Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Dental Services Provision

I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for selecting this Topical Issue matter, which is very important to the people of Celbridge and the surrounding area. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, for coming in. I am disappointed that the Minister, Deputy Harris, who has responsibility for this area, is not here, especially given that he is such an advocate for primary care. He has spoken in this House on many occasions about the good services that primary care operates. On this occasion, I will highlight the disappointment where he has promised a service for at least four years and has pulled back from that commitment. The Minister visited this primary care centre and was advocating how good it was to have it as a centre of excellence with all of the appropriate facilities and services, but he is now rowing back from that, which is very disappointing.

I will highlight the fact that since the service is not currently available in Celbridge, my home town, people have to travel to Naas for this service. It is approximately 30 km away and Celbridge has no direct public transport link to it. I have been raising this issue for the past 12 months. I will walk the Minister of State through what has happened to date with regard to different correspondence. This has been as a result of parliamentary questions that I have tabled and general representations to the HSE. In January 2019, I raised the issue with the HSE, the Minister and the Department. There was concern that the dental service was being lost from Celbridge to Maynooth. The HSE confirmed to me in a letter, dated 28 January, that Celbridge primary care, a very large, modern primary care unit, was going to have dental services set up in it for Celbridge. That was going to become a centre of excellence for Celbridge and the surrounding area. The dental services for Maynooth were going to be relocated to Celbridge. That was all very positive since we were getting information into the public domain about what was happening and what the plan was for this much-needed service for the general area.

In April, I followed it up again and I got another confirmation from the HSE that the new dental clinic in the Celbridge primary care centre was still a priority and was progressing, which was all good news. In August of this year, I asked a parliamentary question and the HSE confirmed that works for the dental clinic in Celbridge had gone to tender. The tenders were being reviewed and the HSE was not able to give me a timeline for when this project was going to commence and be completed, but it was all positive. Every answer is subject to funding, which we know, but it was still being progressed. This is a large new primary care centre in Celbridge. Many primary care providers do not have the needed services or facilities and many only work at a quarter or half rate. It is important to bring in the needed front-line services there through the public health system. This was all positive and was being accepted.

In October, I was disappointed to get correspondence to tell me that the works would not commence and would not happen until 2023. Everything had changed and had gone back by four years. This was very disappointing, not just for me but for the people of Celbridge and the surrounding area. There was promise after promise that this dental clinic would come to the Celbridge primary care centre, having been identified as being much needed and urgently required. It was to become the centre of excellence for the area. The Minister of State can understand our disappointment and frustration. I have outlined in writing everything that I have said about the full sequence of events from the past 12 months.

I have a few statistics to put on the record. The population of Celbridge is 22,500. Land is owned and planning permission has been granted for 3,500 houses. We have no direct public transport access from Celbridge to Naas. People cannot afford taxis and have no way to get there. This situation is completely unacceptable and it needs urgent attention. I hope that we will be able to progress it today.

I thank Deputy O'Rourke for raising the issue of the refurbishment of Celbridge health centre and the provision of a dental clinic at the centre. The provision of services, including dental services, is an operational matter for the HSE. The HSE has advised that it has a modernisation plan for the dental service in community healthcare organisation, CHO, 7. The existing location is a three-surgery clinic that requires upgrading of decontamination facilities, administrative space and other infection prevention and control upgrades. The dental location in Celbridge acts as a hub for dental services in north Kildare due to the larger population of schoolchildren being served by that location. The location has already been upgraded to provide extra oral radiographic services to patients attending other clinics in the north of the county.

The Celbridge clinic closed in June 2018 for refurbishment to enable it to comply with new regulations. Refurbishment work has been tendered and tender returns are being reviewed by HSE estates. The HSE capital plan for 2020 is being developed. Funding will be dependent on the capital available and competing priorities. Routine dental services are being provided in the HSE dental clinics in Naas while emergency services are available from all HSE dental clinics located across the dental area as per normal. The HSE is also engaged in a recruitment process to replace dental staff that have recently retired. While the dental clinic in Celbridge is closed, all patients are being offered services as close as possible to Celbridge. The HSE is actively monitoring this service and will ensure that all patients will continue to be offered appointments.

The Celbridge primary care centre became operational in 2017. It is a vital resource to the growing population of Celbridge and its surrounding area, serving approximately 23,000 people. It delivers a comprehensive range of services through Centric Health GP Practice, Mangan's Pharmacy and Riverside Dental. Primary care team services, including public health nursing, adult and paediatric occupational therapy, adult and paediatric physiotherapy, speech and language therapy and much more are also delivered on site. The network disability teams services and child and adolescent mental health services are also part of the services being delivered. The provision of these different services at the one location is designed to benefit the patient, but I know that it also gives practitioners an invaluable opportunity as professionals to work together and learn from one another's experience, which is so important. The Health Service Executive will develop its capital plan for 2020 having regard to the available funding, the number of large national capital projects under way, and the cashflow requirements and priorities attaching to each project. All projects are considered as part of this process. Once the HSE has finalised its capital plan for 2020, it will then be submitted to the Minister, Deputy Harris, for consideration.

That answer is the stock answer that we get on what is happening overall. There is no substance or detail to it. The purpose of me bringing this into the Chamber today after 12 months of constant communication with the Minister and his officials in the Department is to try to see what we need to do to get this back on track. It is not true to say that the dental service is being offered as close as possible to the people of Celbridge. The closest possible service being offered at present is 30 km away and there is no direct public transport link from Celbridge to Naas. Many families have no car or only one car and they have no way to access that service or to get there directly. As the Minister of State can appreciate, it is too expensive to get taxis there.

If the HSE and the Minister are not going to put this service in place in the short to medium term, as committed to during the year and through correspondence, I respectfully ask that they come and engage, and try to put an interim solution in place until the state-of-the-art dental clinic is up and operating in Celbridge, which was promised 12 months ago as a centre of excellence for Celbridge and the surrounding area. We need that because families currently cannot access the services and get to their appointments, with 30 km being a step too far. Attention for this needs to be prioritised to get this project, which was committed to a year ago, back on track. It has been pushed out by four years by the Minister and the HSE. The Minister of State outlined a number of other services in his response but that is not true. I was in the primary care centre three or four months ago. The section operated by the HSE is sparse with very few services. The private sector side is operating the full service but the HSE-operated section does not have the needed services and facilities.

I call the Minister of State to conclude.

I ask the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to bear with me for a moment. I ask the Minister of State to get his office or that of the Minister, Deputy Harris, to convene a meeting between me, officials in the HSE and the Minister to discuss this important project, to try to get it back on track, and to try to get the people of Celbridge the service they need so that they do not have to travel 30 km.

I hear the frustration in the Deputy's voice and appreciate that this frustrates him as a local representative. From the perspective of the Government and the Minister, Deputy Harris, there is a 15% increase in next year's capital budget. I know these figures are not of significant interest to people but the reality is that there is an increase of €102 million.

There is additional capacity but there are also additional competing demands for that capital budget. The Deputy, like any good representative, is right to fight tooth and nail. He has been very consistent and I want to commend him. I have discussed this with him in the House previously and I acknowledge his consistent and constructive approach to trying to get it delivered for his area, as is his right. I am glad the people he represents have his voice to do that.

I can hear the Deputy's frustration. However, the Minister, Deputy Harris, does not have any direct involvement at this stage. It is the HSE which will submit a capital plan to the Minister for 2020 and it is a matter for the HSE as to whether this is going to be in that plan. If the Deputy sends the details to the Minister's office requesting that meeting, I will ask the Minister to request the HSE to meet the Deputy to try to alleviate some of his frustration and concern around this matter.

Beef Industry

On a point of order, while the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, is present, this is specifically an issue that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, is meant to be dealing with. He should be here.

The four Deputies have a right to decide they are not taking the matter.

It is outrageous.

It is black and white. If the Deputies have an issue with the fact the Minister is not here, they can decide to withdraw the matter and retable it, but there is no guarantee it will be retaken.

I understand that but it is outrageous.

If the Deputies have decided, I call Deputy Naughten.

The Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, is fully aware that one organisation is holding the whole industry to ransom by its failure to lift injunctions against two farmers, one an elected councillor, and this has resulted in huge frustration and anger right across the farming community. Sadly, this has boiled over into the current blockade of the streets of Dublin.

On 15 October last, I told the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine that it was unacceptable that Larry Goodman's ABP Food Group has effectively stalled the beef task force through its failure to lift legal threats. That is why farmers around the country are so frustrated and why they are on the streets of our capital today. While I accept there is no silver bullet to the issues in the beef sector, four measures that I put forward in the Private Members' motion on 26 September last, and unanimously accepted by Dáil Éireann, would fundamentally shift power away from meat processors and the supermarkets to the Irish suckler beef farmers. While this will not solve the problem overnight, if such effective steps had been taken five years ago, we would be in a very different situation today.

I am shocked the senior Minister is not here. He made accusations in the Dáil yesterday about the farmers, good people, the young men, women and families who are outside Leinster House, who are decent people. He alleged they were involved in threats to business people.

Of course he did. He further alleged it was like what happened in Cavan. I want him to apologise to this House for the wrong he perpetrated on those decent people yesterday.

I salute the farmers in their protests. They are on their knees and the Government has abandoned and ignored them because it is in bed with Larry Goodman and the big beef barons, and it will not touch them. It is a scandal that the talks cannot commence. First, there is a former Secretary General as chairperson. The whole thing is a charade. The game is up. It cannot be business as usual. Those 500 people yesterday were not members of any organisation or any political party. They are farmers who are fed up with what is going on and they want answers. They want an apology from the Minister, Deputy Creed, for accusing them of being involved in threats. There was not even a Garda complaint filed in that area. He has misled the Dáil. He lied to the Dáil and he made a slur on the reputation of those good people. I want him to apologise in this House for that.

Farmers are very angry. Nobody wants to talk to them, or that is the way they feel, and many are taking matters into their own hands, as they did yesterday. Farmers are outside the gates of Leinster House and have been outside the factories in the last month. They feel they are going nowhere and the anger is growing. The Minister needs to wake up to the reality on the ground, which is that there is a lot of anger.

I mentioned the organic sector in the House earlier and pointed out that many farmers are trying environmental farming. Some 255 applied and only 50 were approved, so there was a refusal rate of greater than 75% in regard to organic farming. They are trying their best to move forward to a different industry.

I answered on that issue earlier.

The Minister of State will have his chance shortly. There are practices inside the factory gates that need serious investigation. Will the Minister come out of the bed with Larry Goodman and stand up for the farmers of this country? Will the Minister at least start the process of a serious investigation into what is going on inside the factories? We need to know and beef farmers need the money for which they are working hard.

I remind Members to be very careful in regard to mentioning the names of those who are not here to defend themselves. The Deputies have been in the House for a long time and know that is the custom and practice.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle sincerely for showing his commitment to the farmers of Ireland by allowing this Topical Issue debate, which is very timely. Hundreds of people travelled long journeys and they left their family farms, their families and their workplaces to come to Dublin. It was the Leas-Cheann Comhairle who acceded to this request and I thank him sincerely and humbly for giving those farmers a voice in this House today.

I am cross, of course, with the senior Minister but have nothing against the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, for being here. The senior Minister should show respect to the people outside, who took time out to be here. Of course, they do not want be protesting. Where they want to be is at home, running their farms and trying to make a living; that is all they want to do. They are looking for fair play, they are looking for an apology from the Minister and they are looking for proper labelling. There is blackguarding going on with regard to the labelling of beef, and not just beef but also pork and many other products, which are being misrepresented given there is false labelling, which should not be allowed. When people buy Irish beef, they should know it is Irish beef, and it is the same for pork and lamb. All I ask is that the Government will take on board what these farmers are looking for, allow them to go home and allow them to get a thing called fair play.

The Minister of State has four minutes in which to respond.

As somebody who is an active beef farmer, unlike most people who are doing a lot of talking about it, I have as good an understanding of this whole sector as anybody in this Chamber. The Minister, Deputy Creed, met farmers this morning at 7:30 a.m. He answered some of the questions and clarified the issue with regard to the threats. He never inferred that anyone involved in the injunctions or any farmer was responsible for them.

The Deputy asked. If he had been here at Question Time this morning, he would have heard that answer.

Allow the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, to proceed uninterrupted.

There were two Topical Issue matters, the first on the need for the Government to directly intervene and unlock the current impasse, and the second asking for an update on the work of the beef task force. I wanted to set the scene before I directly answered the Topical Issue matters that are actually on the Order Paper today.

As the Deputies will be aware, the inaugural beef task force meeting, scheduled for 14 October, was prevented from proceeding. Since then, however, the independent chairman and my Department continue to engage proactively with task force members with a view to progressing the implementation of the provisions of the agreement. My Department and its agencies continue to progress the commitments to which they signed up under the agreement, the full text of which is available on my Department's website, along with an update on the progress made to date.

An immediate increase in a range of bonuses was announced as part of the 15 September agreement. It has been confirmed to my Department that this bonus system is now in place.

Initiatives in the agreement aimed at improving information along the supply chain included the commissioning of the following reports: an independent review of market and customer requirements, an independent examination of the price composition of the total value of the animal along the supply chain and a summary of competition law issues relevant to the Irish beef sector. My Department has issued a request for tender for these reports, with a deadline for receipt of tender responses of 12 noon on Thursday, 5 December. This will enable the award of the tender before the end of 2019.

In regard to market transparency initiatives, my Department has published an expert report on mechanical carcass classification review, has introduced an appeals system for manual grading and has initiated a consultation process on the transposition of the unfair trading practices directive, with a deadline for submission of 13 December.

Bord Bia has developed a beef market price index model based on three components: a cattle price index, a beef market price index, including retail and wholesale, and an offal price indicator. This is now available on the Bord Bia website.

Teagasc is significantly advanced in the first stage of the scientific review of the quality payment system, QPS, grid. The Department is also engaging proactively with several potential beef producer organisations, which have the potential to strengthen the bargaining power of beef farmers in the supply chain. Two beef producer organisations have been formally recognised by the Department in recent months.

We have all seen the traffic disruption in Dublin city today, which has had an impact on ordinary people as they go to their daily work. There are well-established channels of communications with farming organisations to resolve these issues of concern to farmers through constructive dialogue. I hope the sector will be able to come together, as it always has, to face these challenges and work towards a more sustainable future for all stages of the food chain.

The Minister, Deputy Creed, established the beef market task force to provide leadership in the development of an economically, environmentally and socially sustainable pathway for the future of the beef sector. As the Minister has stated, it is in the interests of everyone involved in the beef sector that this task force get to work as soon as possible. I hope all parties will agree to come together around the table and I appeal to those who have the injunctions in place to consider, as a gesture of goodwill, lifting them. However, the Minister and I are limited in the extent to which we can make that happen.

I ask Deputy Naughten to make the best of 30 seconds.

With all due respect, "considering" is no good. Mr. Goodman and ABP need to lift the injunction now, and the Government as a whole needs to intervene to ensure that that happens. Yes, we need all farmers, farm organisations and Deputies to work together to secure the viability of Irish family farms. Farmers are frustrated because they cannot get cattle into meat plants at present. We can all focus on the cause, but what farm families need now, just like every other family, is money to pay end-of-year bills and pay for Christmas. We cannot allow Christmas to be cancelled for the children of Ireland who live on our farms. We need everyone around the table now.

I thank the Deputy for observing the time.

I thank the staff of the Houses and An Garda Síochána on behalf of the farmers. They asked me to thank them. They were treated courteously outside. I thank the people who brought out cups of coffee to them and the community people supporting them.

I wish to challenge the Minister, Deputy Creed. If he does not come before the House to retract the outrageous slur he made yesterday, he is not fit for office and should resign. This is serious. He said what has happened is like what happened with Quinn Industrial Holdings. That is disgraceful. There was no complaint from the Garda station and there is no file anywhere. The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, was involved in this too. What is going on with Meat Industry Ireland, MII, and the allegation made by the Minister, Deputy Flanagan? The Minister, Deputy Creed, must apologise unreservedly in this House to those farmers. If not, he should resign and go because he is not fit for office anyway.

The Deputy should check the record.

The Minister of State said he himself is a beef farmer. I am also a beef farmer and I am surrounded by many beef farmers in very serious financial circumstances. We need the Minister of State to stand up for these farmers. They know that the wrongdoing is happening inside the factory gate. We need that rectified. I am advising many farmers to change their style of farming. Many of them did a lot of courses in the organic sector. They signed up, paid for the organic feed and did everything by the book, and 70% of them are now being left outside the door. The Minister of State must step in here and at least help these farmers if there is another choice out there in order that they can at least be accepted into the organic sector. There are two issues here: what is going on in the factories and the organic sector. We need an answer.

The injunctions and the bully tactics will have to stop. That was one of the main things these farmers were here objecting to, along with the fact that they are being marginalised and picked on just because they are fighting for fair play. At the end of the day, and the Minister of State himself knows this, if producing a kilogram of beef does not make a profit, that situation will not be able to continue into the future. What is going on now is not sustainable. I have said this before and I will say it again: everybody is making money out of beef except the people who produce it. That is neither fair nor right, and the killer is that the Minister of State knows it. The Government should be seen to be fighting for our farmers instead of having a Taoiseach who stood up here one day and shamefully and disgracefully said he would cut back on his beef consumption. A child would not say that, never mind the Taoiseach.

We all agree - it was agreed in September - that the best vehicle and the best way of progressing a viable future for everyone in this sector, from producer to processor to whoever else is involved, is through the beef task force and work on the template and the agreement that was signed up to. That has not happened to date. It should have happened on 14 October, and there would be no point in my revisiting the reasons it did not happen.

The injunctions were not lifted.

I call the Minister of State, without interruption.

That is not the reason. If the Deputy did not listen to me the first time, perhaps he will this time. If he were to check the record, or if he were here for Question Time this morning, he would know that the Minister, Deputy Creed, clarified what exactly happened last week and what exactly he said. That is on the Dáil record.

Regarding the organic sector, I have answered those questions. Deputy Michael Collins is right that there were 255 applications. A good number of them either did not complete the form or submitted forms that were ruled ineligible. When I announced the reopening of the existing scheme - it is not a new scheme - I said it was on foot of the organic strategy's recommendations that it be targeted at the areas of deficit, which were cereals, dairy and horticulture. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked earlier how many horticulture applications were refused. One was refused out of two applications submitted. The majority of applications were in the beef and lamb sector, where there is already an oversupply, and only up to 30%, or perhaps slightly more, of organically produced beef and lamb is sold in that way. One of the reasons for this is that there is not enough feed in the system at an affordable price. This is why cereals were prioritised. We need to get more cereals into the system in order that beef and lamb producers who are already registered as organic farmers have an affordable source of supplementary feed. That is the reason cereals were prioritised. It was on foot of the recommendation of the strategy group, which involves all stakeholders.

Social and Affordable Housing Provision

I must again express my fury that, given the shocking content of two reports published this week about the scandalous situation of children and families in homeless accommodation, the senior Minister is not here to respond to this debate. Perhaps it is just indicative of the fact that the situation has become completely indefensible. What the State is now guilty of is nothing short of criminal neglect and child abuse. There is no other way to describe it. When a report suggests that hundreds and hundreds of infants in emergency accommodation are unable to learn to crawl, chew or speak or to have anything like a normal developmental pathway, that is criminal abuse and child abuse. It is the Magdalen laundries of the 21st century waiting to happen. If it continues, we will be looking at redress schemes such as those we saw for the women and girls of the Magdalen laundries. It is utterly shameful.

The Government's attempt to address the homelessness and housing emergency, which its policies have largely created, is now beyond failure. According to the Respond report, only 8% of those entering emergency accommodation - 15% of whom are there for two years or more, 45% of whom are there more than a year, including, I repeat, in excess of 1,000 children - move on to secure social housing. The rest end up in insecure HAP tenancies and are liable to end up homeless again in the near future. The other big cohort end up having to go home into overcrowded conditions with their families or into other emergency accommodation, where the torture, hardship, neglect and abuse continue because of the failure of the Government to provide secure, affordable public housing on scale to address this housing crisis eight years after Fine Gael came to power.

It must be remembered many of these children are now facing into Christmas. The Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO, and Focus Ireland have had to distribute a resource guide to teachers to deal with homeless children in school because of the stigma they face and the mental trauma they suffer by having to go into school every day in this situation of homelessness and where they cannot bring their friends home or have sleepovers. It is obscene but nothing seems to change. Nothing seems to move the Government.

The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, could not be present but I thank Deputy Boyd Barrett for raising the issue. I saw the coverage of the reports. The Deputy is right to raise those points and they need to be addressed. The developmental issues in children that have been highlighted need to be addressed and are not acceptable.

Supporting individuals and families experiencing homelessness is a priority for the Government. Over the course of Rebuilding Ireland, the Government is committed to meeting the housing needs of more than 138,000 households, with 50,000 homes to be delivered through build, acquisition and lease. The implementation of the plan is well under way and is making progress. We can see this reflected in social housing waiting lists, which have reduced by 26% nationally between 2016 and 2019.

The Government is committed to delivering homes for all of the families currently experiencing homelessness. However, until a home is provided, it is also critical that we provide the appropriate accommodation and supports to households experiencing homelessness. To minimise the use of hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation for emergency accommodation, the Government has provided local authorities with capital funding to develop family hubs. There are currently 30 family hubs in operation nationally, with a total capacity to cater for almost 690 families. Additional hubs will be delivered in the coming months.

Hubs provide more security and stability for homeless families than is possible in hotel accommodation. Families in hubs are supported by the local authorities and their contracted non-governmental organisation service delivery partners to identify and secure appropriate long-term accommodation. The supports available in family hubs assist families to move from emergency accommodation to a home within a shorter timeframe. The annual report released this morning by Respond, for instance, confirms that, on average, families move out of their hubs within six months, with a range of housing responses being provided. These include local authority owned properties, approved housing body properties and housing assistance payment, HAP, supported tenancies in the private rented sector. The objective is to secure a home for a family within a six-month period, although obviously we work to try to ensure that a home is provided within the shortest period possible.

In 2018, 5,135 individual adults and their associated dependants exited homelessness into homes, an increase of 8% on the 2017 figure. In the first half of this year, 2,825 further individual adults and their associated dependants exited homelessness, up 21% on the comparable period in 2018. Next year, it is expected that we will see in excess of 5,500 adults and their associated dependants moving out of homelessness.

The HAP placefinder service plays a vital role in preventing families from entering homelessness in the first place and in housing those families who find themselves in emergency accommodation. Under the placefinder service, all local authorities are now being provided with the options to pay deposits and advance rental payments for any households in emergency homeless accommodation in order to secure accommodation via the housing assistance payment scheme. Local authorities may, dependent on local demand, offer households in emergency accommodation the option to source accommodation themselves or with the assistance of placefinder officers. These officers are being funded by the Department. Some 23 local authorities have such officers in place. More than 9,300 households have been supported by the homeless HAP scheme nationally up to the end of quarter 3 of this year.

Supporting a household to exit from homelessness often requires more than a house; sometimes it requires a broader suite of social and welfare supports. In that context, it is vital that the range of State bodies act in a co-ordinated fashion and a high level inter-agency group, including representatives from key Departments, local authorities, Tusla and the HSE, is in place to support this critical co-ordination objective.

Honestly, for the Government to say council housing lists have reduced makes me want to scream. Does the Minister of State know the reason they have reduced in large part? It is because the Minister has refused to lift the income thresholds. Therefore, every week people are coming into my clinic who have been lopped off the list. They are still desperately in need of housing but because their income has crept up a few euro over the income threshold, which have not been raised for about a decade, they have been knocked off the list. The Government’s new plan to reduce the housing lists is to chop people off the housing lists, and for fewer people to be entitled to social housing even though there are no other options available to them, dragging a whole new cohort of people into the housing crisis. Similarly, the Minister of State mentioning of the HAP scheme makes me want to scream.

I spoke to an person in the HAP placefinder office in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, which is supposed to find HAP tenancies, and she confirmed, not that I did not know this, that one-bedroom apartments in Sandyford are now going for €2,000 a month. The homeless HAP limit for one-bedroom accommodation is €975. People can forget that. Nobody is moving out of homeless accommodation because the money being provided by the State is not enough to bring a person even halfway towards meeting the level of rent required. Even if one managed to get a HAP tenancy, one could be homeless again in six months' time because there is nothing secure about them. Meanwhile in O'Devaney Gardens and sites all over the country, the Government is selling off public land that could be used for public housing to provide secure affordable housing. That is why we are in this mess.

A demonstration of housing protestors will take place on 5 December to coincide with the anniversary of the death of Jonathan Corrie. Those protestors have asked that there would be a debate on solutions to the housing crisis in here on the day of that rally, and I am glad that the Dáil Business Committee has agreed to that. I can tell the Minister of State they are protesting several years after the death of Jonathan Corrie because the Government has not provided any solutions other than ones that have made the situation worse.

The Deputy is right in the sense of the need for a review of the income thresholds, which is now happening. I do not accept that the full 26% reduction in the social housing waiting lists is as a result of people's incomes going over the existing thresholds but that review is starting to get in train. It did not happen for a decade because there was a decade when incomes were fairly flat but they are starting to rise, and the Deputy was right to point out that aspect.

I do not like to comment on individual cases but the Jonathan Corrie case was horrific. Many agencies, including the Government, have a responsibility. I emphasise to the Deputy, even though he knows this, that in this particular case and in many others, the part of my reply that referred to the other supports people need to exit homelessness is crucial. Homelessness is caused certainly by economic factors but there are other factors that contribute. We will be proceeding with a review of thresholds. It is timely at this stage but that does not account for the full 26% reduction in the number on the social housing waiting lists.

Insurance Costs

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for allowing me to raise on the Topical Issue debate the issue of insurance reform and the impact of the cost of insurance to businesses. I work closely with the Business Insurance Reform Group, which is led by Michael Horgan in Newmarket and Declan Ryan from Kenmare in County Kerry. They have put in a great deal of work along with other groups to bring about change to the insurance industry. Business is severely affected by the spiralling cost of insurance. This year more than any other year, people have contacted me who are genuinely concerned about the cost of insurance and have indicated that for the first time ever, they are facing the possibility of having to close their doors in the new year because they cannot sustain the level of insurance premiums being sought to cover their businesses. That is because underwriters are leaving the market and there is a lack of transparency.

I remind the Minister of State that the European Union raided and examined insurance companies some months ago to determine if a cartel was operating within the industry.

At the time, there was much fanfare and co-ordination of reports stating that the Government was making a serious attempt to tackle the spiralling cost of insurance. Where has that gone? What has happened to that European investigation? To where has it drifted off?

Many motions on insurance reform have been moved in this Dáil, and the Minister of State and every other public representative in this House encounter this issue on a daily basis. A huge number of centres are closing, including many play centres, which made it very clear last summer that they would not be able to continue to sustain their businesses due to the spiralling cost of insurance. There was much talk of what insurance reform had done to reduce the cost of car premiums, but that is no longer the case because it is continuing to spiral out of control. Many voluntary organisations, community initiatives and organisations providing services to the State under section 39 have seen their insurance premiums escalate. The problems faced by St. Joseph's Foundation in Charleville, the insurance premium of which went from €140,000 to over €500,000, has been brought to the Minister of State's personal attention. That organisation provides services for the whole catchment area, including both my county and the Minister of State's.

What has happened with the European Commission's dawn raids for tackling insurance? What are the Government's real targets in this area? We have heard many contributions, both in the Dáil and elsewhere, about targets and initiatives tried by the Government. Does the Government accept that many businesses will be forced to close their doors in the early part of 2020 because of the lack of coverage for insurance? Many in the catering industry in particular are considering going without insurance, which is a very dangerous precedent. I ask the Minister of State to address those issues.

First, I apologise for the absence of the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, who is responsible for this area. I am a neighbour of Deputy Michael Moynihan's and many of the issues to which he has referred are familiar to me. I know that this issue concerns him and he has raised it previously. I will ask the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, to correspond with or meet the Deputy about it.

The Government is very conscious of the cost and availability of insurance for those in small and medium-sized businesses across the country. However, while the Minister for Finance is responsible for the development of the legal framework governing financial regulation, neither he nor the Central Bank of Ireland can interfere in the provision or pricing of insurance products, as these matters are of a commercial nature and are determined by insurance companies based on an assessment of the risks they are willing to accept. Another constraint the Government faces in addressing this issue is that it is not in a position to direct the courts as to the award levels that should be applied. Unfortunately, therefore, there is no policy or legislative silver bullet which would immediately decrease the cost of insurance. This has also been recognised by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach in its report on motor insurance.

In that context, the cost of insurance working group, CIWG, was established to try to improve the environment within which insurers conduct their business. It has produced two reports, one on motor insurance and another on employer and public liability insurance. While significant progress has been made in implementing its recommendations, including amendments to the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 and the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act 2003, and the establishment of the national claims information database in the Central Bank of Ireland, it is clear that the single biggest existing challenge impacting businesses is the level of awards given for relatively minor injuries compared to other jurisdictions, which must be addressed. In this regard, the key recommendation arising from the CIWG reports was the establishment of the Personal Injuries Commission, PIC, and the publication of its two reports. The PIC conducted a benchmarking of award levels between Ireland and other jurisdictions for the first time, which has been very helpful in identifying the scale of the problem. This research showed that award levels for soft tissue injuries in Ireland are 4.4 times higher than in England and Wales. The PIC recommended that a judicial council be established which would compile guidelines for appropriate general damages for various types of personal injury. In carrying out this exercise, the PIC believes that the Judiciary will take account of the jurisprudence of the Court of Appeal, the result of its benchmarking exercise, etc. On foot of this recommendation, the Government, with the support of all parties in the Oireachtas, prioritised the passing of the Judicial Council Act 2019. This Act provides for the establishment of a personal injuries guidelines committee upon the formal establishment of the judicial council. This committee will be tasked with introducing new guidelines to replace the book of quantum.

While some provisions of the Judicial Council Act have been enacted though statutory order by the Minister for Justice and Equality in order to allow background preparations to take place, the judicial council itself has yet to be established. However, the Minister was pleased that the Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Frank Clarke announced at the recent Insurance Ireland fraud conference that he has selected the personal injuries guidelines committee designate and that this committee will meet shortly to commence work on an informal basis. He also noted the balanced composition of the committee, which reflects all court levels. He believes this demonstrates that the Judiciary is giving this matter the priority it deserves. The Government also notes the interim Insurance Ireland CEO, Mr. Gerry Hassett's statement at the same conference, which noted that if award levels come down, premiums will as well. Both the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, consider this a very reassuring commitment, to which they intend to hold the insurance industry. I also note that the insurance reform agenda continues to be a major priority for the Government and we believe a recalibration of award levels will go a significant way towards addressing the current affordability and availability of insurance impacting businesses.

I will ask the Minister to revert to the Deputy directly on the European investigation to which the Deputy referred.

I was going to note that the Minister of State's reply did not address the issue of the European Commission's investigation. We need to know what has happened with that investigation, where it is at and when its results will be published on the public record.

The Minister of State spoke of the benchmarking of awards and the percentage of difference involved. He also referred to the book of quantum. As I understand it, a legislative framework is in place to ensure the amendment or redrawing of, or a new book of quantum. When, in the name of God, can we put that out there? Businesses are grinding to a halt because of insurance. The issue of insurance has come up repeatedly over the last while, more than any other. We often talk of premiums and claims, but it also came out through the Houses of the Oireachtas this year that insurance companies are making massive profits. I have met with many high street businesses attempting to keep their doors open and time and again they mention the crippling cost of insurance. The Personal Injuries Assessment Board was established a number of years ago. However, the legal profession seems to have bypassed it as it is no longer the panacea it was 15 or 20 years ago. Young people are paying through the nose for car insurance. When will the book of quantum be replaced? What are the Minister of State's opinions on the massive profits being made by insurance companies on the back of consumers, small business owners, motorists and householders? I ask him to make every effort to provide me with an update on what has happened with the European Commission's dawn raid.

The Topical Issue the Deputy submitted was fairly broad, and therefore the response is also broad and does not address the Deputy's specific questions. I will provide him with answers on the timeframe for the replacement of the book of quantum, the current status of the European Commission of investigation, and the dawn raid issue.

I do not disagree with what the Deputy is saying about this matter. Some of my family members are self-employed business people. This is a constituency issue which confronts every Member of this House and has been well documented. The Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach did a good job in shining a light on the insurance industry, as did some Deputies. Mr. Justice Frank Clarke's comments also point to where he believes this needs to go next.

The industry needs to take account of the comments of Oireachtas Members as well as the provisions of the Judicial Council Act enacted by the Government in co-operation with the main Opposition party. It must accept that the train is pulling into the station. The Deputy is correct regarding the level of profits being made. In my initial response, I outlined that the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, are keeping open minds on the issue and are remaining vigilant. All Deputies accept that there is no silver bullet, as noted by the Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach in its report on the motor industry.

This is a major issue for many people, including returning emigrants. Many emigrants are returning from Australia or New Zealand to the Deputy's area of north Cork, to villages such as Kishkeam and Milford and Newtownshandrum. I too come from that part of the world. These issues must be resolved. The Minister and the Minister of State have given a commitment in that regard. I do not have direct responsibility for the issue. I will ask the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, to liaise directly with the Deputy on the matters he has raised.