Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Drug and Alcohol Task Forces

I am sharing time with Deputy Ellis. Is the Minister of State confident that sufficient funding has been allocated to drug and alcohol task forces to allow them to achieve the better outcomes envisaged in the national drugs strategy? As the Minister of State is well aware, drugs are a massive plague in many communities across the State. Not nearly enough is being done or invested to tackle the root problems behind this epidemic. I am a member of the Mid-West Regional Drugs and Alcohol Forum and I know that my city of Limerick has a worsening drugs problem. Heroin, cocaine, the excessive use of alcohol, gambling and the misuse of prescription drugs are causing huge problems right across the city. Unfortunately, class A drugs such as cocaine are becoming all the more common, particularly among middle-class people. The use of cocaine is rampant in nightclubs and pubs across the country and this has escalated in recent years. In addition, it is estimated that hundreds of people in Limerick are now addicted to heroin alone.

The normalisation of drug use, and particularly of class A drug use, is of deep concern to me and others and it is something that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. The misuse of drugs in Limerick is increasing on an almost daily basis. The outcome of that can be seen on the streets. Polydrug use, including the misuse of prescription drugs combined with alcohol, is having a devastating effect across Limerick city. The continued failure to resource properly those who are working on the front line against the scourge of drug addiction is simply not acceptable. It is unsustainable and, for that reason, the problem is getting worse.

I have said this in the Chamber on a number of occasions and it depresses me to say it again, but the national drugs strategy will fail if the funding for it is not increased. Without additional resources, there is no hope of it achieving its aims. I really do wish it to succeed but, without funding, I have no confidence that it will.

Another massive problem in this area is that families are being left to pay the drug debts of their members. Some people are being forced to take out large expensive loans from moneylenders, which only creates further problems. Will the Minister of State outline what extra investment and resources she will be seeking in the upcoming budget to tackle these issues? Will she outline the action she has taken to address the normalisation of drug use and the issue of moneylending and family drug debts?

I have been a member of the Finglas and Cabra Drugs and Alcohol Task Force for almost 20 years. Drugs and alcohol task forces had their funding cut every year between 2008 and 2014. Funding has effectively been frozen since 2014, despite the escalation of the drugs crisis. This has had a devastating effect on the delivery of proper services for communities and on the drugs and alcohol task forces, which have lost experienced personnel. In addition, drugs projects now have to tackle the alcohol crisis as this has been added to their remit without any extra funding or resources being allocated. Funding needs to be reinstated to 2008 levels with an increase in funding to reflect the addition of alcohol issues to their remit. Staff should have their pay restored and those who are entitled to increments should also have these restored. More emphasis on health-related solutions and programmes is needed and our children need to be educated about drugs from an early age.

There are new challenges every day. For example, taking cocaine is, shockingly, being seen more and more as a recreational activity. There were 736 drug and alcohol-related deaths in 2016, which is a far greater number than those who died on our roads. Parents, children and whole communities are being terrorised and intimidated by those involved in the drug trade. Another worrying trend is the grooming of children for use as drug couriers. Task forces need to be given responsibility for drafting and implementing local strategies to combat the drugs crisis. Task forces must be supported by the State and Government agencies including the HSE, An Garda Síochána and local authorities. Drugs and alcohol task forces need their funding restored because they are best placed to work with communities and with those with addictions and to fight against the ever-increasing drug problems in our communities.

I thank the two Deputies for their contributions. I will come back to some of the issues that were raised in my second contribution. The national drugs strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery, is our whole-of-Government response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland for the period from 2017 to 2025. Drug and alcohol task forces at local and regional level play a key role in assessing the extent and nature of the drug problem in local communities. They also ensure that a co-ordinated approach is taken across all sectors to address substance misuse based on the identified needs and priorities in their areas. The Department of Health provides in the region of €28 million to support task forces annually through various channels of funding, including the HSE. Individual task forces receive, on average, €1 million, which can be used to respond to local needs.

Measuring the overall effectiveness of the response to the drug problem is an important objective of drug policy. Resources should be directed towards interventions and strategies which are most likely to lead to a reduction in problem substance use and an improvement in public health, safety and well-being. The level of progress achieved in delivering on the actions set out in our national drugs strategy will be determined using performance indicators.

In March 2019, I announced additional funding of €1 million for the implementation of Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery. This funding, which will be provided on a recurring, multi-annual basis, will address the priorities set down in the strategy including early harm-reduction responses to emerging trends in substance misuse and improving services for groups with complex needs. The funding will complement enhancements in drug and alcohol treatment services relating to mental health and homelessness under the 2019 HSE national service plan. On foot of a consultation process with drug and alcohol task forces and the HSE, I approved a three-strand funding model for the allocation of this funding in May. As part of strand 1 funding, each task force will receive €20,000 in 2019 and then €10,000 on a recurring annual basis from 2020 onwards. This funding can be used to enhance services and meet operational costs. I have made arrangements for these additional resources to be transferred to the task forces as soon as possible. I hope this will happen in the coming weeks. I will address some of the issues the Deputies have raised when I come back in.

I thank the Minister of State for her response and acknowledge the good work she has done since being appointed to her position. Unfortunately, she is being strangled by the lack of resources. My understanding is that the €1 million she announced in March, on the day of the Private Member's motion on the issue, is to be spent by task forces over the next three and a half years. That is quite disappointing. I thought that money would be ring-fenced and poured into drugs task forces this year. As I said earlier, the Mid-West Regional Drugs and Alcohol Forum has taken cuts of more than 50% since 2008. This has not been restored and the problem has worsened. Over the years these cuts have negatively impacted on and prevented the delivery of drug and alcohol services that are urgently required in Limerick and across the entire mid-west region. The Criminal Assets Bureau also needs to be resourced so that the proceeds of crime can be taken from local drug dealers and gangs. Young people would see that the lifestyle of drug dealers is not what is portrayed on television or in movies if the response from the CAB was better. Does the Minister of State intend to look at this particular area or to look for additional funding in the budget?

I welcome the money the task forces will receive, as the Minister of State outlined. It is evident that the task forces have lost a significant number of personnel. This money will not go near helping to keep those people on board because since 2008, the funding has been cut by up to 38% and we are nowhere near restoring that. While the increased money is welcome, the Finglas Cabra drugs task force is probably the least well-funded task force in Dublin. Most of them received €10,000 each last year. The problem is that it nearly took more to administer that. We needed much more to cater for the different problems we had with staff and getting new projects up and running. We have lost projects as a result of the lack of funding in recent years. We need a major injection of funding. While the amount the Minister of State mentioned is welcome, it goes nowhere near solving the problem.

I acknowledge, as both Deputies said, that there has been a shortfall in funding for the task forces over the years. We are all very clear as to what happened in recent years with funding. We have €1 million. We have started to meet those involved in the services. We have met the co-ordinators and the chairpersons. We are developing a three-strand model for the recently-announced funding of €1 million. Strand 2 on this funding was 12 strategic health initiatives. Task forces can include in this, health initiatives on early warning for alcohol and cocaine abuse, and getting into the heart of communities, particularly with young people. Each community healthcare organisation, CHO, has a number of task forces. Each initiative will receive €190,000 over 36 months with €40,000 in 2019, €60,000 in 2020 and €30,000 in 2022.

In recent weeks the Department and the HSE have organised four workshops for task forces and CHOs on the application process for the strand 2 funding with workshops in Dublin, Cork and Carrick-on-Shannon. The deadline for applications is 29 July. There is plenty of time for task forces. This was not just announced last week. It was announced a couple of months ago that this money was coming on stream. I have been meeting and speaking to co-ordinators and chairpersons. As they work on the ground, they are fully aware of the needs in communities. I am sure there will be plenty of applications outlining what they will do with the funding.

It is my intention to approve all the allocations of this additional funding by the end of August and I am committed to implementing an integrated public health response to substance misuse with the twin aims of reducing harm and supporting recovery. Working in partnership with the task forces and the HSE, I am confident that the allocation of the additional resources in 2019 will make a significant contribution to achieving this objective.

As in previous years I will engage with the 2020 Estimates process in my Department to ensure that additional resources are to be implemented in key actions in the national drugs strategy.

The mid-west task force was allocated €1,497,989 and will shortly receive the previously mentioned additional €20,000 for 2019. I understand the frustration on the ground over the allocation and retention of staff. I have also spoken to the Minister, Deputy Harris, and the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, about it.

Patient Transport Provision

Transport to and from treatment is a significant problem for cancer patients and their families who already are dealing with physical and emotional strains of cancer diagnosis. I have met many cancer patients and their families, which has given me a profound appreciation of how difficult and varied the effect of cancer diagnosis can be.

The provision of funding for transport is a common-sense provision. A cancer diagnosis can be a very difficult time for cancer patients and their families and can often involve considerable travel for patients. Radiotherapy can involve the patient going to hospital for a series of daily treatments over a number of days or weeks. On average they receive 25 sessions.

For cancer patients in the north west, treatment involves a very long road trip. Some will travel 600 km in a week to get to the nearest cancer centre and back home again. Most patients travel to University Hospital Galway but others need to travel to Dublin. Cancer patients need transport to be provided for many reasons. Their doctors may have advised them not to drive due to the aggressive nature of the treatment. The patient may have no family in the immediate vicinity or family and friends may be unable to take time off work to transport them to weekly or fortnightly treatments which can last many months. They may need specialised or extra treatment.

I sent an email to the office of the Minister, Deputy Harris, highlighting the case of one such person who requires transport from Sligo to receive his chemotherapy and radiotherapy in St. Vincent's hospital in Dublin. To date this young man has been supported with transport to and from Dublin through the goodwill of many people. Many people on the ground have worked extremely hard in ensuring this happens, like the many individuals around the country who go above and beyond the call of duty for the needs of others.

Existing support services offer as much help as they can to cancer patients and their families. However, transport is not normally one of them. In my experience more and more charitable organisations and volunteer associations have been approached for support to help with transport problems. In recent weeks the young man I mentioned has been told that he needs extra chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which puts an extra burden on all services to try to get this person to Dublin on various dates between now and September. The gentleman has no transport of his own and has a young family.

While the Irish Cancer Society offers the care to drive scheme, this only operates within a 50 km radius. It is important to acknowledge the benefits of the care to drive scheme nationwide with volunteers collecting patients from their homes and driving them to their hospital treatments and back home again from those appointments. By removing the burden of continually having to organise transport, the scheme has transformed people's lives. Life would be very complicated for those people without that service. It has removed some of the barriers associated with accessing care. We must acknowledge the generosity and goodwill of the 12,000-plus volunteers. Those involved often have a family member who is unwell or had previously used the service themselves. Unfortunately the care to drive scheme offers little advantage to people from Sligo who have to travel to Dublin, a round trip of 420 km.

Patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment are often exhausted. Someone who is ill and has had treatment will be feeling very vulnerable and having to hang around waiting for and being dependent on taxis or public transport is not good for the patient.

It is not uncommon for cancer patients who cannot afford to travel or cannot access transport to Dublin hospitals for vital radiotherapy to be directed to charity organisations such as the Irish Cancer Society, the Friends of St. Luke's and the Marie Keating Foundation to apply for financial assistance, but these agencies are already struggling with the limited funds available.

I thank Deputy Scanlon for raising this issue. I acknowledge that a cancer diagnosis is a difficult time for patients and for their families. There are also costs associated with a cancer diagnosis, as with any serious illness.

The Department of Health and the HSE’s national cancer control programme have worked together to improve the quality of cancer services through reorganisation and expansion. We have moved from a fragmented system of care to one that consolidates cancer treatment in larger centres, with multidisciplinary care and decision making.

Cancer care in Ireland is provided across the continuum of primary care, acute hospitals and social services. In line with international best practice, acute hospital cancer care is centred in eight designated centres. There is clear evidence that patients who receive treatment in hospitals with a high patient volume, from doctors who themselves see a high volume of cases, have better outcomes.

At the same time, care is delivered to patients as close to their homes as possible. For example, medical oncology is delivered in 26 hospitals under the direction of the designated cancer centres.

There are various transport options available for patients travelling for medical care. These include HSE directly funded transport, voluntary schemes and community transport, as well as specific cancer-related services supported by the National Cancer Control Programme, NCCP. Travel2Care is a transportation assistance fund which has been made available by the National Cancer Control Programme to patients travelling to a designated cancer centre, approved centres or an approved children's hospital for assessment, diagnosis, surgery or active treatment. It is administered by the Irish Cancer Society. This nationwide transportation assistance fund is specifically aimed at supporting people who have a financial difficulty in meeting some of the costs of travelling to appointments.

Some 13 hospitals across the country are covered by the service, including Beaumont Hospital in my constituency, Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, St. James's Hospital, St. Vincent's University Hospital, Cork University Hospital, University Hospital Waterford, Galway University Hospital, University Hospital Limerick, Letterkenny General Hospital, Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin, St. Luke's Hospital in Dublin, the Whitfield Clinic in Waterford and Altnagelvin Area Hospital. The NCCP makes a specific grant of €0.35 million annually to the Irish Cancer Society to assist with the cost incurred by the Travel2Care programme and such funding will continue this year.

Separately, the Irish Cancer Society operates a volunteer driver service, which provides transport for cancer patients to and from their hospital chemotherapy treatments. Nationwide, 21 hospitals participate in this programme, to which patients are referred by hospital voluntary cancer support centres.

The focus of the Department of Health and the National Cancer Control Programme is on the provision of health services, including cancer services, and this is in line with the approach across Europe. The national cancer strategy for 2017 to 2026 sets out a roadmap for the continued development of cancer services over the ten years of the strategy. Patient involvement was a key feature in the development of the strategy, in line with the increasing emphasis on understanding the patient perspective. This has been continued through the establishment of the Cancer Patient Advisory Committee, which comprises 15 people who have been affected by a cancer diagnosis directly or through a family member. The committee has already provided a valuable contribution to initiatives related to the implementation of the cancer strategy.

The Department will continue to work with the National Cancer Control Programme and with voluntary organisations such as the Irish Cancer Society to address the needs of cancer patients in a holistic manner.

I thank the Minister of State for his response.

This issue cannot be ignored. There is no doubt that cancer patients are receiving excellent medical care in our hospitals and more patients than ever are surviving cancer. I was very much aware of the excellent transport schemes provided by volunteers, but I was not aware of the Travel2Care scheme, and some of the organisations I have dealt with recently are not aware of it either, under which funding can be applied for to take patients from anywhere in the country to the hospitals listed by the Minister. Quite a number of organisations are not aware of the scheme and I was not aware of it. It would certainly alleviate a lot of difficulty. Two weeks ago, a group rang me to see whether I knew anybody coming from Dublin on a Wednesday night who could take a patient down, or anybody who might be travelling back to Sligo. That should not be happening.

People in the north-west have to go to Galway or sometimes Dublin for radiotherapy services. Technology is now in place which was not there ten years ago whereby radiotherapy services can be provided in outreach centres. Is the Government looking at that? I am talking about Sligo and the north-west, where people have to travel to either Galway or Dublin. I have discussed this with consultants who provide cancer treatment and the technology is there. Is the Government looking at this possibility to save people the hardship of having to travel all those miles?

I agree with Deputy Eamon Scanlon that this issue cannot be ignored. I appreciate his contribution and the discussion on this important issue. The focus of the Department of Health and the HSE's National Cancer Control Programme is the provision of cancer services and specifically the implementation of the national cancer strategy.

I take the Deputy's point on the Travel2Care transportation assistance fund. It has been made available by the National Cancer Control Programme to patients travelling to a designated centre, approved centres or an approved children's hospital for assessment, diagnosis, surgery and active treatment. It is administered by the Irish Cancer Society, and if enough of the public do not know about this service, we absolutely have to deal with that.

The focus is on centres of excellence. I am open to correction on this, but as far as I know the nearest hospitals for those in the north-west are Altnagelvin Area Hospital and Galway University Hospital. Those are the designated centres of excellence. The Deputy makes a valid point about travel costs. It is a difficult time for families, and perhaps we will have to look again at whether the annual €0.35 million in assistance to the Irish Cancer Society is enough to support cancer patients.

I will bring back all the issues raised today to the Minister, Deputy Harris, and get a more detailed response.

Respite Care Services Provision

It is disgraceful that parents had to take to the airwaves to demand that the decision to cut summer respite services for children with special needs run by the Brothers of Charity at St. Rita's in Clonmel be reversed. I commend those parents, who have been superb advocates for their children and for the disability family. The Minister of State will know that they are under pressure on a daily basis, 365 days a year. They did not need the additional frustration, worry and annoyance of the past year. These parents are entitled to and due an apology.

For years, those parents and we as TDs called for summer respite services. Thankfully, that was eventually established in 2018, and last year's summer camp was professionally run, hugely successful and very valuable to both the children and the parents. Some 20 families were supported at very reasonable costs. Parent power has now saved that summer camp. I again commend the parents for the campaign they have launched over the past week on the radio and by contacting their public representatives and the wider public.

I ask the Minister of State to explain the exact situation in relation to this year's summer camp. Has the decision to cut this service been fully reversed? Have the Brothers of Charity been notified of this decision? Will the same level of service be available this year as last year? Will the same level of funding be available this year as last year?

I want to raise this issue along with Deputy Healy because of the great concern and anxiety parents experienced when they were told that HSE funding for the respite summer camp at St. Rita's, run by the Brothers of Charity, would not go ahead this year. I was contacted by families and individuals, including Lynn Simmons, Sandra Gibson and George and Barbara Kovach. Although I understand that positive progress has now been made, I would like the Minister of State to confirm that as being definite. I will not take the route of my colleague going on the airwaves blowing his coal about it. As Deputy Healy said, it was people power that stopped this happening. These families should not have been dealt with in this way. It is extremely distressing that these parents and their children had to go through such stress and uncertainty.

Representatives from the voluntary and disability sectors were before the Oireachtas Committee on Health last week.

They described the service as a house that is falling down. They said that, while scaffolding is being provided, the house could still fall and that is entirely unacceptable.

The independent voluntary disability service providers said that they operate in the absence of a Government strategy for their role in the future and in the absence of adequate funding for services. That cannot happen. The warning is that this will soon be unsustainable, and it is unsustainable. Those impacted because of their uncertain futures are the people in residential respite and recipients of day services who deserve to live full lives as citizens in the State with the support they need.

As I understand it, the Who Cares? report and the report of the independent review group both concluded that the relationship between the State and the independent voluntary sector has deteriorated and there is an urgent need to place it on a new footing. I am demanding the Minister of State does that. The HSE is not paying the full economic costs for services delivered and it cannot deliver them. I salute the Brothers of Charity and other voluntary services that do this. Organisations have exhausted their own economic reserves and board members are going to refuse to take part because they are not being treated fairly and in an upfront manner by the HSE. The Minister of State should clarify if funding has been restored and if it will continue and be ring-fenced for the next number of years.

I thank Deputies Healy and Mattie McGrath for raising this important issue and for giving the opportunity to clarify and outline the position on St. Rita's respite service in Clonmel. One of the issues that I put on the Estimates debate last year was an extra €10 million for respite services and I opened the 12th respite house in recent weeks. There is investment going on in respite services but I will deal specifically with St. Rita's in this debate.

This Government’s ongoing priority is the safeguarding of vulnerable people in the care of the health service. We are committed to providing services and supports for people with disabilities which will empower them to live independent lives. This commitment is outlined in A Programme for a Partnership Government and I was the one who inserted it. It is guided by two principles, namely, equality of opportunity and improving the quality of life for people with disabilities. Respite services are an important part of the range of services supporting people with disabilities and their families. Short breaks can also provide an opportunity for individuals to meet new people, widen their social circle and gain new experiences.

I accept the Deputies' arguments because respite care is crucial in helping to reduce family stress, to preserve the family unit and to provide stability. The need for increased respite services is acknowledged, I acknowledge it, and the HSE continues to work with all service providers to explore various ways of responding to this need in line with the budget available. As part of its ongoing service provision, this year the HSE will provide more than 182,500 respite nights and 32,662 day respite sessions to families in need across the country.

In 2018, there was a significant improvement in respite provision. An additional €10 million was provided to fund 12 new respite houses. That is one in each HSE CHO area, plus an additional three houses in the greater Dublin area to respond to the very high demand for respite from this area. These additional houses are providing additional respite for families that need it. All 12 houses are now open and fully operational and I am proud of that.

Of that extra money, €2 million is being targeted at alternative respite services. These are practical and important solutions. Alternative respite is working well locally, with good examples of summer camps, evening and Saturday clubs having taken place, benefitting hundreds of adults and children. Further additional respite initiatives are planned for 2019 in each HSE CHO area.

South East Community Healthcare, SECH, provides children’s respite services in two locations in south Tipperary including the Brothers of Charity camp in St. Rita’s respite services. In addition, SECH provides outreach and home-based respite to children with challenges accessing centre-based respite for a number of reasons including those confined to home for complex medical reasons or difficulty socialising safely with other children as a result of emerging diagnosis and responsive behaviours. The HSE is fully committed to maintaining the same level of service this year as in 2018.

The additional funding provided last year will continue in 2019 and, in particular, the €2 million allocation to be spent on alternative respite services remains a high priority for the HSE. SECH acknowledges the quality service provided by St. Rita’s and will ensure that the necessary resources required for the summer respite programme in St. Rita’s will continue to be provided to the Brothers of Charity in 2019.

I welcome the reply from the Minister of State, particularly the statement he made that the necessary resources required for the summer respite programme in St. Rita's will continue to be provided to the Brothers of Charity in 2019. That will be a relief to parents. It is a pity it had to come to this and the turmoil parents have been put through over the past week. It should never have been allowed to happen and I certainly hope it will never happen again. I ask the Minister of State to confirm that this respite service will continue next year and into the future. This service is essential for children with special needs and their families.

I am glad that the Minister of State has given confirmation on this but what has happened here is an appalling vista. It was fought for last year. The Brothers of Charity provided St. Rita's and the families were happy. The families tell me - not the Minister of State or anyone else - that St. Rita's and the Brothers of Charity applied for funding this year and got no response. They were told, approaching the deadline, they would not be getting the funding. There has been a reversal here because of people power and families. This is appalling.

I supported the Minister of State during the talks on the programme for Government to try and get this funding ring-fenced. The HSE is blackguarding families, people, centres like this, the Brothers of Charity and the boards of management of these places. This should not have happened. I plead with the Minister of State to ensure that whatever mandarin in the HSE decided to be so cruel, disingenuous and callous as to say this was being pulled will be reprimanded. This is not good enough. These people are looking after their children with special needs and do a great job, as do the centres, the Brothers of Charity groups and many others. They need to be supported, not blackguarded, misled, frightened and scared. There is something more sinister to this than the Minister of State is telling us.

I thank the Deputies for their responses. When I leave this Chamber, I will be asking who put the parents through that particular situation. I am very much aware of the importance of access to planned respite, which ensures that people with disabilities receive opportunities to socialise and facilitates families to receive a break from caring, to preserve the family unit and to provide stability. These are important arguments in this debate.

Respite services are an important part of a range of services supporting people with disabilities and their families. They are crucial to reducing family stress. Short breaks can also provide an opportunity for individuals to meet new people, widen their social circle and gain new experiences. The need for increased respite services is acknowledged and the HSE continues to work with all service providers to explore various ways of responding to this need in line with the budget available.

The HSE is fully committed to maintaining the same level of service this year as in 2018. The additional funding provided last year will continue in 2019 and, in particular, the €2 million allocation to be spent on alternative respite services remains a high priority for me and the HSE. As I stated earlier, SECH acknowledges the quality service provided by St. Rita’s and will ensure that the necessary resources required for the summer respite programme in St. Rita’s will continue to be provided to the Brothers of Charity in 2019. As far as I am concerned, this is only the start of the investment in respite services. I gave a commitment three years ago that I would reform the disability services, invest in them, and put the person at the centre of those services. We need to expand those services and that is my objective.

Credit Unions

I received an email from the Irish League of Credit Unions about the industry funding levy on credit unions. I had also seen that in the newspapers. On 14 June, the Central Bank announced plans to increase the industry funding levy on credit unions from approximately €1.5 million per annum to approximately €7.8 million by the end of 2022.

This increase was approved by the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe. The Irish League of Credit Unions has sought clarification from the Minister on whether he consulted the Credit Union Advisory Committee, the statutory body established to advise the Minister on credit unions, in advance of the announcement. I want the Minister of State to answer that question.

The Irish League of Credit Unions is deeply disappointed that despite his stated support of credit unions, the Minister has brought in an exclusively monetary analysis of the co-operative credit union movement. It places little value on its social capital, volunteers, community base or democratic structure, all of which deliver a very positive social benefit to Irish society at zero cost to the Exchequer. The Irish League of Credit Unions wrote to the Minister about the matter in April and it is regrettable that he chose not to engage with it. Why did he not engage with it on this issue?

The Central Bank conducted a public consultation process on increasing industry funding levels in 2012, but it did not take on board a submission made by the Irish League of Credit Unions, in which it indicated that credit unions were different and that their societal impact should be taken into account when calculating the industry funding levy. Credit unions are not-for-profit, community-based and volunteer-led. The misguided equating of credit unions with banks and a hike in the levy by a projected €6.3 million underline the cultural misfit between the credit union movement and the Central Bank. It is a further shift in the wrong direction. Credit unions are a social force operating in this country on a not-for-profit basis. The Charities Regulator is fully funded by the Government and society at large supports the regulatory cost because of the enormous social capital it oversees. The reason is simple and rational; it is a reciprocal co-investment for the time given and commitment made by so many people who are contributing to the country's social capital and cohesion.

The Irish League of Credit Unions made an analysis of how much credit unions, ranging from the very large to the small, would have to pay towards the levy. The very large credit unions would pay €143,000 by 2021, while the smaller credit unions would pay €7,271. This increase is unfair and the levy should not apply to social capital. It is a levy on volunteers and a further drain on already squeezed credit unions when their loan-to-asset ratio is historically low and returns on investment have tanked. The increasing equating of credit unions with banks by the Central Bank, with the approval of the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, is a fundamental problem of attitude and understanding. I ask the Minister of State, in the strongest terms and on behalf of the Irish League of Credit Unions, to address this matter. Nearly every Deputy would have received this email from credit unions and we are asking for the reversal of what is a wrong and damaging policy.

The Irish League of Credit Unions has 3.6 million members, of which I am one. I am disgusted that the levy is being applied to credit unions. In Ireland RepTrak, the reputations agency study, credit unions came out top with regard to respect, trust and esteem among the public. Are we to put a levy on credit unions and treat them like a private bank? I ask that the application of the levy be withdrawn.

As the Deputy is aware, credit unions are regulated and supervised by the registrar of credit unions at the Central Bank which is the independent regulator for credit unions. Within his independent regulatory discretion, the registrar acts to support the prudential soundness of individual credit unions to maintain sector stability and protect the savings of credit union members. Section 32D of the Central Bank Act 1942, as amended, provides that the Central Bank of Ireland may, with the approval of the Minister for Finance, make regulations prescribing an annual industry funding levy to be paid by regulated financial service providers to the Central Bank of Ireland. The industry funding levy is not specific to credit unions and there is no requirement under the regulations for the Minister for Finance to consult the Credit Union Advisory Committee, CUAC.

Since 2004 the amount of the industry funding levy payable by each credit union has been capped at a rate of 0.01% of total assets. Consultation paper 95, Joint Public Consultation Paper - Department of Finance and the Central Bank of Ireland - Funding the Cost of Financial Regulation, CP95, was published in 2015 and set out proposals to move from partial industry funding of financial regulation towards full industry funding, noting the proposal set out in an earlier consultation process conducted by the Central Bank - CP61, Consultation on Impact Based Levies and Other Levy Related Matters - to move credit unions to fund 50% of the cost of regulating the credit union sector. Importantly, the Central Bank's feedback statement on the consultation process for CP61 noted the feedback received from the credit union representative bodies.

In its Funding Strategy and 2018 Guide to the Industry Funding Levy the Central Bank set out its intention to increase the proportion of financial regulation costs for industry to increase the overall recovery rate and address funding gaps in specific areas of the Central Bank's regulatory activities, with a view to achieving full industry funding in the medium term. In terms of credit unions, the Central Bank set out an initial target of 50% to be implemented on a phased basis by 2021 to 2022. The Minister for Finance, having taken into consideration the unique and important role credit unions played, recommended to the Central Bank that credit unions be provided with a specific exemption from the 100% target. It is the only part of the financial services sector to have such an exemption. Instead credit unions will be set a target of 50% by 2021 to 2022. It is projected that it will be recovered from credit unions on a phased basis, with recovery rates to increase to 20% of the costs of regulating the credit union sector for the 2019 levy cycle, 35% for 2020 and 50% for 2021. Credit union recovery rates from 2022 onwards will be subject to review and a public consultation process to guide strategy once 50% recovery rates have been achieved. The Central Bank has advised that the increase in the proportion of funding to be provided by the credit union sector relates to the estimated cost of regulating the sector. In contrast, the main Irish banks have been subject to 100% of financial regulatory costs since 2012.

The Deputy may be interested to note that the Department of Finance, in collaboration with the Central Bank, has now issued a public consultation paper on potential changes to the credit institutions resolution fund levy which is expected to reduce materially from 2020. The consultation paper is available on the website of the Department of Finance and open to all persons. The deadline for the receipt of submissions is Friday, 9 August. Once the deadline for submissions has passed, the Department, in collaboration with the Central Bank, will consider the feedback received as part of the consultation process prior to finalising changes to the resolution funding regime for credit unions. Following on from this, a statutory instrument will be published in October detailing the 2020 resolution fund levy for credit unions.

It would have been good to receive a copy of the Minister of State's speech.

There are copies available.

I do not have one and it is very hard to pick up all of the detail. One of the key points is that section 32D of the Central Bank Act 1942, as amended, provides that the Central Bank of Ireland may, with the approval of the Minister for Finance, make regulations prescribing an annual industry funding levy to be paid. The Minister did not have to give his approval, which is why the Irish League of Credit Unions is asking, in strong terms, for the reversal of a wrong and damaging policy. Credit unions are not banks. I know that the Government has tried to put them in that category, but they did not cause the crash. It was caused by for-profit banks. Credit unions should not be treated in this way with an industry funding levy. It is outrageous and I hope there will be more of a backlash against the Government about it from other Deputies and parties. I hope they will take this head on with the Government and the Minister for Finance. It should not be happening.

The Minister of State has indicated that the legislation means that the Minister does not have to consult the Credit Union Advisory Committee on the matter. The Minister of State is probably a member of a credit union like me and we know what they were set up to do. We know that they are not-for-profit and do not pay their chief executives €140,000 or €150,000. They certainly will not see any change from the Minister's support of a review of the cap on banker pay. The credit unions will certainly not benefit from it. That is not the nature of the movement. Will the Minister of State take this point back to the Minister and ask him to reconsider what he has done with the industry funding levy on credit unions? It is outrageous and should not happen.

The industry funding levy is not solely applied to credit unions. There is no requirement under regulations for the Minister to consult the CUAC. The Government recognises the important role credit unions play in Irish society as volunteer co-operative financial institutions.

Credit unions help to sustain the economy, with more than €2 billion of new lending every year. That is why the Minister for Finance requested the Central Bank refrain from increasing the cost of the industry funding levy on credit unions beyond 50% until the levy trajectory has reached the planned 50% rate by 2022, at which time the impact on the viability of the sector will be better understood; and a public consultation regarding increasing the levy rate for credit unions beyond 50% is undertaken, which would include a regulatory impact assessment on such a change to the sector.

It is worth repeating that the credit union sector is the only financial services sector currently exempt from the Central Bank's 100% target for funding the cost of regulation. This Government is determined to help support the strengthening growth in the credit union movement. This is evidenced by the recent introduction of the credit unions (interest on loans) Bill 2019. This Bill will permit credit unions to charge an interest rate on loans greater than the current ceiling of 1% per month. It will amend the interest ceiling to 2% per month. This amendment would provide credit unions with greater flexibility to risk price loan products and, in so doing, may create an opportunity for credit unions to provide new product offerings. The Bill followed the recommendation of the Credit Union Advisory Committee, CUAC, made to the Minister on the basis of a CUAC survey conducted in the credit union sector.

Another change introduced to help grow the sector was the revised investment regulations allowing credit unions to invest in tier 3 approved housing bodies, AHBs. The regulation came into effect in March 2018. At a sectoral level, the concentration on this can now facilitate a sector-wide investment of more than €700 million in tier 3 AHBs.

In addition, the Central Bank is currently reviewing the credit union lending framework, CP125, and it is expected to be concluded by the end of this year.