, inefficiency, non-delivery and massive costs for the HSE in trying to undo the mess it created because the system was working perfectly until this tendering process was introduced. If the Government has made any savings by doing it on a national basis rather than continuing the old local tendering we used to have, the HSE has had to employ even more staff to monitor and try to get this right. As the saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. What we seem hell-bent on doing in this country is breaking everything and creating a central inefficient supply chain that does not work in the name of some savings that never materialise. In addition, we are taking jobs off smaller suppliers and thereby eliminating real competition - not just competition based on price. It is not just about competition on the visible price but competition on the real price of people getting what they need on time and in time.

As the final insult, and I accept that she was given her speech, the Minister of State indicated, "In the meantime, service users should let their local public health nursing service or health centre know if they are experiencing difficulties with supply of products." We are talking about the families of service users, who are already hugely burdened with problems, having to put right what they should not have to put right. Another burden is being put on people. Is humanity gone from this country in the name of some god of procurement or are we going to put people first?

Again, I apologise to the Deputy if the answer was not adequate. We all want what is best for those who are ill in our communities, particularly those loved ones who spend a lot of time at home and people in nursing homes. I am not unfamiliar with the matter. When my mother was so ill at home, the local service made life easier for all of us when we were looking after her. It involves simple basic things like incontinence pads and other medical equipment that will help people stay at home and help their carers and families to give them the care they need at home. I did not decide that there would be a process for this. I believe that at some stage, we must look at local care and connect that through our primary care centres. Regarding why this problem has arisen, I can only relay to the Deputy the answer I have been given but I assure him that everything is being done through the HSE and the Minister to keep the services and the supply chain in place and to make sure it is done effectively and efficiently in each local area. That is what we all want. Nobody wants to see anybody, particularly people caring for those who are ill, being left without incontinence pads or other medical devices in their local communities. The Deputy may not agree with the procurement process. Probably some of us here do not agree with it either but it is in place. It is most important to make sure whoever gets this contract delivers effectively and on time to those people caring for their loved ones at home or in other health areas. I will take the Deputy's response back to the Minister and make sure he hears what the Deputy has had to say.

Human Rights

I am glad to have the opportunity to raise this issue. It has come about from engagement some of us have had with people from Bahrain and human rights organisations. It is also topical today because 14 February is the eighth anniversary of the pro-democracy movement that took place in Bahrain along with many other countries in the Middle East. In the eight years since then, we have seen the repression of the movement. What is the fear around democracy and democratic movements? When we look at the world, we can see that it is those countries with free democratic elections and the peaceful transfer of power after elections that have stability, growth, health and education.

Bahrain has seen the horrific repression of a democratic movement. It involves the repression of the protesters, be they lawyers, doctors, students, teachers, human rights defenders and members of civil society. The repression continues today with torture, police and military brutality and forced disappearance. I want to look in particular at the treatment of prisoners. There are inhumane conditions in Juw Prison and Isa Town Female Detention Center. Both prisons violate the UN standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners. As well as the inhumane physical conditions, there are concerns over access to medication for prisoners, family visits, degrading searches and above all, the lack of accountability. I want to mention three women prisoners in particular: Hajer Mansoor, Medina Ali and Najah Ahmed Yusuf, all of whom are in need of medical care. Their cases have been raised by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the UN.

There are questions around the relationship our Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland, RCSI, has with King Hamad University Hospital. I must ask whether the RCSI is living up to its ethical and moral standards. I have had correspondence from the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade on this. I think there is a need to go further.

The institutions in Bahrain supposed to be looking after human rights, such as its Ministry of Interior, Public Prosecutions Service and so on, are not independent and impartial. That is why they need voices like Ireland's.

I thank the Minister of State for attending to deal with this item. I and my party are growing increasingly concerned about the repression of civil and political society in Bahrain. As Deputy O'Sullivan said, this is the eighth anniversary of the violent suppression by the Bahraini Government of the peaceful pro-democracy movement in Bahrain. In the eight years since the crackdown, the situation has worsened, with numerous adverse developments in the past year alone.

The Minister of State will know it has been reported that the Bahraini Government is engaged in a campaign to repress political, civil and human rights and has taken steps to curb fundamental freedoms, including the right of freedom of expression, free assembly and a free press, among others. In 2017, authorities in Bahrain shut down the country's only independent newspaper and the leading secular left opposition political society. Just this month, the Supreme Court of Bahrain sentenced Sheikh Ali Salman, secretary general of the dissolved Al Wefaq political society, and senior Al Wefaq members, Sheikh Hassan Sultan and Ali Aswad, to life imprisonment. Following the sentencing, the spokesperson for the EU said: "Today’s final verdict marks a further step against dissenting voices and undermines the residual chances for an inclusive political dialogue in the Kingdom of Bahrain." The elections in Bahrain in 2018 were neither fair nor free, and human rights defenders and those who have expressed criticism of government policy have been arrested, tortured, interrogated and held in arbitrary detention.

Given the current situation in Bahrain, it is ironic, to say the least, that Bahrain has a seat on the UN Human Rights Council and will do so until its term expires in 2021. The Human Rights Council is an intergovernmental body within the United Nations system and is responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe, and for addressing human rights violations and making recommendations on them. One wonders how the council can effectively carry out its functions when one of its members is actively and deliberately suppressing human rights.

I ask the Government to show leadership on this issue. The 40th session of the Human Rights Council takes place from 25 February to 22 March. I urge the Government to use this as an opportunity to express our grave concerns and to issue a statement condemning the actions of the Bahraini authorities ahead of the next session of the Human Rights Council.

I thank the Deputies for raising this issue. It is, of course, a matter of grave concern for the Government that, eight years on from the beginning of the 2011 pro-democracy protests, Bahrain has not progressed in the way we had hoped. In fact, it has become an increasingly restrictive society, civic society space has contracted significantly and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of expression and association, are violated with worrying frequency. There are reports that the elections of last November took place in an environment that stifled dissent, and recent reports of torture and other inhumane and degrading treatment in regard to detained persons are especially distressing. We urge all states to safeguard the rights of prisoners and detainees, and our voice has been prominent in highlighting this particular thematic issue.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is engaging with the Government of Bahrain, and this includes with its embassy in London, on a range of issues, including the ones I have outlined. Given the long-standing bilateral links between Ireland and Bahrain, for example, on the training of medical personnel, raising Ireland's concerns about human rights and freedom of expression in Bahrain is a prominent part of the dialogue we have on an ongoing basis. The Bahraini Government has given repeated commitments that it is taking action to improve the human rights situation and to safeguard rights which are enshrined in its constitution. However, the facts are very clear and the facts on the ground show that it has yet to live up to those commitments. I take this opportunity again to call on the Bahraini Government to follow through on its obligations.

The Deputies have raised many issues of concern, in particular in regard to specific people who have been detained. I am aware there is particular consciousness of Sheikh Ali Salman, secretary general of what was once Bahrain's largest opposition political party, who was sentenced to life in prison in November of last year. This is something we are monitoring and are extremely concerned about, particularly in regard to Sheikh Ali Salman's trial but also other trials in recent times.

Protection of fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression and opinion, is a cornerstone of our foreign policy. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade receives regular reports from NGOs on the situation in Bahrain. As a small country, Ireland amplifies its voice on human rights issues through multilateral engagement and measured recommendations offered as part of constructive dialogue. We continually advocate in favour of a free and fair democratic process and for the right of civil society actors and human rights defenders to operate in a safe environment, but also without fear of reprisals for speaking out. Ireland also urges all states to safeguard the human rights of prisoners and detainees, and is committed to the prevention and eradication of torture and other forms of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.

Deputy Niall Collins raised the issue of the UN Human Rights Council. Ireland has always used the Human Rights Council as a means of keeping human rights issues in Bahrain under examination. We have raised Bahrain in the past eight statements on human rights situations that require the council's attention and I assure the Deputies we will raise the matter again in the upcoming meeting. We have expressed concern about the restrictions on civil society space and the treatment of human rights defenders in Bahrain, and called on Bahrain to respect freedom of opinion and expression and the right to a fair trial. At the Human Rights Council in June last year, the statement by the European Union also highlighted the deterioration of the human rights situation in Bahrain, with particular reference to the shrinking of political space. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade constantly monitors developments in regard to human rights in Bahrain and will continue to call on the Bahraini Government to deliver on its stated commitment to making progress in all of these areas of human rights.

It is important to say that we have positive bilateral relations with Bahrain, which is home to some 800 Irish citizens, but this does not prevent us from raising the concerns through the appropriate channels, whether it is directly with Bahraini officials or at an international level with our colleagues throughout the European Union and, of course, at the UN Human Rights Council.

There has been documented police brutality yet no senior officials in Bahrain's security forces have been held accountable for allegations of torture, excessive force or extrajudicial killings to date. Peaceful protests are treated with brutality, arbitrary arrests, coerced confessions and, alarmingly, the resumption of the death penalty. What we are seeing is the suppression of civil society organisations and there is no independent media outlet. There is a hereditary dynasty but that dynasty is excluding all but the minority Sunni and is discriminating against the other groups within Bahrain.

The Minister of State mentioned going through the appropriate channels. To go back to Deputy Collins's question, can Ireland raise this at the next Human Rights Council in Geneva? It appears the Bahraini authorities will only act when there is international scrutiny and international pressure. We hope the Minister of State will take that opportunity at the council.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply and her interest. To recap, what we see in Bahrain is a lack of proper independent oversight bodies and gerrymandering in elections and electoral areas. There is evidence of whitewashing of abuses, the attempt to rewrite history, revisionism in regard to what happened to people and an attempt to cloud it all out. We see persistent use of capital punishment and a crackdown on freedom of expression, including on online platforms. We have also heard reports of torture and denaturalisation, making people stateless when they speak up and call out the abuses.

What I would like to see the Government do when it makes the next approach is to call for a moratorium on the death penalty, reform of the accountability and oversight mechanisms, the release of all political prisoners and the reinstatement of the dissolved political parties. Without other political actors on the stage, there will not be any sort of fledgling or proper democracy. The Government should also call for freedom of expression and assembly. If the Government can take on board these reasonable core requests, I believe we will progress this matter in some small fashion.

I thank both Deputies for raising what is an extremely important issue. The Government's position remains the same as it was in the previous eight statements, which is that the situation requires the attention of the UN Human Rights Council. We have raised the issue of Bahrain with the council and we will be sure to raise it again. I reassure both Deputies that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will continue to raise our voice about the human rights situation both multilaterally and through various organisations. We co-sponsored the UN Human Rights Council resolutions calling on states to investigate alleged human rights violations. That is abuse suffered by detainees and in particular where there is death, torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as to ensure there is proper investigation which provides effective remedies to victims, as Deputy Niall Collins has raised. We are also co-sponsors of Human Rights Council and UN General Assembly resolutions which concern human rights and the administration of justice.

I am especially worried and the Department is gravely concerned that after seven years of a moratorium on the death penalty, the Bahraini Government has again begun executing prisoners. I reaffirm Ireland's unequivocal opposition to capital punishment in all circumstances and cases. The abolition of the death penalty is an international priority for this country. Our officials regularly visit and convey our stance at various levels with the bodies on the ground or with member state colleagues and we will continue to do so. We are highlighting our grave concern at the ending of the de facto moratorium on the death penalty and reaffirming our unequivocal opposition to capital punishment in all circumstances.

Railway Stations

The Minister and I again find ourselves discussing Kildare transport in the Chamber. I am beginning to feel a little bit like a broken record, but that is because the system is still broken and we are trying to fix it. I ask the Minister for his assistance today with that and with expediting some solutions. It has been well documented, not least in our debates, where the problems are.

The first debate I had in the Chamber was with the Minister, Deputy Ross, on transport issues but the problems go back further back than the arrival of either of us in the House. The problems have worsened. In part, that is a due to the success of the improved service on the Newbridge line, serving Sallins and Hazelhatch. The stations of Sallins and Hazelhatch are now in the Leap card short-hop zone and the trains go through the Phoenix Park tunnel. That is all very welcome. I came in on that train this morning and I will return on it in about an hour's time tonight. The problem, however, is that the capacity of facilities has not kept pace. Naturally, increased demand has followed the improvements. We welcome the growing economy and other reasons for people being back on the trains again but we have a chronic shortage of car parking in particular. The carriages are full as well. Just before I rose to my feet I got a report that the 5.30 p.m. train leaving Heuston Station this evening is chronically congested again but even getting a space in the morning to park one's car so one can get on the train has become almost impossible. In my case, it is probably a year since I have been able to get my car into the station in the mornings. Many people are finding the same difficulty.

One needs to be at the car park of the Sallins and Naas train station between 7 a.m. and 7.15 a.m. at the latest to have any hope of being able to park one's car and get on the train. That is a crying shame for many reasons. It is highly stressful for the individuals involved who are trying to juggle childcare, getting to work and other commitments and it is made more difficult by having to fight for a space that it is almost impossible to get at such an early time. It is a shame for society that people are being forced away from public transport. We all support the goal of improved public transport and public transport being the primary mode of transport. I would love to see a situation where the car would become the exception, other than for a trip on a Sunday afternoon, and the norm for going to work was on the train or Luas. However, unless we can provide people with the facilities and space to park a car in the first place and enough room on the train to stand, sit or manage to squeeze on then we are nowhere near getting there.

This situation was entirely predictable. We only need to look at the planning permissions being granted for houses in the Naas, Sallins and Clane area, which has grown and is growing. There are many developments there as there is much to recommend the area. It was entirely predictable that those demands would be placed on the train service because the train station is at the heart of the community and it is a commuter hub. All the planning permissions were granted on the basis of public transport being available to the area but, essentially, it is no longer available and people are being forced into their cars to drive into Dublin. People are fighting with each other in the mornings over available spaces and they are being forced into local housing estates, thereby clogging up the entire village and causing all kinds of acrimony. In recent weeks Irish Rail had to appoint a staff member to police the car park in the mornings and to avoid the literal, as well as the metaphorical, scrapes because the situation has reached a crisis point. People have nowhere to park and they cannot get the train into Dublin in the morning. They bought a house on the promise of a public transport system being in place in the Sallins, Naas and Clane areas in north Kildare and they are unable to use it because they simply cannot get a car parking space in the morning.

I hope the Minister can expedite some solutions. The obvious solution is to build a new car park fast but I accept it is not as simple as that. There may be other solutions. I hope the Minister will have some good news for me today.

I thank Deputy Lawless for raising this issue. He is correct that I am well aware of the problems which he has outlined in the Sallins and Naas area, and on many of the routes which he represents so well and so often in this House.

I have no doubt that both Deputy Lawless and I welcome the increased number of passengers availing of the improved train services along the Kildare line. The increases have been made possible through the improved level of services provided through increased public service obligation, PSO, funding, as well as the increased levels of capital expenditure on projects such as the completed Phoenix Park tunnel and the ongoing city centre resignalling project.

I have a script which I will provide to Deputy Lawless. I apologise, as I should have given it to him earlier. It might be helpful to him. I am happy to say that we are providing further increases to funding as part of Project Ireland 2040, which will further improve capacity on the Kildare line. The improvements include the DART expansion programme and the improved management of the overall network, which the new national train control centre will provide.

However, I recognise that in the short term, there are of course pressures across the network at certain places and at certain times. Car parking at Sallins is one of those pressure points. The pressures have increased with the expanded and improved level of service, as well as the inclusion of the station within the short-hop zone. Together, they have all led to increased demand, on what I know is a relatively limited amount of car parking at the station.

As the Deputy is probably aware, my Department provides funding through the NTA for car parking at train stations in the greater Dublin area, GDA. I can inform the Deputy that there is a project under development to significantly extend the number of car parking spaces available at the station. On foot of the funding provided through the NTA, larnród Éireann has been preparing the detailed planning and design and will take the lead on implementation. This will be a significant project, costing approximately €2 million, and will result in a total of approximately 445 spaces being made available for commuters, which is an increase of approximately 270 spaces on the current number.

In terms of progress, the various surveys have all been completed and pre-planning discussions with the council are ongoing. There have been some slight delays to the timelines as compared with those the Deputy was provided with by the NTA last September, which unfortunately has pushed out delivery times a little.

I am now informed that a tender will issue very shortly to secure a contractor for the physical works. Subject to planning, it is hoped to start actual construction later in the summer or early autumn. Construction will take between nine and 12 months and so the revamped car park will likely be ready by the second quarter of next year.

While I can completely understand the frustrations of commuters today regarding the car park, I hope they can take some comfort from the fact that works to address this issue are well under way.

I welcome the commitment the Minister gave me last year during one of our previous debates to pursue the car park option.

I know that is under way. Unfortunately, it has hit some roadblocks locally. I have been in discussions with the NTA, Kildare County Council, Irish Rail and various stakeholders to try to move it forward. I ask the Minister to join me and to apply what pressure he can in order to bring to matters to a head and prioritise the works necessary to get that over the line. There is a plan in motion. There have been some technical and planning difficulties, but it is important to get all the relevant people around the table. I am doing everything I can and I ask the Minister to do the same in his Department to encourage the parties to resolve outstanding issues and move this forward.

There are other potential solutions that can be explored. Along with Hazelhatch and Celbridge Station, Sallins and Naas Station came into the short-hop zone approximately two years ago. There are still commuters from Newbridge, Kildare town and further out, and possibly even Monasterevin, who actually drive past their local station. They drive from the south of the county to park at Sallins and Naas Station because it is in the short-hop zone and they can avail of the cheaper fares. It does not really make sense from several perspectives, not least that of climate change. More emissions are produced by people driving farther to get to the station. It also does not make sense logically or with regard to practical convenience and comfort. People do not want to drive past their local station in order to get to another station, but their budgets decree that they must. I ask the Minister to talk to the NTA about extending the short-hop zone to Newbridge and possibly beyond. That will remove some of the pressure.

I wish to put another suggestion to the Minister, and I would like him to explore it with the NTA and other stakeholders. There is a system of feeder buses serving some of these stations, including Sallins and Naas Station and Hazelhatch and Celbridge Station. The feeder bus makes a lot of sense. People from the surrounding towns and estates from three to five miles away, places that are too far away to walk from, can travel to the station by bus. This is already happening in Naas, but there are not enough buses and the routes are not comprehensive enough. With a small improvement that would fit very well into public policy, we could expand the feeder bus network to cover the likes of Clane, Caragh, Sallins and Naas and bring people to the stations without ever having to step into their car. I am talking about fast-tracking one of those options. Perhaps a temporary site could be explored in the short term. It is an emergency situation.

If it is helpful to the Deputy, I will certainly pass those alternative solutions, including extending the short-hop zone and the feeder bus solution, to the NTA and see what is its view. I am sure it will respond to the Deputy. I understand his frustration at the long time this has taken. It happens a lot with car park developments. People want them overnight but they cannot be done that quickly. The Deputy was provided with the detailed information by the NTA last September in response to a parliamentary question he put.

At that stage, it was hoped that the planning application would be submitted by the end of 2018. The Deputy is perfectly correct. However the deadline was not met due to preplanning discussions with the council. I hasten to add that there is nothing of substance behind this delay. The project will go ahead. Rather, these discussions highlighted issues around the zoning of the proposed new car park which needed to be taken into account while preparing the planning application.

Recycling Policy

I thank the Minister for coming to the Chamber to discuss this matter. Anyone who has been out in any scenic area of the city or the country, be it near a canal or a river, in a park or on a beach, will be acutely aware of the blight on the landscape that plastic waste can often pose. We pride ourselves on Ireland being a green country and a beacon for tourists, and, indeed, an increasingly environmental country. It is my belief that the Minister and I, and all Members of this House, would consider ourselves green with a small "g" or environmental with a small "e". Accordingly, the idea of a deposit and rebate scheme for plastic bottles tends to carry the support of the vast majority of the Irish public according to all the polling and opinion pieces I have seen. More than 90% of the people I talk to are in favour of such a scheme. In a 2017 Bill, the Green Party effectively set out a deposit-and-return scheme which has been somewhat tacitly accepted by many in the House but has been subject to delays. In 2018, the Oireachtas Library and Research Service put together a publication outlining the potential costs of implementing such a scheme and its potential benefits. The benefits seem to be myriad. They include increasing the rate of plastic bottle recycling - by only 3%, granted, but that is an increase nevertheless - and a cleaner environment. I am not sure we can put a price on that. It is accepted that implementation would involve a cost, but, equally, it would bring great benefits.

I am seeking an update on the Minister's progress and perhaps his thinking in this regard. The most recent media reports suggest he has gone back to look at this afresh. Obviously, we have had a change of Minister in this portfolio in recent months. I am curious, as I am sure the public is, to hear where the Minister's thinking with regard to this matter currently is. Can he give a commitment on this? I am conscious of the day that is in it. According to the Minister's Instagram, he is a keen baker and cook. I imagine he is keen to get home to his dinner on St. Valentine's Day, so I will not keep him much longer, except to end with an appropriate St. Valentine's Day poem, if the Acting Chairman will permit me.

I will proceed.

Roses are red, Ireland is green,

A plastic bottle rebate will keep our streets clean.

I imagine the Minister will agree with this and I am curious to hear his opinions on the matter.

It is with great relief that we greet the Deputy's poem.

I did not manage to catch the rhyming scheme or the scanning of that line. They are memorable lines. I have to congratulate the Deputy.

Will the Minister respond in verse?

If I was Virgil or whoever it was I would be able to do so, but sadly it has been a long time since I was able to do that.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. I recently commissioned a study to establish whether a deposit-and-return scheme would be a cost-effective measure in terms of achieving the goal on which we all agree, namely, reducing the levels of plastic pollution and improving our recycling targets. I am very keen to see an effective response to the problem of plastic use in Ireland. The figures suggest that use of plastic in packaging in Ireland is nearly 80% higher than in other European countries. The scale presents us with a problem. We need to think not only of recovery schemes, but also reduction schemes. As the Deputy probably knows, one of the first things I did was introduce a ban on the use of single-use plastics across the public service. That has come into effect immediately within Departments and will be rolled out across the public service in March. This will prevent any further acquisition of single-use plastics, although current stocks will continue to run down.

The difficulty with the deposit-and-return scheme was outlined by my predecessor. We have a kerbside collection scheme which is meeting pretty high targets, achieving approximately 70% recovery of plastic bottles. We have agreed to a higher target of 90%. We need to see if this is a cost-effective measure before we make it a legal obligation. The Deputy rightly cites public opinion as an important indicator of the direction of policy thinking. However, introducing a legal obligation would give rise to the cost implications and so on of legal enforcement and actions against businesses. I am conscious that many small businesses informed the committee that the cost of this would be very significant.

The point my predecessor, Deputy Naughten, made is also valid in that if one of the more valuable recovery streams is taken out of the kerbside collection, namely, plastic bottles, there is the risk that an additional cost on households would be created and we would see an increase in charges for households. To decide in a robust way based on evidence, I have taken the step of commissioning work on this so that we can establish, first, if it is cost effective and, second, how we should design it. That invitation to tender has been published and is available if the Deputy is interested in seeing it.

We need to bear in mind also that we have very ambitious recycling targets for plastic generally. We are at less than 35% across the entire plastic packaging spectrum. We need to get to 50% by 2025 and 55% by 2030. There are a number of things we need to consider to make that a reality. There is far too much mixed materials going into the plastic packaging stream that cannot be recycled and we need to address that. I am looking at how we can improve the current producer obligation scheme to ensure there is less plastic going into the waste stream and that what does go in is more recyclable. I am looking through the supply chain to come up with initiatives that would be cost effective but I have by no means ruled out the deposit return scheme.

Deputy Rock has time for a haiku.

I did pen a rhyming couplet for the end so hopefully we will get this one on the record and the Minster can hear it. I am keen to see an effective response from the Minister. I know that his energy and enthusiasm when it comes to environmentalism is somewhat unparalleled and that he has hit the ground running on this issue. I was delighted to see he launched the single use plastics ban in the Rediscovery Centre in Ballymun, in my constituency, which is doing fantastic work in teaching people about both the inputs and the outputs and the impact on environmentalism. The Minister is absolutely right in what he says in that regard.

However, in terms of the waste providers and the practicalities of how current schemes work, it would strike me, and I imagine it would strike the Minister and the public, that in the instance where I buy a bottle of water or a bottle of Coca Cola, generally speaking, I do not bring the bottle home with me. There is no real incentive for me to recycle that. I would likely dispose of it in a public waste facility. There is no prospect of it being recycled. In other cities I visit, if I buy a product in a convenience store I can dispose of the bottle or the packaging in that convenience store. The existing waste providers do not like that. They argue that curbside collection costs might increase, and they might well increase, but in terms of practicalities, if I consume a product in the outside world and do not have an opportunity to bring it home with me there is no prospect of it being recycled. Similarly, the existing waste collectors do not pick up bottles, etc., on the road so there is no incentive currently to do so. Implementation of a scheme like this one might allow for more recycling.

I will go for a second rhyming couplet.

Roses are red, violets are blue,

Waste providers may not like the scheme,

but the Irish public do.

I hope the Minister will reflect on that and act accordingly.

I thank the Deputy again for tabling this Topical Issue matter. I hope we will have evidence in the very near future on the merits of this scheme, if it is the right way to go, how we should design it and whether there are any strengths or weaknesses we need to take into account from what has happened in other countries. We will await the completion of that work but in the meantime I will be proceeding to examine other measures that can improve the way in which we handle plastics in trying to achieve, as they say, a more circular economy where we have less waste to dispose of and pay greater respect to the resources we are using.