Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

It is over a year since the CervicalCheck scandal was made public following the case that Vicky Phelan took to the High Court. Two significant commitments were given by the Government at the time - to set up a CervicalCheck tribunal and to introduce a patient safety Bill that would provide for mandatory open disclosure. The general scheme of the tribunal Bill was published this month, but when can the Dáil expect the Bill proper to be finalised, completed and debated in the Dáil? Is it the intention of the Government that it would be completed and passed before the summer recess? In terms of the patient safety Bill, heads were approved last July. Will the Taoiseach confirm whether the Bill will be before the Dáil ahead of the summer recess?

I thank the Deputy. On the legislation to establish the tribunal as recommended by Mr. Justice Meenan, I have asked the Attorney General and the Minister for Health to prioritise that legislation over all other health legislation. The heads have been published and we anticipate that we will have that Bill in the House before the summer recess and, with the co-operation of this House and the other House, enacted before the summer recess. Since that Bill is being given priority over all other health legislation, it is likely that the patient safety legislation will then come in during the next session in the autumn.

The programme for Government commits to providing adequate resources to reduce hospital waiting lists. This week, a woman needing hospital treatment received a letter telling her that she had been put on a waiting list of in excess of 175 weeks for an appointment at the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar. That is more than three years. This woman is ill and potentially suffering from a serious blood disorder, yet she is being left with no notion of when or if she will be called for an appointment. She will face this uncertainty for anything up to three years. She is not alone, as more than 500,000 people are facing the same uncertainty on waiting lists. It is nothing short of outrageous. It should be said that Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar, is the same hospital that only last month had to issue a full capacity protocol due to dangerous levels of overcrowding. Now, this woman, who is just one of many, is being told that she may have to wait for up to three years for her appointment.

Does the Taoiseach accept that the Government has failed to deal with waiting lists at hospitals-----

Time is up, Deputy, please.

-----a crisis in which more than 500,000 people have been left waiting?

I am afraid I cannot comment on the individual case, but if what the Deputy says is correct - I have no reason to believe it is not - I am obviously sorry to hear that this patient has been asked to wait for so long. Sometimes, it is possible to get a more urgent appointment, particularly if that request comes in from her GP or from another doctor.

We have discussed this issue many times in the past. I have pointed out how, in Northern Ireland, many more people per head of population are waiting much longer, so we know Sinn Féin's record in health, Michelle O'Neill having been the last Minister of Health. We know that Sinn Féin has not delivered on health. Given the much worse situation when it comes to waiting lists in Northern Ireland, no one would possibly believe that Sinn Féin could do a better job.

However, there are areas where we are making some progress, particularly when it comes to people who are waiting for an operation or a procedure.

The Government is sending people to the North for cataract surgery-----

The number of people waiting more than three months for an operation or a procedure is down by 10,000 this year compared to last year.

-----and hip replacements.

The truth always hurts, a Cheann Comhairle, which is why one always get shouted down-----

It is not the truth. It is false.

-----but they are going to have to hear the truth. Just comparing the middle of summer 2017, when we started implementing Sláintecare, to now, the number of people waiting more than three months for a cataract surgery is down from 8,000 to 3,500.

Yes, because the Government is sending them to the North.

It has nothing to do with Sláintecare.

The number of people waiting for GI scopes has gone from 28,000 down to 14,000-----

Thanks be to God the Government took Fianna Fáil's proposal.

The number of people waiting for a hip or knee replacement-----

The Government is sending them to the North as well.

-----is down from 3,500 to 1,600, while the numbers waiting for tonsils to be removed and for an angiogram are down from 2,500 to 700, and from nearly 2,000 to 800, respectively. In all those cases, the number of people waiting for more than 12 weeks is down by half.

The National Treatment Purchase Fund.

I join with the leader of the Fianna Fáil Party in expressing my sympathy and that of my party to the family of the late Micheál Lynch on his sad passing.

Just two weeks ago, it seemed possible that RehabCare would have to withdraw services from more than 3,000 people who depend upon them. It was a stressful time for those service users and their families. In this election week, the Government thankfully has found €2 million to fund the gap for Rehab this year. We know that most of that money - €1.5 million, I understand - is simply to cover insurance costs.

There are many other community and voluntary organisations delivering important health and social care services to people with disabilities. Like the Rehab Group, they are all under severe pressure. While what the Government has done for Rehab is welcome, is it not time that we provided an indemnity for the myriad of section 38 organisations that provide vital health and social services and are under enormous pressure to find affordable insurance?

I actually neglected to join Deputy Micheál Martin in expressing my condolences to the family of Micheál Lynch, who has passed away. He is a former Member of this House and very much a respected one.

The issues around the deficit that Rehab was facing were resolved yesterday following engagement with the HSE, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath. Deputy Howlin raises a very valid issue, which is the cost of insurance for section 39 organisations - those that are not part of the public sector but are almost entirely funded by the public sector. We will have to give consideration to whether an indemnity should be extended to them but one should bear in mind that when one does that, it exposes the taxpayer to potentially massive claims-----

We are paying wodges of money now anyway.

-----for which the taxpayer may have no responsibility. That would have to be thought through and we would have to calculate what the potential cost and liability would be, but I take the Deputy's point and I think it is something that we need to consider.

I noted the Taoiseach's response on the issue raised by Deputy McDonald, which I raised last week, concerning the Bartra Capital Property Group's plan for 200 boxes with fold-out beds in Dún Laoghaire. Today is the last day for submissions. Given the Taoiseach's response, I suggest that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government make a submission to An Bord Pleanála saying that this development would be completely out of order and is an abuse of the strategic housing development, SHD, process. That is a direct appeal.

The Taoiseach is going to do that.

The unscrupulousness of property speculators in Dún Laoghaire seems to know no bounds. The latest ruse, which I would also ask the Minister to examine, sees property agents in the Cualanor and Honeypark developments, which were in NAMA before being sold to vulture funds and so on, using a very obscure calculation of people's income in order to rule out housing assistance payment, HAP, tenants. Even when the council has said that, in respect of two cases that I have received, the incomes of the HAP tenants, who are working, are sufficient to be able to rent these properties, the property agents are doing another obscure calculation in order to make an excuse for telling the tenants that they cannot rent the properties to them. The real reason is because they are in receipt of HAP. As a matter of urgency, will the Minister examine this issue as well?

I thank the Deputy for the question. In my ministerial role, I appoint the chairperson of An Bord Pleanála. For the first time ever in the history of the State, earlier this year I appointed an independent planning regulator, Mr. Niall Cussen, to oversee all of our plans under the national planning framework, all of the work being done by local authorities and their planning offices, and An Bord Pleanála. It would not be appropriate for me to make an observation on an individual planning application. That would be an abuse of power.

This is an abuse of the system.

As the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, knows, we in the Dublin Bay North constituency also have large studio-type apartment developments being brought to An Bord Pleanála.

I understand that the Taoiseach will next week meet the Stardust relatives and victims committee.

I wonder whether the Taoiseach will be in a position to give them the decision of the Attorney General, Mr. Woulfe, in respect of the detailed report that has been prepared by the committee and the solicitor, Mr. Darragh Mackin, with the assistance of Lynn Boylan, MEP. The report was delivered approximately two months ago but it has not really been acknowledged by the Attorney General.

I am afraid I cannot say. The meeting will happen. I will listen to what they have to say and respond accordingly.

I am sure the Taoiseach, like other Deputies, has met colleagues from the media who lost their jobs recently as a result of the massive scaling back of the The Times, Ireland edition. There is a real difficulty for our friends in the media who are caught in that position but there is a wider policy issue as well. There is a real concern now that Irish journalism is being corroded and eroded because the fundamental business model cannot support quality journalism, which is central to our democracy. Two years ago, the Oireachtas committee asked the Government, rather than sitting on its hands, to consider practical ways of bringing money back into this profession, which is something that needs to be done. Nothing has happened, however. I am sure the Minister, Deputy Bruton, will tell me that the Government is looking at this matter again. I think there is an urgency now because there are further stories of other institutions that may be in difficulty. We must intervene to protect certain institutions of our State, including the healthy, sceptical and questioning profession of journalism. That profession is under threat at the moment. What does the Government intend to do about it?

I think there is a genuine issue here. There is no doubt that the revenue sources of traditional media are being undermined significantly as a result of the explosion in online activity. As the Deputy is aware, I am bringing forward a broadcasting Bill to provide for changes in the way the broadcasting levy is raised. We are examining the potential for deploying the levy in new ways. Of course there are limits on the extent to which state aid can be provided to private media companies. I am concerned about these developments. I will discuss with my officials how best we might address them. We are acting on the committee's proposals in the context of the broadcasting Bill, which I hope to publish soon.

On behalf of my party, I want to express our condolences on the passing of former Deputy for the Meath constituency and Senator, Michael Lynch, who passed away earlier today.

When I was in County Tipperary recently, I was reminded that a series of marches and protests organised by the March4Tipp campaign last year culminated in the appointment of Alison Harvey as the head of a task force. What agencies, particularly State agencies, have been assigned to the task force to help it to implement the findings of the communities and to ensure the task force develops a sustainable economy, in line with the demands of March4Tipp? While I hope the task force will be successful, that will not happen unless the State gets behind it.

I thank the Deputy for the question. The Government is fully behind this important initiative, which we have undertaken with local stakeholders. That is why we have appointed an expert to lead this piece of work. All the different funding streams and agencies that are needed to make this initiative happen and work are available to the task force, which is currently doing this piece of work and reporting to the Minister of State, Deputy English. When we have further updates, we will be able to provide them to the House.

I join the Taoiseach, my party leader and others in extending sympathy to the family of Michael Lynch. I knew him through my radio work in the past. I have questioned the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health on many occasions about projects in my local area such as the 50-bed accident and emergency unit at Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe, the 50-bed unit for older people at the Sacred Heart Hospital in Roscommon and the development at St. Patrick's hospital, Carrick-on-Shannon. There is concern that there seems to be no talk about these developments at present. I cannot prove it, but it appears that nothing is being said about these projects because of the difficulties at the children's hospital. The Ballinasloe project is shovel-ready. All it needs is a Government announcement. As the two Ministers of State from County Galway who are sitting behind the Taoiseach will be aware, there is a lot of chaos in the accident and emergency department at the hospital. It is very hard for the staff to cope. What the patients are going through is unacceptable. I ask the Taoiseach to indicate when the Government might announce the Portiuncula project. It is crucial that we get the go-ahead for it. I am pleading with the Taoiseach today because I have received so many requests to get something done about this matter. I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, has received similar requests. Can we look forward to the announcement of the date on which this work will commence?

When will the Galway shovels be brought into use?

In my time as Minister for Health, I had the opportunity to visit Portiuncula Hospital, which performs very well and sees relatively low numbers of patients on trolleys. The facilities at the hospital are very out of date, however. I would be very keen to see the new block under construction as soon as possible. I cannot give the Deputy a date on it. I am sure the Minister for Health, who is at a joint committee meeting at the moment, will give the Deputy an update as soon as he gets an opportunity to do so. I remind the Deputy that less than 20% of the €10 billion ten-year health envelope for new hospitals, primary care centres, IT equipment etc. will be spent on the children's hospital. More than 80% of it is available to be spent on other projects all over the country.

I welcome this week's announcement that grants worth €10 million are being provided for sporting equipment. This has been welcomed by many local and regional clubs. Like the Taoiseach and the Ministers and Ministers of State who are with him, I have been contacted by many clubs that have a keen interest in finding out when the main sports capital grants will be announced. These grants have kept many local sports clubs, including those in rural areas, going over recent years. This allocation has probably been one of the best things the Government has done in recent years. When can we expect the main sports capital grants to be announced?

I thank the Deputy for welcoming the grants, which are very important for local clubs, as he knows. This tranche of funding under the 2018 programme was open to applications for equipment only. Approximately 1,500 applications were received from clubs for funding for equipment and other capital developments. It is hoped that decisions in respect of those applications will be announced in or around September. The announcements that were made last Sunday and Monday relate to applications for equipment only. Clubs that were unsuccessful in their applications for money from the tranche of funding that was announced earlier this week may appeal the findings as well. Officials from the Department will be in touch with unsuccessful clubs this week in that regard.

Bhí an Coimisinéir Teanga i láthair ag Comhchoiste na Gaeilge, na Gaeltachta agus na nOileán inné. Uair amháin eile, dúirt sé go raibh fíorghá le uasdhátú a dhéanamh ar an reachtaíocht a bhaineann leis na teangacha oifigiúla le cosaint a thabhairt don Ghaeilge. Le fada an lá, tá Bille leasaithe geallta dúinn le leasú a dhéanamh ar an Acht teanga atá ann i láthair na huaire. Cén uair a fhoilseofar an Bhille a dhéanfaidh leasú ar an Acht teanga?

Mar is eol don Teachta, bhí moill ar an mBille sin mar gheall ar an reachtaíocht maidir leis an mBreatimeacht. Tá an dul-chun cinn déanta ar an mBille sin le mí nó sé seachtaine anuas. Táimid dóchasach fós go mbeidh an Bille sin foilsithe roimh an tsamhraidh.

Sin deireadh le ceisteanna ar reachtaíocht atá geallta.

On behalf of all Members, I want to be associated with the expressions of sympathy on the death of the former Deputy and Senator, Michael Lynch. It was a great privilege to have known Michael. He was a distinguished Member of this House and the Upper House. He was an absolute gentleman to his fingertips. If I remember correctly, he was a great devotee of Irish culture, particularly Irish music. Ar dheis Dé go raibh sé.