Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

I ask Deputies to adhere to the one-minute rule.

My question relates to legislation on the fast-track housing scheme. A leading contributor to the research in this area, who is an architect and public commentator, has told researchers that from a development perspective, the scheme essentially allows one to circumvent the development plan on the basis that if one can go directly to the board, one can apply for material contravention by the back door. It also means that development plans are a bit of a waste of time because with all of the preparation, the public consultation debate, input from local councillors one is not bound to it. This is a very serious insight into how the scheme has worked out. I am saying that it needs to be changed legislatively. Local area development plans, county development plans and city development plans must be respected and given legislative underpinning. In the context of the review that is under way, will the Government agree to legislate for the underpinning of county and city development plans?

It is important to note that there is already a pre-consultation phase that involves the local authority.

There is room for the public to intervene.

It does not involve the local authority.

It has to involve the local authority.

It involves a few officials and technocrats engaging with one another. The Minister needs to get real.

The Deputy should listen to the Minister.

He should talk to the residents on the ground.

I am afraid the Deputy is incorrect.

He is detached and disconnected.

I have been a councillor. I speak to the local authorities every day as part of my job. The Deputy does not understand what is happening.

Talk to the residents.

He will be misinforming the Dáil if he continues in that line.

Will Members for God's sake please do this in a calm and rational way? Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister a question and should allow him to answer.

Deputy Micheál Martin, who is a party leader, is playing constituency politics.

Actually, Cork has the least-----

The Tánaiste's intervention is not helpful. He should let the Minister answer.

To be brief, after two years of operation of the fast-track housing process which I signed into law in 2017, the review is now complete. I will bring it to Cabinet and lay it before the Oireachtas. Changes will be made.

Yesterday, I raised with the Taoiseach the chronic overcrowding in our hospitals. I echoed the concerns of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, which has told us that this crisis is putting patient care at risk and has described the situation as being beyond unsustainable. Today, we woke to the news that University Hospital Limerick has 82 patients without beds, the highest figure ever recorded in any hospital. In September, over 1,400 patients in Limerick were without beds. Today, it breaks the record for the number of people on trolleys. Yesterday, the Taoiseach said it was not simply a matter of beds. The issue in Limerick today is a simple matter of capacity and beds. Yesterday, the Taoiseach, quite correctly apologised. The reality is, however, that an apology is not enough. What is his plan for University Hospital Limerick? It is a disgraceful hospital in terms of the record-breaking number of people on trolleys.

The official figures provided by the HSE for Limerick are 38, but as the Deputy knows there is often a dispute between the figures produced by the INMO and those produced by the HSE. Whether the figure is 38 or 82 is beside the point. There should not be that level of overcrowding in University Hospital Limerick. The hospital has had enormous investment under this Government. It has a new state-of-the-art emergency department, which is one of the finest in the country. It has a new wing, the Leben wing, which is fully open and occupied, and has 25 new beds. A further 60 are under construction and should be open in the next couple of weeks. Another 96-bed block is planned.

The Government established an escrow account to hold the Apple fine money of €14.3 billion. The National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, and the Comptroller and Auditor General estimate that the account will lose €70 million per annum because of negative interest rates due to the way it was set up. Since the Government's plan is to hand back the money to Apple, is it its intention that the taxpayer should pony up the additional €70 million per annum currently being lost as a result of the way the account was set up? The latter is a sum which could be used to build seven schools or 350 houses every year, on top of the €3.9 million in set-up fees for the account and whatever consultancy fees are ongoing.

As I understand it, Apple put €14 billion or so into the escrow account. The account is currently losing money because of negative interest rates. It may well gain money should interest rates become positive again. We do not know what will happen. Nobody can predict the future because we do not know when the court's decision will be made or what will happen to interest rates in the meantime. We can only guess; we cannot know for certain. If the money goes back to Apple, as the Deputy suggests it might, then it will lose the other money to which he refers.

I have seen many mean Government cutbacks in my day, but one of the meanest of all has to be that involving the decision to axe the rehabilitative training allowance of €31.80 per week which was mainly used by young school leavers with disabilities to go to training centres. When the Government axed the allowance, it also axed the travel and lunch money of those young people. There is outrage among trainees and staff in the National Learning Network Centre in Hollyhill, County Cork, and similar centres across the country. Will the Government reverse this cutback and bring in the necessary legislation to do so?

I do not think Deputy Barry has the correct information. The payment has not been axed. Anyone who was receiving the payment still receives it. However, new entrants to rehabilitation programme are no longer eligible for it. There was an inequality, in that some people were in receipt of the allowance while others who were doing similar courses elsewhere were not. It is not a cutback. The money is being reallocated.

The Taoiseach is splitting hairs.

The Deputy always shouts a Minister down when he knows that he himself as not quite told the full truth. The €3.7 million being saved due to this change is being put back into disability services, specifically to provide 140 additional full day placements for people with disabilities who need them and 370 enhanced day places. The reallocation is ending an inequality and putting more money into services.

I would like to thank the Attorney General for his decision to reopen the inquest into the Stardust tragedy of 1981. It is to be hoped it will bring peace, closure and justice to all of the families affected, whom the Taoiseach met in recent months.

I refer to Hong Kong, the Uighur nation and China. Are Ireland and its European partners afraid of the dictatorship which celebrated China's 70th anniversary yesterday? Given the clear desire of the people of Hong Kong to live in a democracy rather than under a dictatorship and in light of the savage repression of the Uighur nation in north-west China, where 2 million men are incarcerated in concentration camps, surely we cannot take a country which carries out such brutal repression seriously?

Our relationship with China is one of constant engagement. We have good and regular engagement with the Chinese embassy in Dublin and raise a spectrum of issues, including those relating to human rights, on a regular basis.

Special needs education should be close to all of our hearts. Children were due to start in a wonderful school, Scoil Aonghusa, on 16 September. Siobhan Lyons is a parent who is very concerned that her son Ryan has not been able to start school due to problems organising special needs assistants, SNAs. It is pointless having classrooms and extra pupils when no extra SNAs have been provided. The school has a wonderful board of management, parents and council. The situation is farcical. Bridget Duggan, another parent, contacted me to say she received a letter stating the school had been given no extra allocation of SNAs to meet the increase in numbers. The principal of the school, Siobhán Keyes-Ryan, wrote to the parents involved. She is trying to do her best to resolve the matter. The school is not getting SNAs on time. Special education needs organisers are doing their best but do not have funding. It is not fair or right that children with special needs should be subjected to this kind of unfair and discriminatory treatment. Where is the Constitution and the promise to cherish all our children equally? The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, needs to deal with this issue. Scoil Chormaic and Scoil Aonghusa are wonderful institutions but they need support.

At the Deputy knows, the number of SNAs has been dramatically increased by this Government. We now invest as much in special needs education as we do in higher education, and there has been a significant increase in resources in that area. I do not have any information on the schools the Deputy mentioned. If the Deputy wants to raise the matter with the Minister for Education and Skills, I am sure he will provide him with a detailed reply.

The Minister for Health met the family at the centre of the crisis in the National Maternity Hospital on 29 August, which I welcome. This is the case where a healthy baby was aborted under the Government's legislation, under the section concerning life-limiting conditions and fatal foetal abnormalities. It is a heartbreaking situation. The mother has said she was examined by only one obstetrician. In that meeting, the Minister acknowledged that the medical notes indicated that the legislation was breached and it was also accepted by officials that a case such as this could be a case for the Garda. Shockingly, over six months on the family has still not had an input into the composition of the panel.

I am sorry to interrupt the Deputy, but I am deeply uncomfortable about the raising of a specific matter of this nature which may be the subject of litigation or inquiry. It is not the appropriate-----

It is not the subject of litigation. The problem is that there is a request for a review and the family have had no input into the composition of the panel or the terms of reference. The Government is refusing the family the opportunity to input into that process. Six months on, it is not good enough.

I too am reluctant to discuss in the Chamber the medical history of any individual or anything of that nature.

The family asked me to raise this issue.

I do not have information on the medical history of any individual patient.

It would be more appropriate for Deputy Tóibín to engage with the Minister for Health on the matter.

I think so.

I wish to again raise the matter of the hare netting and coursing licence which has been refused or suspended by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan. The people of County Kerry and other rural dwellers feel wrongly disenfranchised by a Dublin-based Minister who also prevented the cutting of hedgerows in August. They believe that the Minister does not understand the amount of money and care they have invested in the dog industry or the love they have for the dogs. They are outraged by the demand of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, that coursing and the greyhound industry be taken off Fáilte Ireland.

The Deputy's time is up.

The Minister, Deputy Ross, has done enough harm to the people of rural Ireland. I ask the Taoiseach to remove him from office. I ask Fianna Fáil to demand his removal. They are supporting him.

The Deputy should resume his seat. Please, do not be disorderly.

It is time for him to go. The people of County Kerry want to get rid of him.

The Minister, Deputy Madigan, addressed this matter yesterday during Topical Issues. I am advised that the first ever positive test for the rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus 2 in the Irish wild hare population was recorded in late July and, as a consequence of that, on 9 August the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht temporarily suspended the licence until the extent of the virus is established. The virus could wipe out the entire Irish hare population and, for that reason, the suspension of licences will continue. The coursing community is concerned as the netting of hares needs to take place now in order that the 2019-20 coursing season can start in October.

One hare has been found to have the disease and that was in dubious circumstances.

I refer to page 38 of the programme for Government, dealing with infrastructure. The Adare bypass will form part of the Limerick-Foynes motorway. Adare Manor has been confirmed as the host of the 2026 Ryder Cup. I was led to believe that the planning application for the bypass was to go to An Bord Pleanála and that the environmental impact assessment and, possibly, compulsory purchase orders were to be published in the near future, subject to Cabinet approval. Has the matter been tabled to be brought before Cabinet? If so, when? I ask that it be prioritised given that it was expected to be done in October, having been delayed from March.

I thank the Deputy for raising the important issue of the Adare bypass. The Government is very keen to get the project done not just because of the Ryder Cup, but also in order that the beautiful town of Adare can be freed from congestion and people can travel to and from County Kerry more quickly than is currently the case. The bypass is included in Project Ireland 2040. I do not know the cause of any delay. The matter does not need to come to Cabinet until it is at business case stage. I will ask the Minister, Deputy Ross, to provide the Deputy with an up-to-date briefing.

All Members are anticipating the budget next week. I hope the Ministers for Finance and Health will be cognisant that next week is mental health week and next Thursday is World Mental Health Day. Page 5 of the programme for Government includes a commitment on mental health which recognises that early intervention is crucial. All Members are aware that 2,440 children and young people are on the CAMHS waiting list and more than 7,000 young children are awaiting primary care psychology services. The number of children being treated in adult institutions continues to rise. It stood at 68 in 2016, reached 82 in 2018 and stands at more than 40 so far this year. What are the Ministers for Finance and Health going to do to address this shameful situation?

I cannot speak for the Minister for Finance ahead of the budget. On mental health, I agree with the Deputy that early intervention is the way forward. I have prioritised investment in that area since taking up this job two years ago. There has been an increase of more than €300 million in funding for mental health, bringing the total allocation to more than €1 billion last year. The Deputy specifically referred to the CAMHS waiting list. We introduced 114 assistant psychologists and 20 psychologists to work with young people at primary care level in order to prevent them having to escalate into the very specialist CAMHS service. We are pursuing several other initiatives which I do not have time to detail now. I am happy to discuss the matter with the Deputy in any forum.

In February, the Minister of State with responsibility for disability issues, Deputy Finian McGrath, stated that the Government was committed to providing a range of accessible respite care supports for people with a disability and their families. He also stated that respite care was crucial in helping to reduce family stress, preserve the family unit and provide stability. In direct contradiction of those words, the HSE unilaterally decided to close Sruthan House, a respite facility in Dundalk. I met users of the facility. They and their families feel very strongly about this closure and I support them. Will the Taoiseach ask the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, to ensure that Sruthan House is protected and that the excellent service it provides will continue?

An extra €10 million was provided in the budget for this year to provide additional respite care which is so important for families and carers. It allowed an additional respite house to be opened in each community healthcare region. I do not know the circumstances of the particular closure to which the Deputy referred, but I will ask the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, to engage with him on it.

The reintroduction of CLÁR funding was flagged in the programme for Government. On recent announcements relating to CLÁR funding, Cork County Council was given an understanding by the Department of Rural and Community Development that it would have to prioritise 15 projects. It submitted 15 projects, having consulted communities and prioritised the funding needed in various parts of the county. Only three projects in the entire local authority area were funded, with Cork county receiving €115,000 or 3% of the total allocation of €3.8 million. There was negotiation between the Department and the local authority on projects in Lyre, Millstreet and Knocknagree, as well as on a playground for Kanturk. Those behind the projects were assured by the Department that funding would be allocated if the projects were prioritised by the local authority. Why has the funding evaporated? Are there plans to make additional funding available for the Cork County Council area?

I will check the specific figures for Cork county. Generally, there has been pressure on CLÁR agencies or development companies to get their projects in place and the funding spent. We are following that up. If there is a specific problem in Cork, we will deal with it.

More than €202 million has been given to the private companies, Turas Nua and Seetec, to roll out what can only be described as the failed JobPath programme. To date, more than 232,000 citizens have been referred to JobPath, some of them for the fourth year in succession. I refer to "failed" JobPath because only 6%, or approximately 15,000, of those people have been sustained in employment for 12 months or more. The House was told that referrals were due to stop this year, but a decision was taken to continue referrals to the JobPath programme for another 12 months. What is the reason for that decision? Why has the Government decided to ignore the will of this Dáil, which voted in February 2019 to stop referrals immediately to the failed JobPath programme?

The Dáil made a decision to end referrals to JobPath earlier this year. I am not questioning the competency of the people providing the service but it has failed, of that there is no question. Some €150 million has been spent on this scheme and we have, as Deputy Brady said, a 6% success rate for people holding down a job after one year. If we compare it to the community employment CE schemes, the participants taking part in them get satisfaction from what they do. The people in the communities are very happy with the work they are doing. Recently, CE scheme supervisors were told the number of participants on their projects at week eight will automatically become their approved number for those 52 weeks.

That means if a participant becomes ill, has to leave a scheme to care for somebody or gets a job, that place on the scheme will be lost. Therefore, it is a cut. That is not right, given that the CE schemes are working compared to the other schemes mentioned.

I will have to defer to the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, to provide the Deputy with an answer regarding the CE schemes.

On JobPath, all I would say is that by any objective analysis this Government’s employment policies have been a resounding success. There are 2.3 million people at work in Ireland, more people than ever before, unemployment is below 5% and long-term unemployment is even lower at around 2%, one of the lowest in the world. JobPath has been part of achieving that, as have CE schemes, the local employment service, LES, and the Intreo programme.

I am advised, although I may incorrect, the decision to continue with JobPath for a period relates to our concerns that should there be a no-deal Brexit we may see a rise in unemployment and long-term unemployment and will need that capacity.

I would like to raise the issue of capacity in our hospitals. Today we learned from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, there are 556 people waiting for a bed in an acute hospital, whether it be in an emergency department, on corridors or in wards. Yesterday I received a reply from the HSE regarding late discharges and we learned that up to 24 September this year there were 55,000 late discharges, which is equivalent to approximately 1,500 per week. We are at a crisis level in our capacity to cope before we even see the winter surge. If we could deal with the late discharges, it could free up capacity in the accident and emergency departments. What steps will the Government take to try to ensure we can deal with late discharges? There is no doubt that if we could free up capacity at the end of a person's stay in hospital when they are fit and deemed ready to go home, it would free up capacity in accident and emergency departments. Special emphasis should be put on addressing this issue.

I thank the Deputy for her continued interest in and focus on this area. As she and the House will be aware, we commissioned an independent report into this matter approximately 12 months ago. I chair an implementation group in the Department of Health overlooking specifically what we now call late transfers of care. A number of different options will come onstream to try to deal with this issue. We recognise the current situation is due to there having been a backlog in the fair deal scheme for a number of weeks but those figures are working their way through the system. Additional investment was made on 9 September which will see those figures come down again. However, with respect to the medium term, I have always made the point that trolleys should be at the other end of the health system. Trolleys should be for people waiting to leave hospital rather than waiting to get in, but that is an aside. We are making significant progress. I do not have enough time to go into it in detail with the Deputy but I am happy to have that conversation with her in a forum on some structural changes that will address the issue of delayed transfers of care.

The fishing industry is of major importance to the economy of Cork South-West. It is our obligation to protect the fishing industry in general. Brexit has the potential to have a detrimental effect on the fishing industry as 60% of our total mackerel catch and 40% of our lobster catch are caught in UK waters. Has the Taoiseach any plans to set up a mitigation fund to protect the fishing industry?

The Deputy is correct, a no-deal Brexit next month could have a very profound impact on our fishing industry. As she pointed out, about 35% of the Irish catch is taken from UK waters and that would be lost to us in the event of a no deal and perhaps vessels from other countries that currently fish in UK waters may be displaced into our waters, so this is a matter of real concern for Government.

The European Commission is proposing even in the event of a no-deal the current arrangements should continue in place at least until the end of this calendar year. Unfortunately, the UK Government is not signed up to that at this stage. However, as part of our response to a no-deal, there will need to be special and exceptional support for the fishing industry. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, should be in a position to outline that on budget day.

Rowing Ireland has been the most progressive and successful sporting organisation during the past number of years in this country. We need only think of the glory Gary and Paul O'Donovan have brought to Skibbereen, west Cork and Ireland on many occasions in recent years. They, along with Jake, Shane, Mark and Sanita as well as other rowers throughout the country have had us standing on our feet in awe of their achievements.

Other countries are investing €1 million per boat if they want to win an Olympic gold medal. Ireland's aid to Rowing Ireland is currently €600,000 in total, which leaves families having to pay thousands of euro out of their own pockets to ensure their children, neighbours or friends can compete. The upcoming budget is an ideal opportunity to address this massive shortfall and to give these great sportspeople an opportunity to give 100% to their sport and not to be fundraising for it. Will the Government increase Rowing Ireland's budget this year?

There was a considerable increase in funding for sport in last year's budget. It was around 12% or 13%. I am not sure we will be able to do as well as that for next year but I am confident there will be a further increase. However, the decision on how that is allocated to individual national governing bodies is made by Sport Ireland and not by Government.

The Taoiseach and I have had the opportunity to speak about Seán Lemass previously and about his vision for this country and for education, and the Taoiseach said he is a great admirer of him. Seán Lemass had a big focus on primary school education. Page 86 of the programme for Government refers to education being the key to giving every child an equal opportunity in life. There are three areas I would like to mention in terms of investing for the best in primary education. Currently, our primary school class sizes are the biggest in the eurozone, being five above the EU average. We need to support school leaders by giving one management day per week to teaching principals and we need the restoration of positions of management. Currently, capitation grants are 14% less than they were ten years ago. Schools are struggling. They are very much underfunded which puts pressure back on parents. I would like to see some improvement in those areas. Obviously, next week is a big occasion for all of us but I would appreciate a response.

I agree with the Deputy's sentiments. Education is the great leveller and opportunity giver. Therefore, it is right we invest in it. The budget for education this year is €11 billion, the biggest ever budget for education since the foundation of the State. I am confident that the budget for next year will be bigger again. However, whether it gets allocated to the particular priorities the Deputy mentioned is a matter for the Minister for Education and Skills to decide on when he gets the budget for his Department, which he not yet got. Hopefully, we can give the Deputy a better answer in a few weeks.

Commitments were made to the healthcare service in the programme for Government. I am speaking on behalf of healthcare workers in Kerry. I am referring to the people who work in kitchens, healthcare assistants, nurses, doctors and consultants in hospitals such as Caherciveen and in Killarney town, where we need new community hospitals, and University Hospital Kerry, where we need more beds to cater for the ever-increasing number of patients who attend that hospital. Those excellent people are under tremendous personal pressure in trying to do their work every day. They put their hearts and souls into their commitment to their jobs. I ask HSE management, I am specifically talking about HSE management in Cork, to realise the people in Kerry are working extremely diligently in trying to deliver a proper healthcare service. We need more assistance from those in management. I want them to realise there is more to the healthcare service in that area than just Cork. Kerry exists and I want to make sure the Taoiseach, the Minister for Health and the managers in the HSE remember that.

I would say the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, is very familiar with Kerry.

We remember every July that Kerry exists.

I can assure the Deputy there is no neglect of Kerry or no desire to neglect the facilities in Kerry. He mentioned some community hospitals about which he is concerned. We are currently undertaking a programme of refurbishment of them. There are 90 community hospitals. We have committed by 2021 to have them refurbished and brought up to standard. Many of those are in Kerry. There is a budget this year of €220 million to ensure that happens. I can guarantee the Deputy there is no neglect of the facilities in Kerry.

Seven Deputies were not reached today and will be given priority tomorrow.