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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 22 Oct 2019

Vol. 988 No. 3

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

I asked about the commitments made in terms of the €1 million fund to assist couples undergoing in vitro fertilisation, IVF, in 2017. Many couples who are in very straitened financial circumstances and who are going through a lot of anxiety and stress were promised this funding. There can be nothing more cruel than to raise expectations for many couples and not to follow through or deliver the funding and the legislation, the proposed assisted human reproduction Bill. Can the Minister for Health give some indication of why the funding has not been drawn down or allocated?

Deputy Micheál Martin raises an important issue and one with which I agree. It is our intention to publish the assisted human reproduction Bill by the end of the year and I imagine this Oireachtas will be working on its passage through 2020. There has been some very good work done on pre-legislative scrutiny. I will bring the Bill to Cabinet and will publish by the end of the year. The Deputy is right about expectation. I take that point. We have €1 million for this year and €1 million for next year. It is my intention that we will use that for secondary supports for families and couples with fertility issues. I expect to be in a position to make an announcement on that in the coming weeks but I intend to spend that €1 million this year. I will write to the Deputy when I have more detail.

We have consistently pushed for a child maintenance service and we have welcomed the comments of the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, in September signalling her intention to examine the establishment of a statutory child maintenance agency.

In her statement on the budget the Minister said she would establish a judge-led group to determine best international practice in maintenance, guidelines and regulations, which I can hope be put on a statutory footing. We are concerned about the references to "guidelines" and use of the word "hopefully". The Taoiseach is aware of Sinn Féin's Private Members' motion which will be taken tonight and calls on the Government to examine the best examples internationally of statutory child maintenance service models. Does he agree that we need to move to a statutory model in order that the difficulties and challenges faced by lone parents in having to go to court to obtain the maintenance payments to which they are entitled will be removed?

We discussed Sinn Féin's motion at the Cabinet meeting this morning when we decided as a Government not to oppose it because broadly our policy position is travelling in the same direction as that of Sinn Féin. The Minister has set aside funds in her budget for next year for research into the best models in place in other countries. It may well be a statutory model, but we first need to do the type of work advocated by the Deputy in examining child maintenance models in different jurisdictions, with a view to identifying what works best and applying it here. We accept that the current system in Ireland is not working as it should.

I understand that prior to this Dáil session the Taoiseach indicated to party leaders that he intended to hold the four by-elections by the end of November. As we know, a number of candidates have been selected. Will the Taoiseach give some certainty to them as to when he intends to move the writs for the by-elections and the expected polling date? For example, does he propose to move the writs this week or when the session resumes in November?

Following discussions with party leaders, it was agreed that we would hold the by-elections by the end of November. Our intention is to hold them on 29 November which will be the last Friday of that month. That will require us to move the writs the week after the House resumes, that is, the week after next.

The next speaker is Deputy Bríd Smith. I would appreciate brevity.

I will be brief. I am sure that, like the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, the Taoiseach is aware that tomorrow the LNG project in Shannon, namely, the fracked gas project, is to be ratified on the list of projects of common interest, PCI, in the European Union. Sweden has pulled its LNG project from the list of PCIs. I appeal to the Taoiseach to listen to the scientists and not proceed with the fracked gas terminal to be located at Shannon if we sign off on the list. The Taoiseach has one day to make this decision, about which people are protesting to him via email and outside Leinster House. People are calling on him to listen to the science and not use fracked gas from North America and to pull the LNG project in Shannon from the PCI list. As I said, he has only one day to make up his mind and follow the example of Sweden.

I call Deputy Eamon Ryan to raise the same issue.

The Minister says this PCI is in our common interests. I believe it is not. It does provide for advance planning of any project. The Minister says it has already received planning already, but this is far from certain. Putting it through a further planning process would not be appropriate. The Minister says he will not support the provision of finance for it, but we do not know what the American Government or other actors may do to pursue the project. It is not in our interests. Following on from questions raised last week by Ciarán Cuffe, MEP, to the European Commission, we know that it could be stopped tomorrow. I am asking that the Government do this. Not proceeding with it would be in our common interests. This is a climate change issue of the first order. If the Government wants to show leadership in dealing with climate change, it should stop this project now.

I thank the Deputies for raising the issue. It a private sector project, not a Government one. The advice is that it could be useful for Ireland when it comes to future energy security. Recognising that we will continue to use natural gas for decades ahead, we are reliant on imported gas through the pipeline with the United Kingdom and gas from the Corrib field. Gas from the Corrib field will soon run out. That will leave us with the pipeline from the United Kingdom as our only source of supply. If it were ever to be cut off, we would be in serious trouble almost immediately and faced with brown-outs and black-outs.

It is fracked gas.

A terminal on the other side of the country provides an alternative way of bringing gas in. It does not only have to be fracked gas. It could be gas from the North Sea also.

It has to be fracked gas in Shannon.

I call Deputy Harty on behalf of the Rural Independent Group.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

Groups need to decide who will be the acting leader. I cannot pacify everybody. Groups need to sort out their own problems.

I am the acting leader today. On budget 2020 and the legislation that will flow from it, there is a proposal to set up a just transition fund of €6 million to help communities to move away from high carbon sources of energy to low sources, which is a reference to peat and coal burning stations. The fund is to be used to mitigate the significant effects on workers and local communities as the transition happens. However, it is to be confined to peat burning stations in the midlands and will not apply to the Moneypoint plant in west Clare. Will the Taoiseach and the Government consider extending the just transition fund to the Moneypoint plant and surrounding communities and workers who will also experience the economic shock as we move to low-carbon energy production?

I would welcome a brief response from the Taoiseach.

The Deputy has raised a very valid question. It is intended, by the middle of the decade, to close the Moneypoint plant and remove coal from the grid when it comes to electricity generation. The sum of €6 million announced in the budget is for the midlands, more specifically, the peatlands, including places such as counties Kildare and Longford. It is part of our response to the fact that peat that is being phased out in electricity generation. As I said, the sum of €6 million is for the midlands. We will need a separate but just transition response for the Moneypoint plant. The ESB is able to redeploy staff, but there will be a loss of income in that part of County Clare, thus we will need a just transition fund for the also. That funding will be separate and form part of a separate announcement at a later date.

I would like-----

I am sorry, Deputy, but Deputy Eamon Ryan has already contributed.

He put a supplementary question about a matter that had been raised by another Deputy.

It does not matter if the Deputy indicated, I am taking group leaders first. Deputy Eamon Ryan is acting leader. Groups will have to sort out among themselves who is going to represent them. Deputy Eamon Ryan had an opportunity to do so.

Before we adjourned the Order of Business, I indicated and it was accepted.

If the Deputy is on the list, I will come to her. She cannot be given priority when the acting leader for her group has contributed.

I am not asking for priority.

Deputy Eamon Ryan indicated to me that he was acting leader today. Deputies need to sort out their affairs at parliamentary party or group level. I cannot appease everybody. There are other Deputies who have to have opportunities.

For the record, I will assume the leadership for now.

I ask the Deputy to be brief.

Cork University Hospital has brought forward a winter plan, but up to this point it has received no additional resources or funding from the HSE. Will the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, indicate when funding and additional resources will be made available to enable the hospital to implement its plan?

As Minister for Health, I have a job to do in providing resources. Those who are paid to manage hospitals have a job to do also. The HSE was given €26 million more by the House and the Government for the winter plan. I suggest the general manager of CUH contact the hospital group director to have this matter addressed. As I said, €26 million in additional funding has been provided to provide more beds, more homecare and transitional care services. Management need to get on with it.

My question is to the Minister for Health. On the waiting list for the nursing home support scheme, I acknowledge that some work has been done, but the numbers fluctuated wildly in September. On 17 September there were 525 on the waiting list. On 30 September, that number had increased to 686, an increase of 30%. The Minister will be aware that 745 people are awaiting discharge from hospital. It is a vicious cycle. Quicker access to the fair deal scheme would free up additional capacity in hospitals. What action does the Minister propose to take to deal with this matter?

I thank the Deputy for her important question. We have provided sufficient funding to keep the waiting period for the fair deal scheme at four weeks from now until the end of the year. We are beginning to see a fall in the number of delayed discharges, admittedly from a high base. As I said to Deputy Buckley, the HSE has been given an additional €26 million to engage in winter planning between now and the end of the year, which should mean more homecare packages, more transitional care services and more fair deal scheme places. I will arrange for a specific note on fair deal scheme numbers to be forwarded to the Deputy.

Budget 2017 committed to the establishment of a land development agency that would have the potential to address the Government's difficulty in meeting its targets in the provision of social housing in the sense that it would be able to take over State lands and contract the development of houses and lease the units to local authorities which did not, unfortunately, have the expertise or the wherewithal they had many years ago to deliver.

It would also have the potential to allow credit unions to invest in such a vehicle in order for them to derive a more beneficial outcome than they were getting from the pillar banks, as is the law. In the two years since only a CEO and a chairperson have been appointed. There is no land and no bricks and mortar. There definitely have been no houses. How is it that the Government cannot live up to the commitments and expectations it presented when it brought forward a commitment like that two years ago? All there is to show for it is the appointment of a CEO and a chairperson. There is no legislation to give effect to it and no prospect of it being addressed to find a solution to the terrible crisis that continues from day to day.

I am very sorry, but the Deputy is incorrect in his understanding of the Land Development Agency on a number of fronts. To correct him on a couple of the issues that he raised, the LDA was established a year ago under the Corporate Bodies Act.

The Government committed to it.

An interim board is in place, but a permanent CEO was appointed recently. In the past year it has been given the capital to begin to proceed to progress work on sites, which is what it has been doing. Eight sites are coming across to the Land Development Agency. Legislation to establish it on a statutory footing which is not necessary to enable it to do its work but which is important will be published shortly. We hope to have it enacted early next year, at which point the agency will be capitalised by the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to a sum of €1.25 billion. The first four sites which will comprise about 1,200 homes, about 60% of which will be social and affordable units, well above the 40% minimum commitment.

There is none to date and no land.

It is about planning and development, but the Deputy would not know anything about them, would he? He never did it when he was in government.

Please, Deputies. We have to have respect for others.

It is good to see that the Deputy is here all the same. He is welcome in the House.

I am here all the time. and will be here for a long time yet.

I am raising yet again the issue of homecare packages. Three weeks ago, I referred to the plight of an 18 year old girl, Hannah Donnelly from Drogheda, who has been in hospital for over two and a half years. For the last 19 months she has been in hospital because she has been denied an adequate homecare package. It is three weeks since I raised the case and I have written to the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, about it. It appears that neither of them has intervened to secure Hannah's homecare package. At this stage I am wondering. She is 18 years of age and has been waiting for 19 months for a homecare package. She is desperate to get home and her parents are desperate to have her home. Is it that the Minister simply does not care enough? Why has he not looked into the case? How is it that the Government-----

The Deputy must give the Minister, Deputy Harris, an opportunity to respond.

He is turning a blind eye to an 18 year old girl with Apert syndrome-----

Please, Deputy, there are other Members offering.

-----who has been languishing in a hospital bed for 19 months because she cannot obtain a homecare package. Will the Minister intervene and make sure she gets home?

I will have to move on. The Deputy is normally orderly. The Minister has to have an opportunity to answer. He is not a slow learner and knows exactly what the Deputy has said.

That is the kind of thing that has not been said about me in a long time, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Deputy Munster was making a legitimate case until she decided that she had a monopoly of caring. We all care in this House. The Health Act 2007 actually prohibits me - if the Deputy would like to amend it, she should do so - from directing the HSE to provide care for anyone. However, I will personally take a look at the case, as will the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath. I will reply to the Deputy in writing. It sounds like a very difficult situation for Hannah and her family to be in. We have provided significant additional resources in the budget. I will revert to the Deputy directly.

North East Doctor on Call is based on the campus of Our Lady's Hospital, Navan. It is based on it because Navan is the biggest population centre in the county and geographically it is at the centre of the county, to which there is easy access for everyone in the rest of the county. It is also based on it because it allows easy access to the emergency department in the hospital. At least ten patients every week are wheeled from the North East Doctor on Call to the emergency department. Navan has lost a lot of stuff in recent times, including the ETB centre and the Garda divisional headquarters. Now we are being told that the doctor on call service is to be removed from Navan in a matter of weeks, which will radically reduce access and create a need for the further use of ambulances. The Minister's colleagues are probably saying this is meant to be just temporary, but the house in which North East Doctor on Call is located was meant to be a temporary location, but it is based in the building 19 years later. The people of County Meath and staff in the hospital are opposed to the service being moved out of Navan. I appeal to the Minister to find another location in the town.

I will certainly check it out, but I can assure the Deputy that Navan is being supported and has not been forgotten by the Government. The Deputy told the people of Navan eight years ago that we were going to close the hospital. Not only have we not closed it, we have made it busier and have plans to make it even busier.

Is it still part of the Government's plan to reduce it to a level 2 hospital?

As long as the Minister of State, Deputy English, is looking after Navan, the Deputy need not worry, we will keep the hospital busy.

Deputy Durkan's is an example of the questions that should be asked on the Order of Business.

Thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. The maritime jurisdiction Bill is Brexit-related. When is it likely to be brought before the House for its Second Reading?

The legislation is being handled by the Tánaiste and listed for publication this session. It has been brought to the Cabinet.

This question might best be answered by the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle. It is a number of weeks since we set up the forum in the context of the beef crisis. Unfortunately. because of an issue that arose outside the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine a number of days ago, the talks did not get up and running. There is a deep crisis, as the Minister of State knows. There is a serious issue developing between the factories and the farmers in respect of the price of beef. Is there any hope of the forum commencing? A lot of farm families are in a bad way and the producer groups are ready to move. It is so important that we get the talks up and running as quickly as possible. What is the outlook? Is there any sign of the talks recommencing? I hope they will commence as quickly as possible.

The Deputy is right that the forum was scheduled to meet last Monday. I understand the chairperson of the beef task force has been engaged in bilateral talks with each party to try to get movement. That is in the interests of everybody, as the Deputy said. The weather has deteriorated and stocks are building. There is a knock-on effect in the marts, with store cattle not having the same number of buyers. I appeal to all sides to show some goodwill and make a gesture that they do want to convene as quickly as possible. It is in the hands of the chairperson.

A number of months ago we passed a motion to declare a climate emergency. We also know that there has been a very large overrun on the national children's hospital project and that there is the prospect of the issuing of a tender for the national broadband plan. A motion that we brought forward was passed here in July on the reviewing of the national development plan. Has any work been done on any of those three things? Has anything been done to start a review of the national development plan?

It is not our intention as a Government to review the ten-year national development plan until we are about five years into it. There is provision for a review five years into it. Obviously, we will make amendments along the way and did provide additional funds in the summer economic statement. It turns out that some of it was not actually necessary. We will make modifications along the way, but we do not plan on carrying out a review until we are about halfway through it.

The rural regeneration fund seeks to support ambitious projects which have potential to reform rural communities. The Government has committed over €1 billion to the fund in ten years and €350 million in the period 2019 to 2022. In the last round of funding the whole of County Cork was overlooked. That was quite astonishing to say the least as there were 48 projects seeking funding. Rural communities such as those in Ballyvourney, Kanturk, Macroom, Bandon, Ballinspittle, Clonakilty, Skibbereen, Bantry and Schull were all overlooked. One of the community and voluntary groups, in particular, had spent €500,000 of local money in making its application as strong and suitable as possible to receive funding. The third round of funding will soon be released. Will the Taoiseach assure the people in question that genuine community and voluntary groups with equal or better projects will be treated equally and not overlooked?

The Minister, Deputy Ring, is in charge of the fund, as the Deputy knows. I am sure any application from Cork will be treated fairly and considered favourably in the next round.

Many people living in rural Ireland were isolated and marginalised by the last Road Traffic Bill. The Minister, Deputy Ross, was so anxious to ram the Bill through that on one occasion he voted twice in the same vote.

Hold on, Deputy. Let us be very clear. He cannot make statements like that unless he has the facts. That is all I will say.

I want to have the matter clarified because-----

That is not what the Deputy was saying. He should move on.

If someone else has something to say about it, let him or her say it. That is what I am saying.

Provisional drivers have a serious problem because they cannot get to their apprenticeships or go to college. I ask the Taoiseach to reduce the age from 17, where the youngster gets a provisional licence, to 16 years of age. This is the case in many other countries. They can be restricted to driving during daylight hours until they get a full licence, if they are given the provisional licence at 16 years of age. It would help these youngsters everywhere in a real way if he can could do that.

I do not know if the Taoiseach can do that. He is not the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.

I thank the Deputy. In the United States people can get their learner permit at 16 years of age. I do not know if that is possible in any European country. I will advise the Minister, Deputy Ross, that the Deputy has raised the matter and I will him them to consider it and reply to him in some more detail.

Allow me to clarify this point. Any person who has any information, as referred to here by the Deputy earlier, should speak with the relevant committee of the House as I cannot let that go unchallenged.

I have done that already.