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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 6 Mar 2019

Vol. 980 No. 5

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

Is Deputy O'Dea leading for Fianna Fáil today?

He is trying to.

Hope springs eternal.

That mirror still does not work.

I welcome Deputy Micheál Martin.

There is a crisis across the disability services sector in providing access to full-time residential care, particularly for adults with disabilities, as well as to respite care, home care and shared services. Parents of both adults and children are exhausted and stressed and have been beaten down by the system and the absence of services. There is a particular problem for children with disabilities who are being cared for by foster parents, as illustrated by the Ombudsman for Children. Clearly, the Government lacks an appreciation of the crisis and its seriousness. There is terrible inertia at the heart of the Government. Service providers are told to make do with inadequate resources.

In the brief time available to me I will focus on the acute nature of the crisis for adults with disabilities and foster parents. I will refer to a number of cases. Peter is 19 years of age and has an intellectual disability and complex needs. Respite care ceased for him at the beginning of 2015. Home support has also ceased and in June there was no indication of any service for him. His parents are at breaking point and worn out. I have read the letters from the professionals. The second case is a young man named John who will finish school in June. He has a 2:1 staff requirement, multiple complex issues, severe autism and can at times be prone to violence. His parents have been told that there is nowhere for him to go when he finishes school. Gerry is 57 years of age. Unfortunately, the family carer who looked after him passed away late last year. He has a severe intellectual disability, but there are no respite services available. I have met the family and it is a devastating, complex case.

The names I have mentioned are not the real names of the individuals concerned. The next one is. Ken Hurley is 49 years old and needs a full-time residential placement. He has an intellectual disability and in the last year developed early onset dementia. He is ready for discharge from Cork University Hospital where he has been for the last two months. The family have been warned that they will have to pay €1,400 per day if he remains in the hospital any longer. His mother is 85 years old and he has lived with her all his life. The HSE states he must go into a nursing home 70 miles away in Limerick.

I can give the Taoiseach more cases. Seán is 23 years of age, has autism and a 2:1 staff requirement. His mother is an incredible person. When she asked the HSE what would happen to him if anything happened to her, she was told not to worry as the HSE would look after him.

The Deputy's time is up.

In other words, if anything happens to the mother, the HSE will look after her son, but while she is there, it will not because it cannot.

I can illustrate more cases, as I am sure other Members also can. It is a crisis. I do not want to hear global figures for what is being spent and so forth-----

Please, Deputy.

Is the Taoiseach aware of the crisis? Does he appreciate that there is a crisis? What is the Government going to do about it?

I thank the Deputy for raising the important issue of disability services. The Government cares for people with disabilities and those who care for them. We have made it a priority in the past couple of years to improve rights and services for people with disabilities. I acknowledge that there is an enormous need and that there are many complex individual cases, with which we struggle. The Deputy deals with them in his work as a public representative, as I do. We do our best to resolve them as quickly as we can, but often they can be difficult to resolve, particularly where there are individual issues and they are very complex. However, we are making a great deal of progress. After many failed attempts by many previous Governments, last year we ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The budget for disability services is now €2 billion. It is a very big budget which was increased by €150 million last year. The Deputy is right that we should not just talk about global figures but also about what they mean in terms of their practical impact for citizens with disabilities and the people who care for them. They mean, for example, that we are able to recruit an additional 100 therapists this year. We anticipate that 20 of the 100 will be in place by April which will allow us to reduce waiting times for services such as assessments of needs, for which people have been waiting a long time. There is additional investment in respite care services. This time last year we approved additional funding for 12 new respite care houses, of which ten are already open and providing respite care for 578 people. That is very important because family carers get the break they need while the people for whom they care are in respite care.

We extended access to the medical card to children with severe disabilities as a right, regardless of their parents' incomes. In the past, when both the Deputy and I were in government, children with severe disabilities had their entitlement to a medical card assessed on their parents' income. That has all changed and now 40,000 children with severe disabilities have the medical card as a right and their parents need not be concerned about earning too much for fear that their child might lose his or her medical card. We have also changed how the disability allowance works to encourage people with disabilities who can work to enter the workforce, allowing them to keep more of the money they earn. That is making a big difference in the number of people with disabilities who are supported to enter the workforce. We have supported carers. In a few weeks time there will be an increase in the carer's allowance. It will fully reverse all of the cutbacks made in the past. The carer's support grant has been fully restored, while last year we extended free general practitioner, GP, care services to those in receipt of carer's allowance and carer's benefit as a right.

I am running out of time, but that is just a sample of the meaningful practical actions that have been taken by the Government in the past couple of years. Yes, there is more to do. There is always more work to be done, but we will get it done.

Again, I will refer to a report. These are not scattered individual cases with which we must all deal. This is systemic, but the Taoiseach does not appear to understand that. This is a systemic problem, particularly in adult intellectual disability services. Parents who are growing old are extremely anxious and scared about what will happen to their sons and daughters and the Taoiseach should not try to bat this away by saying we all have individual cases that we try our best to resolve. These cases have been ongoing for some time and have not been resolved. A report from professionals involved in one of the cases stated the parents were at breaking point by the end of August, completely worn out from caring for their son and that they would not be able to endure a similar situation in the coming summer. Service providers are being told that there is no emergency funding available for home care services this year. That is what people have been told by the HSE. There is a crisis in respite and residential care services.

I am sure the Taoiseach is familiar with Molly's case, the subject of a report from the Ombudsman for Children. It is a damning indictment of the services.

The Deputy must conclude.

There are 471 children with a disability in foster care. A year after the report Molly's foster parents have had their home care funding reduced from €240 to €100. The Taoiseach appears to be unaware of the systemic crisis. That is very worrying for all of the parents who contact us and want something to be done on a multi-annual basis to ensure there will be a multi-annual plan and policy to deal with this crisis once and for all.

I am very aware of these issues, both the global issues affecting thousands of people across the country and the many individual cases. Like the Deputy, I have a constituency clinic and well understand the complexities of many individual cases. There is a story behind each one of them.

There is no complexity. They just do not have the resources they need.

We are making a big difference. For example, consider the people with intellectual disabilities who have to live in congregated settings in institutions. There are 2,200 fewer people living in institutional congregated settings. They have been moved out into homes in the community, which is a big change. We have a multi-annual plan to continue that programme to move as many people as possible out of the old-fashioned institutions into much more appropriate settings in the community. The Deputy has visited many of these community houses and knows how much better they are than the institutional congregated settings.

There will be an extra 39 residential places in 2019 and a further 90 emergency places are being planned.

A total of 39 will take us nowhere.

There is funding in place to provide additional emergency places. The number in receipt of respite care services will increase by 8% this year.

I want to raise with the Taoiseach the impending need for motorists who travel North-South and vice versa to have a green card post Brexit and a no-deal scenario. Many people, not least in my own constituency of Donegal and in other Border counties, are incredibly angry about this. The company with which I have motor insurance emailed all of its policyholders last month advising that we needed to apply for a green card if we plan to cross the Border or drive in Britain and that we needed to apply by the beginning of March. I wanted to know how the process worked and if there would be a charge for the green card so I telephoned the insurance company. I was to told to call back in a fortnight's time because they, just like the rest of us, did not know what was happening in regard to the green card process owing to the lack of certainty in regard to the outcome of Brexit. The insurance company told policyholders that it will start issuing green cards after 29 March, when it is hoped a decision will have be taken. I asked them what would happen to motorists on, say, 30 March who do not have a green card. As far as people are aware, their cars can be impounded if they travel at that time to the North without a green card. This is worrying for people. A huge number of people are unaware of the implications of not having a green card. People are angry that they will have to hold an international insurance certificate to travel across the Border. For example, people who travel across the Lifford Bridge into Strabane on a daily, if not, weekly basis will have to have an international insurance certificate. What annoys me, and most of the Irish public, is the fact that this matter has not been resolved heretofore.

According to the Motor Insurance Bureau in Britain, motorists do not need a green card for any European country, but obviously that will change post Brexit, and, more importantly, there a number of non-European countries in respect of which motorists do not need to have a green card, including Andorra, Serbia and Switzerland. This shows that countries outside of the European Union have in place arrangements under which a green card is not necessary. Given we have known for over two years that Brexit was going to happen, and given the sensitivities around the Border that have been at the cornerstone of our discussions in regard to Brexit, there are serious questions as to how the Minister, Deputy Ross, has allowed this situation to unfold, with hundreds of thousands of policyholders unaware of what is required in terms of a green card when we are just weeks away from a potential no-deal Brexit. This matter should have been dealt with by way of bilateral agreement between the Commission and the British authorities such that the North of Ireland would be exempt from this scenario.

What role has the Taoiseach or the Minister, Deputy Ross, played in ensuring that this issue was dealt with before 29 March? Will the Taoiseach commit to ensuring that it is dealt with before 29 March and what proposals or solutions does he intend to put in place before that date?

I appreciate this is a very important issue and an issue of great concern to thousands of people who cross the Border every day in their cars, whether it is roughly 10,000 cross-Border workers going from North to South or South to North, whether it is students or just people passing through Northern Ireland on their way to and from Donegal, for example. It is an issue that the Government is aware of. It is one that we are trying to ensure is resolved before 29 March. The position is, of course, different in the two jurisdictions. If there is a no-deal scenario on 29 March, Northern Ireland, as part of the United Kingdom, will no longer be covered by the EU motor insurance directive. We will because we will still be in the European Union. There will be differences depending on individual policies. However, I am informed that the vast majority of the insurance policies which people hold cover the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, but they will need proof of that, which is in the form of a green card.

South of the Border in this State, while motorists are required to have a green card as proof of insurance, it is not an offence not to have one. There will be a grace period for people who are based in Northern Ireland and coming south and have insurance but not a green card. We cannot make a commitment on behalf of the Government in Northern Ireland, because there is not one, and we cannot make commitments on behalf of the UK Government. For people entering this jurisdiction, as long as their insurance policies cover them for this State, even if they do not have a green card on 30 March or 1 or 2 April, they will not be prosecuted for it. There will be a grace period for that reason.

At the core of this is a Minister who has been asleep at the wheel for the past two years. There have been many issues that have been resolved. We facilitated the omnibus Bill which covers a wide range of issues. In regard to motorists travelling across the Border there are serious concerns because two things can happen. First, in a no-deal scenario, a motorist who crosses the Lifford Bridge post 29 March and does not have a green card could have his or her car impounded. Second, a policyholder who is not covered to drive in that territory and is involved in an accident will not be covered in terms of insurance. This could have been resolved. The Commission can allow Northern Ireland and the UK to be exempt from this requirement. We have questioned the Minister, Deputy Ross, at length on this issue. Deputy Munster has put question after question to him regarding what interaction he has had on this issue with his counterpart in Britain and with the Commission and he has come up short on all occasions. We have a number of weeks to resolve this matter. It goes to the core of the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement in terms of all-Ireland policies. We now face a situation whereby people crossing the Border will be required to hold an international insurance certificate. There are many people who will refuse to do that and there are more people unaware of the consequences of not having it.

The Taoiseach needs to intervene directly because the Minister, Deputy Ross, has been asleep at the wheel. He needs to raise this at the highest level with the Commission and get a solution such that people will not be faced with having their cars impounded or, worse, in the case of an accident which occurs outside of this jurisdiction, not having the necessary insurance to cover them, their vehicles or the third parties involved.

I thank the Deputy and I recognise his support and that of his party for the omnibus Bill, which is likely to get through the Dáil today. As the Deputy will be aware, the omnibus Bill applies to this jurisdiction. We do not have the authority to pass laws in this place for Northern Ireland. Only the Northern Ireland Assembly has the authority to do that. The Northern Ireland Assembly, for reasons of which the Deputy is aware, has not sat for nearly two years so we need to find an alternative solution. That solution involves a bilateral agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom as a whole. We have such arrangements in place for aviation, to allow aviation to continue to as normal, at least for nine months. Arrangements are in place around haulage licences as well. This issue has been raised and it is being worked on. Our objective is to conclude an agreement bilaterally between the EU and the UK, at least for a period of months, but that has yet to be finalised.

Will it be finalised before 29 March?

Yes, of course.

I wish to raise the plight of beef and suckler farmers countrywide. This vital industry is at a critical crossroads because farmers are not covering their costs. This cannot continue. There are two contributing factors. First, factories have a monopoly and are not paying farmers properly or fairly for the high standard of animals being produced and, second, not enough live exports are being sourced by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine or An Bord Bia, which would create competition for the factories and assist farmers in getting fair prices. Farmers throughout the country, including in Kerry, are attending beef plan meetings where they are expressing outrage at the inaction of this Government. They feel they are being neglected.

Last week in this Chamber I highlighted the case of a Libyan buyer who was waiting more than three months for a visa so that he could come here to purchase more than 4,000 bulls worth €5 million. I welcome that, following my intervention, he received his visa, but it is too late because he has gone to Spain to do his business there. I hope he will return to Ireland another time.

The factories are applying ridiculous rules and regulations to trip up farmers. In the case of the four movement rule, if it is shown that an animal has moved more than four times, the factory will reduce the price by €40 to €80, even though the quality of the beef is the same.

They will still kill it and sell it, and it is the same steak on the plate for the consumer.

On the 30-month rule, there is no difference whatsoever between an animal at 29 months or 31 months. If it goes over the age of 30 months, the price of the animal is again reduced by between €40 and €80. If the animal goes over the age of 36 months, the price of the animal is reduced by €200, while the price of bulls that go over the age of 34 months is cut by €350. The factories have databases. They know when every animal was born, and when it reaches the age of 24 months, they will hold it up for a few weeks before selling it at the lower price. The 70-day retention also hurts the trade. We do not have enough lairages in Cherbourg to take the dairy-bred calves out of the country. How is it that animals sell for €200 a head more in the North of Ireland? There is only a boggy ditch between us in places in the North and South of Ireland.

The fifth quarter is the most serious aspect of what the factories are doing to farmers. It is worth more than €270 to the factory but farmers do not get one red cent of it. The factories sell offal, tendons, tongues, hides, hooves and all those parts of the animals but they do not give one cent to the farmer. It is stealing and robbery from farmers who work from dark to dark to put good animals into the factories.

As we are all aware, there are approximately 70,000 beef farmers in Ireland. Beef farming and the beef industry are essential parts of the agricultural and rural economy, extending well beyond the farm to marts, processors and other aspects of the meat industry. On what the Government is doing to support farmers, the Deputy will be aware that we have put in place a successful beef data and genomics programme, providing funding to farmers to improve the quality of their stock. In the past couple of weeks, the new beef environmental efficiency pilot, BEEP, has come into effect, providing approximately €20 million to beef farmers. Furthermore, the beef forum has been established, comprising farmers, producers and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and his officials. It is working on many of those detailed issues which the Deputy raised, ranging from lairages in Cherbourg to the rules and regulations.

The overriding concern for everyone working in the beef industry is what will happen in the next couple of weeks in respect of Brexit. I want beef farmers and the beef industry to know that we have their backs in that regard. We are working to secure a deal that provides a transition period in order that there will be no changes to the rules of trade at least until the end of 2020, which will help to restore confidence to the industry and allow prices to rise again. In case there is no deal, we are working closely with the European Commission to put in place financial supports that will be necessary to bail out the industry to defend incomes and jobs, which is our priority at the moment.

I asked the Taoiseach what he would do about the factories, the unfairness, and the rules and regulations that are hurting farmers. I have asked him many times in the Chamber but it looks as though he just does not get it or understand what is happening. The farming community is at a crossroads, as are all those who supply them or depend on them because when farmers go bad, the rest of the country goes bad. It is time for the farming community to come to the gate of Leinster House and tell the Taoiseach what is going on because he does not get it. We could speak in the Chamber day after day, night after night but still the Taoiseach will not listen. The farmers are on their knees and will not take it for much longer. I call on them, the Irish Farmers Association, the Beef Plan Movement and all the other farming organisations to come to Kildare Street and let the Government know once and for all what it is not doing for farmers. They are on their knees and cannot take it for much longer. The whole industry will close.

The Taoiseach referred to Brexit but there are so many ifs and buts. While we would dearly love the United Kingdom to stay in the Common Market, it is both coming and going and it is either this or that. It should make up its mind to come or go. Nevertheless, the farmers will still be here and the Taoiseach is doing nothing about the factories for them. He could, but he will not because he is tied to them.

The Deputy knows as well as I do that the factories are a private industry, that we do not control the beef factories and that the Government does not control the price of any commodity, whether it is a foodstuff, a material, oil or gas. The prices are determined on the markets, taking into account supply and demand. The Deputy should not tell me I do not get it while he pretends he does not get it. He knows full well that the Government does not set the price of commodities or control the beef factories. He is being disrespectful and misleading to beef farmers by pretending that somehow that is not the case. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, has established a beef forum on a collaborative basis, involving producers, the factories, representatives of the farmers, his Department and his officials, and it is working through all of these issues.

As Taoiseach may be aware, I am a member of the Committee of Public Accounts. At last Thursday's meeting, we heard from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government in respect of the current housing crisis and the related figures for 2018. The Secretary General of the Department, Mr. John McCarthy, attended the meeting and, in reply to a question I posed, he stated quite categorically that the figures were clear for the breakdown of council properties, so-called turnkey properties, regeneration properties and rapid-build or modular homes, as they are known. He went on to state the Department publishes quarterly updates in this regard and rejected allegations of spin in respect of the presentation of the figures. According to the 2018 social housing output figures under local authority build, the number is listed as 2,022, but the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government has bundled all of those categories and has consistently refused to give a breakdown of local authority build by individual category. At the meeting of Committee of Public Accounts last week, however, in response to questions I posed, the Secretary General finally provided a breakdown of the figures for 2018. There were 768 turnkey units and 200 regeneration properties, which leaves a total of 1,054 newly built local authority houses for 2018.

Why was there a continued blurring of numbers by the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. A number of weeks ago he appeared on "Morning Ireland" and, when asked for a breakdown, stated the figures would be available the following week. They have yet to materialise outside of the Committee of Public Accounts, they are not on the Department's website, and they have not appeared in press releases. On "Morning Ireland", Gavin Jennings grilled the Minister extensively and asked for a breakdown but those questions went unanswered. The Tánaiste and former Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, stated at one point that the Department was the most transparent Department, and the introduction to the release of the 2018 figures makes strong claims as to its transparency, but we have received the very opposite of transparency. Could it be that the reason for the reluctance to provide a breakdown of figures is that some individual councils are performing poorly? It has been said that Dublin City Council, for example, which is at the epicentre of the crisis, built only 21 houses last year. Could it otherwise be a matter of red tape? We need to know.

Will the Taoiseach provide some straight answers to the following questions? Will he confirm that the figures for new builds by local authorities, given to the Committee of Public Accounts by the Secretary General last week, are accurate? Is it correct that Dublin City Council built only 21 units in 2018? What is the breakdown by local authority of the 1,054 new builds in 2018?

I understand the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government is appearing before a committee today, answering questions on the matter, and has produced those numbers for the committee. More than 18,000 new homes and apartments were built in Ireland last year.

That is the highest number in any year for a decade and we will do better again this year. We have to because of the substantial demand for housing. The housing stock was increased by approximately 9,000. The Deputy is right that some councils are performing better than others, which I do not think the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, would deny for one second. He has been complimentary of some councils that have delivered on the issue of housing, but he has been critical of others that have not done so. People have been wrong to be critical of him. He was right to do so because there is a difference in performance and we should not be afraid to compliment the local authorities which do well and call out those which perform poorly. I guarantee the Deputy that the Minister is not afraid to do so.

I disagree with the Deputy on what I believe is a bit of an obsession with the different ways in which social housing is categorised. We increased the social housing stock by 9,000 last year. There are many ways to provide social housing. I have had the pleasure and privilege as Taoiseach and a Minister of travelling around the country to hand out keys to people being given a new home for the first time.

When did the Taoiseach hand out keys?

I have seen the joy on their faces when that happens. Nobody ever said to me it was Part V housing, or that it had been built by Clúid or the Peter McVerry Trust and not by the local authority and that they did not want it.

They would like to have the option of owning it someday too.

Nobody ever said he or she did not want a nice new house in Waterville in my constituency because it had been bought directly from a developer and had not been built by Fingal County Council. No real person who receives a social house ever says that to me.

What is an unreal person?


What they want is a home with security of tenure. There are many ways to achieve this. Local authorities can build social housing as they used to do in the 1950s and 1960s.

I did not know that the Taoiseach was giving them out to the dead too.

It can be done through the affordable housing bodies such as Clúid, the Peter McVerry Trust and the Iveagh Trust which do a great job. It can be done under the Part V system, under which a certain amount of houses in a new estate are set aside as social housing. It can also be done by direct purchase. Why is it bad that local authorities buy derelict and unused houses in rural areas to bring them back into use? It is good and can be done by way of a long-term lease.

The problem is that they are not doing it.

What matters is that last year 9,000 families, more than the number in any of the last ten years, moved into social housing in secure tenancies. We should not obsess about whether it is done through an affordable housing body, a local authority or a trust or under Part V, Part 8 or section 26. That is not what matters.

We need the figures and I want the Taoiseach to come back and give me the one for which I have asked. Does "turnkey" refer to the signing of contracts or the keys provided? We do not know. We do not know the comparison between what is cost effective, value for money and what works. We need to get the breakdown in order that the information can be evaluated. This is public information and public money. Why is the Taoiseach so reluctant to give the figures in a way that will break it down in order that comparisons can be made? Is it true that Dublin City Council only built 21 houses last year? The performance of the local authorities matters because if we are to deliver the numbers of houses needed to get a grip on the crisis, the local authorities will have to deliver. The Taoiseach cannot keep answering questions in the way he has. The breakdown matters and I want him to answer the question based on it. It has to be given. It is not acceptable that the Taoiseach is skimming over the question I asked.

I am advised by the Minister of State that the figures are available. As I have seen breakdowns, I imagine that that is correct and that they are available. I think the Deputy has got it wrong. The truth is that after years of running into problems and delays when we did not have the money to do it, we are now delivering on the issue of social housing. We increased the social housing stock by 9,000 last year.

The homeless figures are going up.

We will increase it by even more this year.

There is only one problem: it is getting worse.

As the Deputy does not want people to know that-----

The Taoiseach is getting better and the problem is getting worse.

-----she is trying to make out that housing provided by an affordable housing body such as the Peter McVerry Trust or the Iveagh Trust or under the Part V mechanism does not exist.

No, I did not. I asked-----


They are real houses with real people in them.

Real houses for real people.

Last Friday I had the pleasure to be in Dundalk where 120 new social homes are under construction and will soon be occupied.

Hand out the keys.

It was not done directly by Louth County Council but through an affordable housing body - Clúid. The county manager, the politicians and representatives of Clúid were there. Everyone worked together, using taxpayers' money to deliver social houses for people who needed them, but the Deputy is trying to say they do not count.


What is the point?

I think the Taoiseach is in a parallel universe.