Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

The crisis in the health service is breaking daily records, with previously unheard of cases of human misery being experienced across the country. We have seen older people being left on trolleys for days on end and families nervous about taking their loved ones to emergency departments because of the delays. We have seen elective surgeries being cancelled. On Tuesday, Deputy Micheál Martin expressed concern, in particular, about children's elective surgeries being cancelled, the incidence of which was confirmed this morning by a leading professional involved in one of the main hospitals. There are 117,000 children on inpatient and outpatient waiting lists. On Tuesday night, the fire service had to be called to University Hospital Limerick to inspect the conditions in its emergency department, a building recently built and opened under the Government's watch. Patients had to be removed on the instructions of fire service staff.

There has been huge coverage in this House and outside it of all the issues in the health service. We debated the issues only two weeks so. However, I always get the sense that there is no understanding on the other side of the House of their impact. There is no real interest in what is happening and the Government is just going through the motions of defending it. That was confirmed to me when I read the transcript of yesterday's meeting of the Joint Committee on Health, where one of the Tánaiste's colleagues spoke about her shock at the conditions in the health service. She could not understand why children with head injuries, broken arms and broken legs had to wait in the same room as children who were vomiting. She said conditions and waiting times were unacceptable and she hoped nobody would recognise her as a politician. All of her stress has been experienced by thousands of parents and thousands of children of elderly parents, yet it is only now that the penny seems to be dropping. Apparently as a consequence of this Government Deputy's testimony, there will be a special meeting of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party to discuss the matter. The horse has bolted and the Government is panicked.

Does the Tánaiste accept that the winter plan trumpeted by the Government two weeks ago as the answer, even though there are no new staff and no new beds, is failing in the context of what is unfolding in emergency rooms and in children's emergency departments across the island? Does the Tánaiste share his colleague's assessment of the health service? Is he embarrassed to be a Minister and Tánaiste in this Government?

"No" is the straight answer to the Deputy's last question. Like everybody else in government, I appreciate the pressures the health service is under and the pressures that are sometimes imposed on parents and families. There are a lot of good things happening in healthcare but there are also real pressure points. Deputy O'Connell, as a mother and a Government Deputy, was expressing a frustration and a recognition of the need for significant investment in children's healthcare. Effectively, they reaffirm the need for a new children's hospital and continued investment in hospital care for children. It is not acceptable that a parent taking a child into a hospital emergency department, particularly when seeking specialist paediatric care, should have to wait for long periods of time. That is not acceptable to me, to the Government or to the Minister for Health. That is why we are changing how we provide hospital care and emergency care for children by making a massive capital investment in a new children's hospital, with satellite facilities in different parts of Dublin and elsewhere, including the large paediatric unit that was announced for Cork University Hospital in the past number of months.

The truth is that at this time of the year there are added pressures that have resulted in waiting times being longer than they should be in emergency departments, primarily because of flu, the vomiting bug and respiratory virus issues. In response, Children's Health Ireland, CHI, has restricted all elective and routine inpatient procedures in the coming weeks. The Health Service Executive, HSE, has issued an apology to all families whose children have had their procedure postponed at short notice. Every effort is being made to improve the situation and appointments will be rescheduled at the earliest possible opportunity. Influenza hospitalisations are increasing, as they always do at this time of year. The best prevention measure for parents is to ensure their children get the flu vaccine, which will help to reduce pressure on the system. I encourage parents, in particular, to think about that and to act on it to ensure we reduce pressure on the system.

Children's hospitals' emergency departments remain open, although patients attending have experienced some delays. CHI operates cross-city bed management for admissions to its three emergency departments in Dublin and the urgent care centre at Connolly Hospital, which is now up and running and will have a capacity to deal with 25,000 children over a 12-month period. Things are happening and this is a priority for Government. We know exactly the pressures on hospitals, both for staff and, more important, for patients. We are responding to that from both a policy perspective and an investment perspective.

The Tánaiste says that things are happening. What is happening is that the fire service is being called into emergency departments around the country. The Tánaiste and the Taoiseach trumpeted the new children's urgent care unit at Blanchardstown hospital. However, that was supposed to be open Monday to Sunday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. but it is only opening Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. because it cannot be staffed. It has not been staffed properly because the mess the Government has presided over in regard to the national children's hospital project is impacting on staffing budgets across the health service. There are 117,000 children on inpatient and outpatient waiting lists and postponing elective surgery will add to those lists. Nothing is being done about the consultant contracts to address consultant vacancies. The Government is presiding over nursing vacancies. If those positions were filled, the waiting lists would be addressed more quickly and people would not be left waiting. There are 13 beds in Temple Street hospital's emergency department. Yesterday, 12 of those beds were taken by admitted patients because there was no space for them elsewhere in the hospital.

That is the reality to which the Tánaiste seemed blind and oblivious until one of his colleagues suddenly woke him up. Now he is professing concern. Concern is not good enough for somebody who is waiting three days for a bed. Concern is not good enough for somebody whose child is so sick that they have to leave the emergency department after waiting nine hours and still not getting treatment. That is good enough. The winter plan which the Government has championed is failing in its first two weeks. What will happen during the rest of the winter?

The Deputy's fake outrage is a bit much.

It is not fake.

(Interruptions).

I take questions in this House every Thursday and almost every week, understandably, healthcare issues are raised.

The Tánaiste does nothing about them week after week.

Deputies opposite stand up each week and try to spin the message that the Government does not care about or know what is going on, which is nonsense.

The Tánaiste's colleague is saying the same thing.

A Deputy who is also a mother was understandably frustrated. The Government understands-----

The Government is making the investment decisions that are leading to these problems.

(Interruptions).

If Members want to chat among themselves, they should do so outside the Chamber. The Tánaiste without interruption, please.

We are investing €17 billion in the healthcare system next year, which is significantly more than was ever before allocated. We are prioritising how that is spent, depending on the pressures that emerge from week to week and month to month. We have committed additional funding of €26 million to the winter initiative, the purpose of which is to ensure that throughput in hospitals is as efficient as it can be through the pressure months of the winter. It is about providing step-down facilities, adding extra beds and staffing to the system and keeping people out of hospital as much as possible through the winter months where we are now starting to see pressure.

That goes for children as well as adults. We will continue to prioritise their healthcare with the resources available to do so. If the Deputy looks at the bigger picture, which some people in this House do not, although I accept this is because they want to solve problems, 27,000 patients who were in hospital last May had the opportunity to have their say on how they rated the health service in a national inpatient survey. Some 84% of those who took part rated their stay in hospital as either good or very good. There are good things happening in healthcare in Ireland. We have incredibly dedicated staff who are looking after people well but real pressure points remain and we will prioritise our response accordingly.

As my colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, laid out to the House yesterday, the Government's housing plan, Rebuilding Ireland, is in its fourth year. The results are stark. Homelessness is up 67% while more than 10,000 of our citizens are homeless. That is the new normal under Fine Gael in the country with the fastest growing economy in Europe. The number of homeless children has increased by 81% under the Government. It has nearly doubled. I mentioned one of those children, Sam, in the House last month. He is just one of more than 4,000 children who face into this Christmas without a home. The first duty of any decent society is to protect its children and the vulnerable. As the Tánaiste will be aware, too many of our children are facing into a type of Christmas they simply do not deserve. I refer to a Christmas in emergency accommodation, in a hotel room, or in bed and breakfast accommodation. For some it will be their fourth year in a row.

Last Tuesday, a conference held by Social Justice Ireland told us that there are toddlers unable to walk or crawl because of prolonged stays in emergency accommodation. Their development has been stunted and their future stolen from them. As the Tánaiste will be aware, the greatest cause of family homelessness in this State is the unaffordable and out-of-control private rental sector, which is . Rents have increased by 40% since this Government took office in 2016. The average new rent in Dublin now stands at more than €2,000 per month, while, in Cork, it is more than €1,300 per month. This has locked a whole generation of young people and young families into an out-of-control rental market. It has locked them out of the aspiration to ever own their own home. Reports published by the Central Bank just last week told us that the average deposit for a new house now stands at €87,000. How can individuals and families, locked into unaffordable rents, ever hope to secure a deposit of €87,000? For young people and young families whose rent swallows up their pay packets, the message from Government is clear: their future in Ireland is uncertain.

The Government has refused to take responsibility or to deliver the necessary housing. It has refused to take responsibility for unaffordable rents and for its failure to deliver affordable homes for first-time buyers. While failing to take responsibility for the housing crisis, it has also failed to listen to the alternative policies and solutions that we, in Sinn Féin, and those advocating on the front line have put forward, which would reduce the cost of rent by introducing a tax measure for renters and, crucially, a rent freeze. The Government has rejected that proposal, as has Fianna Fáil. These solutions would put a brake on the out-of-control rental market and would give renters breathing space to save and plan for the future. Will the Government take immediate action and listen to the concerns of renters throughout the State, understanding that the system is out of control? Will it belatedly accept what Sinn Féin has argued for and introduce a rent freeze?

First, I will respond to the general comment that Rebuilding Ireland is not working because the facts do not bear that out. There is still a lot of work to do but more than 50,000 new homes have been built over the past three years. There was an increase of 82% in the number of new homes completed between 2016 and 2018. Some 10,000 new homes will be added to the council housing stock this year, followed by 11,000 next year and 12,000 the year after that. The daft.ie report published this month states: "It looks as though Ireland's longest-ever run of increasing rental prices may soon come to an end." It was not the Government saying that but daft.ie. We have brought in new laws to significantly strengthen tenants' rights. By the way, Sinn Féin has supported most of these, including some of the rental changes recently introduced by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. The number of apartment completions has increased by more than 81% over the past 12 months. Residential property prices are decreasing in Dublin and price increases are slowing throughout the country as more and more homes are built. We are helping people to buy their first home. To date, 15,000 new homes have been bought by first-time buyers with the assistance of the help-to-buy scheme. If I recall correctly, I was heavily criticised for introducing this scheme at the time but it is working.

While we have a housing crisis, and have had one for some time, the Government has responded by driving supply across all types of tenure, including social housing, affordable housing, cost-rental properties, and privately purchased houses. We have prioritised first-time buyers because a number of years ago they comprised only a tiny percentage of those buying houses because they simply could not afford to put deposits together. Since the introduction of the help-to buy scheme under Rebuilding Ireland, 15,000 new homes have been purchased by first-time buyers. There are still pressures in the system and we need to continue to increase supply. We need to build approximately 35,000 additional homes a year and we need to ensure that between 10,000 and 12,000 houses are added to the social housing stock each year but we are getting there. Next year, we will spend €2.68 billion on the housing budget, which is multiples of what it was only three or four years ago. Rebuilding Ireland, which is a five-year housing plan, is working and is responding.

Unfortunately, we still have people who are homeless and under real pressure. If one looks at the homelessness figures, however, in the first six months of this year, almost 3,000 adults and their dependants exited homeless services. That figure continues to increase quarter after quarter. The rate of increase in homelessness has dramatically slowed down. We now need to get on top of it and accept the reality that we must make a significant impact over the next 12 months on the 10,000 people who are homeless today. We are making progress. Some people are trying to use the housing challenge as a political stunt next week to try to raise profile in advance of a by-election and this misses the point.

It is time the Tánaiste took his head out of the sand and got the point. His plan is not working. No matter how much spin and statistics he puts out, it does not wash.

It is not spin, it is fact.

The reality is that new rents in Dublin city cost more than €2,000. In the Tánaiste's own home city of Cork, they are €1,300. He may think those levels of rent are acceptable but they are not acceptable to ordinary people. The reality is that, since this Government took office, homelessness has increased by more than 67% and child homelessness has increased by 81%. More than 4,000 children will go to sleep tonight in emergency accommodation, without mentioning the thousands of people who are back living with their families because they cannot afford to rent. The worst of all is the damage we, as a society, are doing to these children. People on the front line have told us about children who cannot crawl and toddlers who cannot walk. I am a father, as is the Tánaiste. One of the best experiences one can ever have is to see one's child taking his or her first steps. The Government is denying children the development milestones they should normally be able to achieve because they are in cramped accommodation in hotel rooms, bed and breakfast accommodation, or hubs. Some of them have spent four years in such accommodation. The Tánaiste can tell those children and their parents that his plan is working; it is not. He can tell the renters who are paying €2,000 a month that his plan is working; it is not. He needs to get his head out of the sand, invest appropriately, and introduce a rent freeze so that the craziness of landlords increasing rents and putting families into homelessness can be stopped.

As usual, Sinn Féin is good at vocalising the pressures that result from a crisis but it does not have any solutions.

The solution is a rent freeze.

Sinn Féin has been arguing that for three years and the Government has denied it with the support of Fianna Fáil. Rents have gone up by €5,000 as a result of Government inaction.

We must respect the fact that the Tánaiste must be given an opportunity to reply uninterrupted whether Deputies like his reply or not.

The Government's five-year plan has been going on for four years at this stage.

If we introduced a rent freeze tomorrow, it would not get a single child out of a family hub or hotel.

Those people are homeless because of increasing rents.

If Deputies do not stop interrupting, I will move on and they will get no answers.

We live in a democracy and there is good reason the majority in this House do not support a rent freeze. We believe it would fundamentally undermine the core issue we are trying to resolve, which is the lack of supply. We have introduced a rent cap, which we believe to be a much more appropriate course of action.

If the cap fits.

The rent cap was supported by a very large majority in this House when it was introduced. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government subsequently introduced a range of new protections for renters. The core issue is that until we increase the supply of housing stock in all sectors, including affordable rental and cost rental, as we are doing, we are not going to see reductions in rents, which is what we want. We can try to swim against the tide and force a rent freeze on a stock that is not sufficient in volume or we can try to get more houses built across all tenures so that renters have a choice of where they want to rent and people who want to purchase a house can afford to do so.

The Government could do both. It could introduce the rent freeze and invest in additional housing.

Shame on the Tánaiste.

As the Tánaiste will be aware, next Tuesday is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities and many Deputies met representatives of a new organisation, the disability action coalition, in a meeting facilitated by Senator Dolan last week. The coalition comprises nine not-for-profit organisations that fall under section 39 of the Health Act 2004. The coalition comprises Rehab, Enable Ireland, the Irish Wheelchair Association, MS Ireland, Headway Ireland, National Council for the Blind, Chime, Acquired Brain Injury Ireland and Cheshire Ireland. As we all know, they cater for tens of thousands of our citizens with disabilities in our constituencies and employ more than 9,000 dedicated staff members.

The coalition informed us about its research last week, which shows a funding shortfall of at least €20 million between those organisations each year. That is only the amount required to keep services going and those organisations have had to cut services over recent years, including respite and day services and a range of specialist services for children and adults. That has happened because the funding they receive from the HSE simply does not match the cost of delivering those services. They have also faced additional costs in recent years, including pay restoration and unwinding the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI; additional regulations and compliance costs, which are necessary; and soaring insurance costs with which the Government has not dealt.

Many organisations are struggling to retain staff because of the difference in pay between section 39 bodies, as defined by the 2004 Act, and section 38 bodies which have HSE staff. This adds substantially to training, recruitment, staff retention and agency staff costs and lengthens waiting lists for people with disabilities. These organisations have tried to bridge the shortfall using their own resources but that is increasingly difficult. Not-for-profit section 39 organisations deliver two thirds of our disability services and are contracted to deliver vital health and social care services. In fact, 35% of the overall disability budget is spent in this area. Although the staff feel they are delivering the same kind of services as HSE staff, these organisations are not fully funded and their employees are not being treated the same.

I raised this with the Tánaiste and the then incoming Taoiseach more than two years ago. The Government set up an independent review group, chaired by Dr. Catherine Day, in late 2017, which reported early this year. Will the Government implement the key recommendations of the report, especially those in chapters 8 and 9? One recommendation is that the Department of Financial Expenditure and Reform should examine the financial analysis of deficits and surpluses of voluntary bodies. The report also recommends a move to multi-annual funding, including budgets for three to five years, and a forum where the HSE, the Department of Health and the voluntary sector, including section 39 bodies, can meet regularly and avoid the annual wrangling over budgets.

Will the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, meet representatives of the disability action coalition? The emphasis should be on action to try to ensure that the deficits of these nine organisations will be addressed. We are discussing a supplementary health budget in the amount of €338 million.

The Deputy will have a second opportunity to contribution.

Is it possible to amend that budget to address this matter or at least to ensure that the shortfall in funding does not happen again in 2020?

This is an important issue. Voluntary organisations that provide services on behalf of the HSE do so on a contract basis under either section 38 or section 39 of the Health Act 2004, as the Deputy outlined. Such organisations provide a broad range of services across the health system, including large acute care hospitals, specialist hospitals, disability services, hospice care, mental health services and addiction and rehabilitation services. Community-based support groups focusing on social inclusion support and advocacy may also operate under these sections.

Service arrangements are in place between the HSE and all service providers, which clearly set out the obligations of the organisation, the services for which they are engaged by the HSE and the funding that has been agreed for that. The HSE is monitoring, on an ongoing basis, the financial position of organisations funded under the service level agreements. The current service level agreement process provides a forum for such organisations to discuss any issues or difficulties with the chief officer of the relevant community healthcare organisation.

The Minister for Health is aware that some section 39 organisations have raised concerns about financial sustainability with the HSE, including a number of organisations in the disability sector. The HSE has assured the Department of Health that it is committed to working intensively with such organisations to support them as appropriate to address such issues in the context of the service level agreement process. Where it is identified that a genuine issue is arising that may impede the effective and efficient delivery of services by sections 38 or 39 social care service providers, any remedial action will need to be considered by central Government, as a resolution cannot be addressed within the current health Vote resources.

In May this year, the voluntary hospice group wrote to the Minister for Health asking that all section 39 hospices be redesignated as section 38 organisations on the basis that hospices provide core services not provided by the HSE. I have been involved in that conversation with the Minister for Health. As of now, there is no established procedure for transitioning from section 39 status to section 38 status. There are obstacles to overcome while determining how a mechanism could be created to facilitate such a transition, which include additional costs to the Exchequer, employment ceilings and conditions attached to transfer as well as legacy and governance issues.

This is a real debate. Dr. Catherine Day produced a report, which I understand is with the Minister at the moment. He is likely to implement its recommendations but it is important for him to have the opportunity to outline that in the context of the related issues. This issue is getting serious Government consideration.

Dr. Day and her colleagues set out a roadmap to overhaul the current, flawed budgetary process that applies to section 39 organisations. The outdated funding system in operation results in conflict, year in and year out, with the HSE. Once again this year, as every year, section 39 services are struggling desperately to keep going. It is important that the Minister for Health meets representatives of the disability action coalition soon, I hope before Christmas, and he might set out a timetable. Everybody in the House will agree with that because of the nature of the services involved, which are important to our society. A timetable should be agreed for 2020 to implement these key changes.

What is happening with pay restoration for section 39 organisations? The Minister told me previously that there is engagement with the Workplace Relations Commission on this matter but the exact cost of restoration for the entire sector has not been determined, and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform needs to become involved in this because it is a considerable burden on the disability action coalition members.

Is it possible, even at this late stage, to look again at a Supplementary Estimate and to ascertain if we need more funding for these bodies? It is €338 million at present. Can we add to that to enable them to balance their books this year? One of the key issues to emerge at the Committee on Budgetary Oversight, of which I am a member, is that we must have realistic-----

The Tánaiste to respond. Deputy Broughan knows the rules.

-----and fully costed health budgets. That is critical.

We are moving in the direction of making sure that the health services Estimate is accurate and that we do not have a substantial Supplementary Estimate at the end of each year for healthcare provision. This is where we are moving to. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, has made huge progress on that this year. It is, however, difficult because every time I answer questions in this House Deputies are looking for more money for healthcare outside the Estimates-----

It is because the Government is not spending the money it has.

-----and we need to respond to that and do-----

It is due to incompetence.

-----and therefore have to introduce Supplementary Estimates. We must try to shrink that number by being more accurate in predictions 12 months out, while at the same time recognising that healthcare will need more and more money every year. This year the HSE has allocated €1.9 billion to the disability service programme. In context, this is an increase of almost €350 million since 2016. We continue to raise expenditure in the area of disability, and this will continue as demand continues.

The issue of section 38 organisations versus section 39 organisations, and the request for recategorisation from section 39 to section 38 status, is a complex issue for the Government. It is a very expensive problem to solve and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is involved in this conversation, as is the Minister, Deputy Harris. I will ask the Minister if he will meet the disability action coalition. I would be very surprised if that would not happen before the end of the year.

The Tánaiste will be aware that the Irish Farm Film Producers Group, IFFPG, is a not-for-profit body approved by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to run the national farm plastic recycling scheme. Farmers understand and appreciate the necessity to properly dispose of farm plastic because of its potential to inflict huge damage on the environment. Farmers fully co-operate with and are willing participants in the scheme. All producers of farm plastic participate in IFFPG by paying a levy per tonne of plastic sold on the Irish market. The scheme then collects the waste plastic from farmers by way of farm collections or, more typically, the farmers can bring their plastic to bring collection centres where they are charged by weight.

A third source of income for the IFFPG in previous years has been the resale price of plastic to third-party recycling facilities outside the jurisdiction. The farm waste plastic market underwent a dramatic shift in January 2017 when the Chinese recycling market closed abruptly. There are other recycling facilities available in Europe, which our operators cannot afford to access. We have this ludicrous situation here because Ireland is the only country in Europe whose regulator has designated this type of plastic as amber waste material. The current Irish designation is amber, which attracts significant and stringent transport requirements and charges. These regulations are imposed by the National TransFrontier Shipments Office in Dublin City Council. In contrast, the status across Europe is that farm plastic is designated green and enjoys free movement with no additional costs.

A combination of closure of the exports to China and the non-viability of transfer to other European recycling centres has left alarming stockpiles of plastic in the hands of IFFPG and private businesses. It is now inevitable that such plastic will have to be exported from the jurisdiction to be recycled at a considerable loss. No Irish recycling facility is equipped to deal with such significant levels of farm plastic recycling. We now have, therefore, an enormous amount of plastic sitting in gigantic piles in several locations around the country. These mountains of plastics are growing daily and, ironically, have become a threat to the environment. They must be seen to be believed.

During its tenure, the IFFPG has collected quantities of waste farm plastic far in excess of its target. It is currently collecting approximately 70% of available plastic. The balance of the plastics on the market are collected by private Irish businesses. These independent operators are subject to the same regulation as the IFFPG but do not receive any portion of the financial levy paid by farmers. This is not a fair or equitable situation and leaves the independent operators at a financial disadvantage.

In light of the current market conditions, will the Government acknowledge that it is time for a policy review in respect of farm plastics, including: establishing a strategy for building a national farm plastic recycling facility; and reviewing the export status of farm plastics? Will the Government also ensure the equitable distribution of the producers' levy among all licensed assemblers and shippers of plastic, in circumstances where the IFFPG benefits from 100% of the levy on all farm plastic, even though it collects only 70% of the plastic?

This is quite a technical issue and I will ensure the Deputy gets a good response in writing also. I will address some of the issues now, as flagged by Deputy Lowry.

The legislative framework for the import and export of waste in the European Union is set down in very clear regulations in the European Parliament and the Council. Under the waste management and shipment of waste regulation 2017, Dublin City Council is designated as the national competent authority for the waste exports and imports. The National TransFrontier Shipments Office, NTFSO, was established under the auspices of Dublin City Council.

It is important to clarify that used farm plastics are not categorised as hazardous waste. The NTFSO has determined that used farm plastics can be shipped in accordance with green procedures, as opposed to amber procedures, provided that used farm plastics have undergone treatment at an authorised facility in Ireland. This treatment includes processes such as sorting and washing that result in the removal of contaminants like sand, soil, grit and stones from the plastics prior to export. Unprocessed used farm plastics are subject to the prior notification and consent procedures set down in EU regulations, which apply to the shipment of amber listed waste. There is an issue between amber and green listed waste and I accept that this has a real consequence for where one can export to. Differentiating the two is the cleaning mechanism to make sure that, effectively, pure farm waste plastics are being exported.

The Deputy referred to the IFFPG. It does a very good job for farmers in respect of collection and making available 235 bring centres annually for farmers to bring waste plastics. Yes, there is a challenge in that it is proving more difficult to export to some of the markets we previously exported to. Bord na Móna has opened a recycling facility in Littleton in the old briquette factory, which has reopened in a partnership between AES Bord na Móna and the Sabrina Manufacturing Group. This facility now recycles farm waste plastic, which had previously been exported, into plastic pellets that are used in the production of plastic films. Currently 24 people are employed at the facility but it is intended to increase this number to 40. A submission is being prepared to increase the intake of waste plastics to 50,000 tonnes. This will see a further 20 jobs on top of that next year. We are building capacity at home to recycle farm plastics in an environmentally sound way. There are also export options under a green category rather than the amber category, but it has to be cleaned first.

I accept that a good job is being done in collection for recycling, but the problem is that we are collecting this plastic and it is piling up. It has no place to go. Anybody who looks at this sensibly would say that the classification method is a nonsense. This plastic waste is usually covered with nothing other than muck or dry clay. It should be classified as green. Will the Tánaiste ask the authorities in the city council if this waste could be reclassified as green?

Private sector operators should have pro rata access to the moneys collected through the levy. As it currently stands, IFFPG has a monopoly on all moneys collected, even though it only handles some 70% of the plastic.

In circumstances where the IFFPG has substantial net assets and cash in excess of €3.7 million on hand, it should be tasked with establishing an Irish recycling facility and supporting places like Littleton in the private sector. These types of initiative would be logical and would use the moneys held by that company on behalf of the State. In fact, they are farmers' moneys and should be better spent. The Government needs to acknowledge that while the management policy in respect of the collection of plastics over the past 20 years has been good, it has also been an exercise in short-term thinking dealing only with the collection of farm plastics. There is no long-term strategy but that is what we need to consider.

I will re-emphasise the point that farmers and the group that they pay into, the IFFPG, have done what seems to be an efficient job. One does not see much in the way of farm plastics being disposed of inappropriately any more. The collection hubs and the collections from farm yards, which I understand are organised and paid for by the levy, work well. I also understand that what has changed in recent months is the ability to export large volumes to China, resulting in large amounts of farm plastics being, as the Deputy suggested, in storage. We need to manage that at home in terms of an increased capacity to recycle the plastic appropriately, which is a viable business.

On the questions of where the levy should go, who should be able to access it and whether it is possible to recategorise amber waste as green waste without going through an expensive washing facility, I will ask the Minister to revert to the Deputy directly.