An tOrd Gnó (Atógáil) - Order of Business (Resumed)

I wish to raise an issue concerning education. A Programme for a Partnership Government states: "Education is the key to giving every child an equal chance in life". Unfortunately that is not being acted upon in Ennis, where next September there will be insufficient places in secondary schools to accommodate those leaving primary schools. It is anticipated that this will be the case for years to come. Twelve primary school principals have written to the Minister outlining their concerns in this regard. It particularly affects those from the Traveller community, those from disadvantaged areas and those with special educational needs. The issue is compounded by the fact that there is no centralised application system. Some pupils are allocated several places in schools and others are left without a place until the school year starts. The Taoiseach recently officially opened a school in Ennis, Scoil Chríost Rí. He has also acknowledged that there is a shortage of secondary school places. What immediate action will he take to address this issue?

I am afraid that the Minister for Education and Skills is in the Seanad so I am not able to give the Deputy an update on the actions that are being taken or the progress that is being made in that regard. As the Deputy pointed out, I had the privilege of opening the refurbished Scoil Chríost Rí in Ennis and I am aware that there is a shortage of school places in the Ennis area. I will ask the Minister for Education and Skills to provide the Deputy with an update on the actions being taken to resolve that.

The European Commission's top civil servant on climate change appeared before an Oireachtas committee last week. He asked for each Government to aim for the target of net zero emissions by 2050, similar to President Macron when he announced the same ambition at the European leaders' meeting the week before last. Some eight other countries signed up to that target but we did not. What are the Government's intentions in that regard? Will the Taoiseach agree with the European Commission and other European leaders who wish to set a target of achieving net zero CO2 emissions by 2050? If so, when does the Government expect to announce it?

We are still finalising the new climate action plan and will publish it in June. As part of our deliberations, it is our intention to agree to carbon neutrality and net zero emissions by 2050. We have a difficulty with signing up to more onerous obligations to be met by 2030 because we do not want to sign up to things that we cannot necessarily achieve. We can do it by 2050. We will struggle to meet those targets by 2030 but we will meet them. Last year, emissions fell by about 2%. If we continue on that trajectory we will meet our targets by 2030. We are not willing to sign up to more onerous obligations unless we can be sure we will meet them. The short answer to the Deputy's question is "Yes". The Government supports signing up to net zero emissions by 2050.

We must now consider Deputies brought forward from last Thursday.

I will read the Taoiseach a short quotation from the 2016 programme for Government. It states: "Many farmers are experiencing challenges arising out of volatility in the market and this is in some cases further impacted by difficult farming conditions". Since then Brexit has very much come onto the agenda and is of concern to the farming community. In that regard, I welcome the announcement by Commissioner Phil Hogan of support for the beef sector in particular. As we all know, many thousands of jobs are linked to the agriculture industry. Can we have a clear statement that the Government will give €50 million to support the €50 million from the EU? How quickly will we see this particular project put in place? As the Taoiseach probably knows, many in the farming industry are at a very difficult juncture.

The Government joins the Deputy in welcoming the announcement from the Commission that €50 million in exceptional aid is to be provided to beef farmers who very much need it given the collapse in beef prices in recent months. We still have not received the terms and conditions from the Commission and the exact detail of how that scheme will work. We will have to provide matching funding. We do not yet have the terms and conditions from the Commission but as soon as we get them, we will be able to develop a scheme and ensure that farmers get the money they need as soon as possible.

Over the past 12 months, I have raised the issue of local needs with the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and the Minister of State with special responsibility for housing and urban development, Deputy English. Planning rules introduced in 2005 are stopping people who were born and raised in an area building their family homes near their friends and family. In 2007, the European Commission issued an infringement notice against Ireland in regard to the 2005 rural housing guidelines which was deferred pending the decision of the European Court of Justice, ECJ, in a case known as the Flemish decree case. In 2013, the ECJ gave judgment and ruled that the Flemish decree constituted an unjustified restriction of fundamental freedoms under Article 43 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union on the freedom of movement of citizens. I was told in September 2018 that it was going to be resolved very soon. I have raised this on numerous occasions. The Minister, Deputy Murphy, keeps asking for solutions and I keep saying this will free up big and small houses. This will get people living in the countryside.

The Minister has an understanding of the question.

When can we expect the guidelines?

The 2005 guidelines are still in force despite things that have happened since. We are working to take on board the Flemish decree and other things that have happened in Europe since, including the issuance of new guidelines. It is important to note that, in publishing the national planning framework, we took account of those issues. The national planning framework allows for individual houses to be built. CSO statistics on the number of new-builds over the past 12 months show that there has been a high percentage of one-off housing. Houses are still being granted planning permission and being built but clarity is needed on the guidelines. Those guidelines will issue from the Department once they are ready.

A commitment is given in the programme for Government towards the provision of adequate services for people with disabilities. The circumstances around Rehab have been well documented in recent days and I understand there is a delegation in the AV Room as we speak.

Last week, the National Federation of Voluntary Bodies issued a statement that Rehab was only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to funding shortages for those providing services. The Kerry Parents and Friends Association issued a statement that it also had insufficient funding to carry out the services needed in 2019.

Can the Taoiseach give a commitment that there will be a fundamental, root and branch review of the funding of the voluntary services for those service providers which carry out services for people with disabilities? We need to reassess that and try to look after the most vulnerable in our society.

There has been a significant increase in funding for health and disability organisations in recent years and an increase of almost €1 billion in the past year. Notwithstanding that, some organisations that provide health and social care services and provide services to people with disabilities have deficits from time to time. A meeting is happening today that will address the Rehab deficit. I have no doubt there are other organisations with deficits which want to resolve them by engaging with the HSE. That is how it has always been resolved in the past and will be in the future.

Can the Taoiseach explain why his Government has announced that it is abandoning the Garda insurance fraud unit? That unit specialises in insurance fraud which has been a Government policy, via the work of the cost of insurance working group, since early 2017 and was fully endorsed by the Personal Injuries Commission. Businesses are closing down across the country and this Government is too afraid to stand up to the insurance companies to tackle considerable insurance costs. Why has the Government abandoned the insurance fraud unit and what can the Minister tell business owners who are struggling to keep their doors open due to the high insurance costs?

I would welcome an opportunity for a more intense debate on this issue and invite the Deputy to table a Topical Issue matter. I would be very happy to deal with it.

I tabled a Topical Issue matter on this topic this morning but it was not selected for priority.

It is not true to say the Government has abandoned anything. I have discussed this issue with the Garda Commissioner over a number of months. The Garda Commissioner, who is the director of operations of An Garda Síochána, is actively engaged on this issue. I support him in his plan but, rather than engage in soundbite politics, I invite the Deputy to table the issue for more substantive debate later today or tomorrow. I will be available.

I did table a Topical Issue matter.

The situation regarding respite services in the north west is very serious. I have raised this issue several times in the House. Last year, Solas Respite Centre, a purpose-built respite unit in Sligo, was closed by the HSE. The HSE is now working with RehabCare to open a new respite centre in Tullaghan, County Leitrim. It was supposed to be open last August, but is still not open. People in the area have been waiting for respite services for children with disabilities since then. Some have been sent as far away as County Monaghan. In some cases, by the time the family gets to the respite service in Monaghan, gets the child settled and returns home, it is time to return to collect the child. It is a ridiculous situation. Will the Taoiseach please intervene to ensure that respite services are provided for everyone in the north west?

I am afraid that the Minster of State with responsibility for disability is not present to respond to the Deputy’s query, but I will certainly inform him that the issue was raised.

On the programme for Government, on 6 March this year we discovered through freedom of information requests that the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme, the flagship of the Government’s housing affordability measures, was effectively frozen. Since then, I have repeatedly asked the Minister, Deputy Murphy, about the situation regarding current loan applications. I am sure he is aware of the problem because I and others have received repeated representations from across the country regarding local authorities still not allowing drawdowns of loans and mortgages under the Rebuilding Ireland affordable home loan scheme, in spite of the Minister assuring me that the scheme was open, loans would be honoured and funds could be drawn down. The Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe is present. The cold hand of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform put a stop to the lending. Has it allocated money this year for additional mortgages to be paid out? What is the status of the scheme? Is it open? Has the Minister, Deputy Murphy, written to local authorities and instructed them to issue the loans in the case of approved mortgage applications?

The Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme is not and never has been frozen. It is open for applications to be processed and approved and for money to be drawn down. That is happening. If the Deputy has examples of local authorities refusing to process loans-----

I do. It has happened in South Dublin. I will send examples to the Minister.

-----I ask him to bring them directly to my attention because every local authority has been contacted to confirm that the scheme is open and they should continue to accept applications. The continuation of the scheme this year is not dependent on an agreement between myself and the Minister for Finance-----

No allocation has yet been made.

-----although we are in discussions around the overall envelope required to fulfil commitments under the scheme that have been made to date.

I wish to convey my deepest sympathies to the parents of the unborn child whose life was ended in the National Maternity Hospital as a result of a reported misdiagnosis and the alleged failure of the hospital to wait for the results of a diagnostic test. It was reported that the medics recommended an abortion unprompted by the child’s parents and that the couple were told that there was no need to wait for a final test. It was further reported that there was no specific genetic involvement at the time of the abortion decision and that the couple were not told clearly that the child was healthy after the third set of results came in, but, rather, worked this out themselves from information they received in an envelope. It has emerged that there are no national guidelines for doctors in this area. Before the abortion legislation was passed, Every Life Matters requested a meeting with the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to warn them that this could happen, but that request was refused at the time. I and other Members raised this issue during the debate on the legislation and warned the Government that such events could occur, but the Government refused to take that into consideration. Will it now create the necessary guidelines to ensure that this does not happen again?

My heart goes out to the couple affected by these events. It is important to restate on the floor of the House that this is an individual matter. These matters are deeply personal and should be confidential. Although the Deputy may have access to individual medical or other information regarding a particular patient, I certainly do not have access to such information and will not discuss------

The information was reported in The Irish Times.

Whether it was reported in The Irish Times is beside the point. These are personal, private and confidential matters and it is not appropriate for us to discuss them in this Chamber. I am advised by the Minister for Health that steps are being taken to carry out an independent review of the case. Clinical guidelines are normally drawn up by doctors and their professional bodies. I will ask the Minister for Health to follow up on the matter with the Deputy.