Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

School Accommodation

The Topical Issue matter is to not move the Firhouse Educate Together secondary school to Citywest. We are taking a collegial constituency-wide approach to this and I know the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, would want to be associated with it. Unavoidably, our colleague, Deputy Duffy, cannot make the debate.

I congratulate the Minister on her appointment. As she knows, this is a time of crisis. We have very limited time in the Topical Issue debate. I know many viewers of this debate are interested in what my colleagues have to say. Parents will have received a response from the Minister's private secretary regarding queries today. I want to highlight a number of points there. The response states that the only way Firhouse Educate Together secondary school can stay in the accommodation in Gaelscoil na Giúise is if An Foras Pátrúnachta and the board of management of that Gaelscoil allows this. That clearly is an opening. The letter continues to state that the Department remains in ongoing communication with the patron body.

I tabled a parliamentary question today and will not get a response for a few days. What will be the cost to the Department to relocate the secondary school to Citywest? Surely that money would be better spent in providing whatever additional accommodation is needed for the school on site in the Gaelscoil in Firhouse. As the Minister knows, many of the students have additional needs, but my colleagues will cover these, and we can come back in response when we hear her reply.

The proposed move from Firhouse for Firhouse Educate Together secondary school to Citywest is not workable and threatens the very future of the school. It will not work for the students who have additional needs and their families. It will not work for the students who currently walk to school and their parents drive somewhere else to work and so on. It might not work for some of the staff who currently work there at a time of real pressure for teaching staff, special needs assistants, SNAs, etc.

I wish to read a short message from one of the many people have sent me. It states:

I chose Firhouse Educate Together as a secondary school for my son as the ethos of the school is very much in synch with the values I wish to install in my children... [U]nfortunately if this school moves to Citywest from its current location in Firhouse, I will be forced to make the decision to enrol my son, who has learning disabilities, to a school which is closer to our home.

That is the case for very many families there. That is why they are saying, "Save our school." Will the Minister agree to meet representatives of the campaign and do everything she can to help?

I congratulate the Minister. The way this goes is that we will ask her questions and she will read from a script. All the Deputies in the constituency are concerned about the move. There was no real consultation with the school itself. I have tabled parliamentary questions on that, and I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about it.

Roughly 40% of the students have special needs and the school is unique in that sense. The idea of moving the school from Firhouse to another location 10 km down the road may not sound like an awful lot. However, with traffic in the morning, it can take from an hour to an hour and a half depending on where people live. All the parents do not come from Firhouse. There are bottlenecks on certain roads and so on. There are major difficulties in that regard.

It is the first challenge for the Minister, and I would like to invite her to come to the constituency to look at this school and where these vulnerable children are going to be asked to move to.

I thank the Deputies for raising this matter and acknowledge the unity they have presented here. Firhouse Educate Together secondary school opened in September 2018 in vacant classrooms in the permanent school building of Firhouse Educate Together primary school on an education campus shared with the permanent 16-classroom school for Gaelscoil na Giúise. In September 2019, the Department put in place arrangements with Gaelscoil na Giúise and its patron body, An Foras Pátrúnachta, to use some vacant classrooms in the Gaelscoil for Firhouse ETSS. The Gaelscoil and its patron body, An Foras Pátrúnachta, has informed the Department that, due to additional accommodation requirements in the Gaelscoil, it is not possible for the secondary school to continue to operate in that building for the coming school year.

The Department is in regular communication with the school's patron body, Educate Together, on this and other accommodation matters, and the patron body keeps its school communities updated on an ongoing basis on such matters. In December 2019, having considered various proposals by Educate Together in the local area which were deemed either unsuitable or unavailable, the Department advised the patron body of the proposed accommodation at the Citywest education campus. The proposed building at Citywest is State owned and within the Department's control. It has provided high-quality, fully serviced, permanently constructed accommodation for two other primary schools up until last September. There are currently more than 30 permanent classrooms, full staff facilities, ancillary rooms and an external play area available for occupation before the start of the 2020 school year. The accommodation will also serve two new schools opening in the Citywest area this September.

While this accommodation is in the school catchment area adjacent to the Firhouse-Oldbawn catchment area, it offers the possibility of ready-made permanent and cost-effective accommodation on an interim basis for Firhouse Educate Together secondary school. The Department offered the school's management and patron body an opportunity to view the accommodation in December last and remains committed to working with and supporting the school to minimise insofar as possible any impact this temporary move may have.

The Department has informed the school that appropriate transport will be facilitated from Firhouse to the interim accommodation at Citywest while the school is in Citywest. In December, the Department authorised Educate Together to explore the possibility of providing temporary accommodation on a site in Stocking Lane in Firhouse. A proposal submitted to the Department in April was priced at an estimated €3.6 million and requires a planning application with all the time and risk that entails. However, it was never a realistic proposition that such accommodation would be available in time for the start of the coming school year.

In April 2020, the Department completed the acquisition of the permanent site for Firhouse Educate Together secondary school at Ballycullen Green, Oldcourt Road, Dublin 24 and is currently progressing the project for the permanent accommodation as part of its fast-track design-and-build programme. The first key step in this process has been reached with the acquisition of the site. The next key step is securing planning permission. Once planning permission is secured this will open up the possibility of providing temporary accommodation on this site at the earliest opportunity. However, it will not be possible to have this accommodation in place for September 2020.

The facility in Citywest currently offers the greatest level of certainty with regard to the provision of ready-to-occupy, high-quality accommodation for Firhouse Educate Together secondary school on an interim basis for the 2020-21 school year, pending its return to Firhouse when suitable accommodation becomes available there.

With regard to the possibility of Firhouse Educate Together secondary school staying in the accommodation in Gaelscoil na Giúise, the Department remains in ongoing communication with the patron bodies concerned regarding all options. I thank the Deputies for raising the matter.

This move to Citywest will kill the school. The Minister is a proud Kerrywoman. We had a brief chat beforehand, for which I am grateful. The move from Firhouse to Citywest is equivalent to moving a school and asking its children to move from Tralee to Listowel with Dublin city-style traffic.

For me, at the moment, and without wanting to put the Gaelscoil in any position, that is the solution. If the Department was looking at a solution on Stocking Lane with a budget of €3.5 million, a fraction of that money could be used on the existing site to provide additional temporary facilities for the school. Like my colleagues, I invite the Minister to meet representatives of the school. Each of the Deputies who have raised this matter is willing to meet the patron body of the Gaelscoileanna if that would assist and if the Minister could facilitate that. We ask also the Minister to meet representatives of the school in Citywest. Could we meet the Minister about the matter at some stage in the future because, in six weeks' time, these students will be expected to go back to school? The Minister should be sincerely assured that the move to Citywest will kill this school.

Deputy Paul Murphy should be aware of the time. There is only one minute left.

Deputy Seán Crowe is surely also entitled to a minute.

There is only one minute left. The Deputies should cut to the chase.

I will take 30 seconds. This plan will not be acceptable. The Minister is facing a formidable campaign of opposition that has collected more than 2,000 signatures. The campaign has community support and there was a large online public meeting on the issue last week. I do not think the Department can just wash its hands of this and say that the choice is up to the patron bodies. The Department must intervene and find a solution. I appeal to the Minister to agree to meet with the board of management and the campaign.

The big question is how to get 40% of the students up to another site. That is the big difficulty and challenge. The school's representatives are saying to us that it is not viable for the school in the long term to put parents into that situation. Those parents are going to move their children out of the school and that will put pressure on other schools in the area.

Logically, if one looks at the distances involved on a map, it does not look that far but the reality is that it will mean a lot for parents. There are pressures on people. We are supposed to be climate friendly and so on. This plan means extra distance and pressure. Additional resources are going to have to be put in place by the families affected.

I am concerned about the vulnerable children. We need to look at other alternatives. The Stocking Lane alternative would be the best choice but that seems to have been ruled out by the Department. I appeal to the Minister to come and look at conditions on the ground because she will come to the same conclusions that we have.

I have listened to the Deputies and heard what they have said. I appreciate there is unanimity among the Deputies from the area on this issue. The Deputies have raised points from the perspectives of parents and children and I have heard what they have said. All I can say at this point is that my officials in the Department will continue to have ongoing communication with the patron bodies concerned and all options will be examined.

Special Educational Needs

I welcome the Minister to the House and congratulate her on her appointment. The summer provision programme for 2020 is hugely important because it assists, in particular, children who have profound learning difficulties, such as autism and so on. I welcome the fact 5,000 more children will participate in summer provision this year than did last year. The Minister knows children with disabilities have been profoundly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and those children and their families have had a difficult time as a result.

St. Mary's special school in Drumcar, County Louth, is wonderful. I am aware of an eight year old child who goes to that school. A bus goes to that school during normal school times. The family of the child was delighted to hear that summer provision would apply to the school but the problem is there is no public bus or bus provided by the school for summer provision. The family is being asked to pay €35 each way for the child to get a taxi to the school.

I am not blaming anybody and people are very happy that summer provision is happening. A small number of families do not have the money and cannot afford to pay €35 in taxi fares. The problem is that, given their financial position, the family cannot beg or borrow that money. I accept that home provision is available but it is not suitable or possible for this family unit.

I ask the Minister to look again at the regulations for the small number of families who want their child to attend the special school they are used to attending. The school in question is approximately 15 miles away from the family home and there is no way the family can pay taxi fares or afford to go into debt to do so. It is not possible for the family to pay €70 and they cannot borrow that amount.

I will be happy to hear the Minister say in reply that she will consider the issue. I would say a very small number of families are affected but it would assist them and give them great happiness if their child was able to participate, for the first time in months, with the other children whom they were with pre-Covid-19. The child in question is profoundly disadvantaged, non-verbal and autistic. It would be a considerable boon to the family if he could attend at summer provision.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. Before I address the specific issue, I would like to provide the Members of the House with an outline on the extent of the school transport service.

School transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department. In the 2019-2020 school year, more than 120,000 children, including 14,200 children with special educational needs, were transported in over 5,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country, covering over 100 million km at a cost of more than €219 million in 2019.

The purpose of my Department's school transport scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from the school of children who reside remote from their nearest school. With regard to transport for the summer provision programme 2020, given the exceptional circumstances in planning for delivery of the programme and the shorter than normal timeframe in which to plan the school transport services, in addition to the expansion of the programme and coupled with the social distancing requirements as per health advice, the Department, unfortunately, was not in a position to provide school transport for the programme this year. However, my Department will provide grant funding to support families with the cost of transport arrangements for those children who are eligible for school transport and have been approved to participate in the summer programme.

The grant payment is based on the distance that a family resides from their child's school of attendance. The calculation is based on four trips per day - home to school and school to home, morning and afternoon - multiplied by the number of days a child attends school for that programme. The current rate of grant is 39.12 cent per kilometre for the first 6,437 km travelled and 21.22 cent per kilometre for each kilometre travelled thereafter.

Families who are already in receipt of the special transport grant for children with special educational needs will be paid as normal following completion of the summer provision programme 2020. Families who currently avail of a transport service will be contacted by the school transport section following the completion of the summer provision programme 2020 in regard to the arrangements for payment.

Families who are not in a position to make their own transport arrangements in order to avail of a school-based programme have the option of contacting the special education section of my Department with a view perhaps to inquiring about the home-based programme.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter, affording me the opportunity to provide an outline of the extent of the school transport scheme and to respond to the issue raised.

That is the same reply that I received earlier from the Department. I acknowledge the intent of what the Minister has said but I reject its content. I do not find that acceptable and I want to stress that these are children with exceptional needs, as I know the Minister acknowledges. There is no way the family in question can pay the bill and recoup the funding. I absolutely acknowledge that the scheme is there but this family cannot get €1,500 to pay for it. Home provision is not suitable to this family unit and there are reasons for that. This child will be left in a difficult and unacceptable situation.

I know the community welfare office service is available but one does not want to reduce people to going to a community welfare officer and putting out their hands to beg for something to which they are entitled. I ask the Minister to look at this matter again.

I do not know how many similar applications the Department has received or how many people are affected.

I have three constituents who attend schools in Louth who are affected by this. I ask the Minister to look again at it and see if there is some way of looking after them. It is unacceptable to them and to me that the Department cannot find a way in these exceptional circumstances where there is no public bus. They have no way of getting there without the taxi and they cannot pay for it.

I appreciate that the Deputy acknowledges the existence of the grant option and indeed the merits of this programme of which I am very supportive. I am not aware of the specifics of the three cases the Deputy mentioned. Perhaps he might make them available to my Department and my officials will take a look.

Covid-19 Pandemic

I congratulate the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, on his new post and genuinely wish him every success. Particularly with a Ministry such as Health, his success will be the success of the entire nation in keeping us all healthy. We do not need a reminder of how important our health service is or how well it has performed under the most difficult circumstances over the past months due to this awful pandemic. However, I remain deeply concerned about the provision, distribution and use of face coverings and face masks. I said it at the start of June when the previous Minister and the Government put a bit of energy behind the education on the use of face masks. It seemed that we might get something going and that the Government might really put its full force behind it, but that has not occurred. We were behind the curve then and we are even further behind now in July. I cannot find accurate figures for our face covering usage but Italy has nearly 84% face covering and Spain, where local authorities have been involved in the distribution and provision of face coverings for free, has around 64% or 65%. We are nowhere near that. I am concerned. Our transport workers are concerned. The National Bus and Rail Union, NBRU, has stated that its drivers are very worried that they are having people get on their bus at a time when the use of face masks is supposed to be mandatory but they do not have the means to enforce it. We are putting our transport workers on almost the same front line as our health workers. Our health workers are petrified and are calling my office and emailing me to say they are worried that not enough people are wearing face masks. This worry is gathering momentum and gathering steam. My big concern as we enter the autumn and winter months is that we may have a second wave or, more likely, super spreader events. They are likely to occur in shared transport, congregated settings, workplaces, pubs and clubs. That is where we need to get the message out.

The responsibility is on the Government and the Minister. Will the Minister commit the Government to a widespread distribution of face coverings to transport hubs, secondary schools, universities, congregated settings, workplaces and even to homes if necessary? Are there any plans for improved education initiatives along this line? I have received representations from eminent scientists and well respected television broadcasters who want to work with the Department of Health, and I have made representations to the Department, to put together educational television programmes. We may have had segments on current affairs shows but we have not had proper scientifically based programming to really hammer home how important it is for people to wear coverings to keep themselves, their families, vulnerable people and immunosuppressed people safe. The focus has been on getting the economy back up and running but there are people who are too scared to engage in their local economy, to go to a local restaurant or shop. Ireland will never get back on track until everyone feels confident enough to be able to engage in society and the economy and a big part of that, as well as the hand-washing, cough etiquette and physical distancing, is the use of face coverings. We are nowhere near where we need to be. Personal responsibility plays a big part but the Government needs to lead and the Minister is not leading at the moment.

I thank the Deputy for his kind words at the start. I really do hope we will all work together; it does not mean we always have to agree. Sorting out the healthcare system and making sure we get that care is something we all agree on. I am sure we will disagree on some of the hows and whens and so forth. I broadly agree with what the Deputy is saying. Like him, we listen to the doctors and the people who really know what they are talking about and they are saying, "face masks, face masks, face masks". They absolutely are. I want to agree with the broad sentiment as we all do in getting that message out.

The National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, provided guidance on face coverings in its advice to Government on the roadmap for reopening business and society. I am just going to go through it here. The NPHET advice sets out circumstances under which wearing of a non-medical face mask, which I think we are both talking about, is recommended. These include using busy public transport and we have regulations coming forward very shortly to put that on a statutory basis. I share the Deputy's concern that it has to be mandatory. There has been incredible compliance across the country. Look at how many people today have downloaded the tracker app. There is incredible buy-in. When we have a clear message and strong leadership, I think we will see the solidarity. We are putting public transport on a statutory footing for exactly the issues the Deputy has raised. Other circumstances set out by NPHET are when in indoor public areas such as retail, places of worship, cinemas and so forth; when visiting the homes of those who are cocooning; by people who are being visited in their homes by those who are cocooning; all visitors to residential care facilities; and indoor work environments where it is difficult to maintain a 2 m distance. That is something we can do here and probably on a night like tonight could have done without the restricted seating in the Chamber.

It is important to emphasise that the wearing of face coverings is an additional hygiene measure. It does not take the place of all of the other things that have to be done as well such as respiratory etiquette, washing our hands and so forth. They need to be worn properly in line with guidance. We have to wash our hands before putting them on and taking them off. The current NPHET recommendation is that the focus should be on increasing compliance, which is exactly what we are talking about, within the current recommendations for use. On 15 June, as the Deputy mentioned, my predecessor, Deputy Harris, along with the then Tánaiste and the National Transport Authority, NTA, launched a national communications campaign which outlines best practice for using the masks. The campaign is communicating on who should wear the masks in what settings and how to wear and remove the face coverings correctly.

In response to the Deputy's point on the Government distributing face masks, at present we do not have a plan to distribute face masks for a variety of what I think are quite sensible reasons. It is something we can keep under review. I think the Deputy nailed the issue in his opening statement. It is about compliance and about saying that on public transport it is the law and has to be done, so that one cannot by law take public transport without it. We have to get the message home on compliance. I am certainly open to considering if we need another push and if there are other ways. I am very much looking at where it is and is not working so there may be some very targeted communications in that respect. The face coverings are readily available in a lot of different places such as retail outlets, supermarkets, convenience stores, petrol stations and pharmacies. We can get them online. There is guidance on how to make them on the HSE website. I welcome the increasing trend in the numbers reporting they are wearing the coverings. According to the public opinion tracking research, it is currently 45% so maybe that provides a benchmark.

I have a concern as we go into August and September. I imagine the schools will be back in some fashion, although that is a whole other debate. Society will feel like it is moving even further towards reopening and we may feel further away psychologically from the pandemic. I want to continue to hammer home the need for the Government to be ten steps ahead of where society is as we head into the winter. We are going to have a re-emergence of seasonal 'flu; we always do and it always puts massive pressure on our health system. If Covid comes back it will double or treble that pressure. I do not want to have to wear a face mask on public transport or in congregated settings for the rest of my life.

However we need to get through this winter season. Maybe in the future we will need a traffic light system where if flu levels or Covid levels reach a particular level in our acute hospitals, the public are warned that it is amber or red and people should wear their masks on public transport, etc. Perhaps that is where we will go in the future, but in winter 2020-21 we need to protect our transport workers. We need to protect all our workers. There are workers in shops who have been told by their bosses not to wear masks. That is happening and it should not. They are sitting ducks during their eight-hour shifts because anyone can walk in with or without a mask. They need to be protected and we need to hammer the message home to employers that if they want increased footfall in their stores they need to look after their workers and protect them. All this will help to protect society and prevent our front-line health workers from having to go through what they have been through in the last months again.

I agree. According to our public opinion tracking research, the level is now 45%. I imagine that is variable. It is probably variable by public transport compared with retail, or by types of retail or different workplaces and different parts of the country. It will be interesting to see whether there are some areas where there is a lot of compliance. The solidarity and uptake in the measures has been extraordinary. We have got the virus in Ireland down to a really low level, one of the lowest in Europe. That is down to great leadership from people such as Dr. Holohan and some extraordinary work from front-line workers, officials in the Department and the HSE, members of An Garda Síochána and people further afield, such as the people keeping the shops open and keeping us all fed. There is a lot of buy-in. We all understand how awful it will be if there is a big resurgence and we have to put more restrictions in place. The tracker app will help. The recommendation not to engage in foreign travel - and where such travel happens, to travel to green-list countries only - will help. I think there will be a lot of buy-in and there has been a lot of buy-in. There was a lot of reporting about serious infringements of social distancing in Dublin city but the vast majority of the country was compliant. The same will apply around face masks. I am very open to taking another look at whether it is necessary to push further. We will keep under review whether it needs a statutory basis for things other than public transport which we have gone with. If the Deputy wishes to sit down with me or the officials, or send in ideas for what he would like to see, I ask him to do so. I would be happy to engage with him on it. I agree that we have to get the message out there that face coverings are one important part of our arsenal in fighting this awful disease.

Nursing Home Inspections

I congratulate the Minister on his new role and wish him the very best. I mean that. As others have said, many people are really depending on him and the system needs all the support it can get. I thank the Minister for coming here to answer questions on the extremely important issue of the Kilbrew nursing home and the care of Ultan Meehan. His family want this issue raised at the very highest level. There has been extensive media coverage of this case in recent days but it is important that we remember there is a family at the centre which has lost a son and a husband. Our thoughts are with Mary Bartley Meehan and the wide circle of family and friends of her late and beloved husband, Ultan Meehan, and her late and beloved son, Adrian Bartley.

I was shocked and appalled when the details of Ultan Meehan's case came to my attention. Many but not all of the details are now in the public domain. Anyone who has read or heard them will be shocked and appalled. In early June, I contacted the HSE, HIQA and the previous Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, on the case. I spoke with officials in HIQA who advised me that an on-site inspection was being conducted on 4 June. This was a planned inspection. I was advised that I would receive a copy of the report in due course. I await that report. The HSE responded to say that it has no governance or oversight over private nursing homes as they are private organisations. The then Minister responded on 9 June to outline the legislative and regulatory framework and to acknowledge that HIQA has no legal role in examining individual complaints but takes a risk-based approach to regulation. He confirmed that he had requested the HSE to follow up directly with the nursing home in question and asked that the Department of Health be apprised of the situation and any actions taken. That report was to be shared with me but I have not yet received it.

This case raises several issues. It raises very serious questions around the care provided to Mr. Meehan at Kilbrew nursing home. It raises immediate questions about the care provided to other residents, past and present, in that setting. My clear understanding is that there is more information to come to light. It raises serious questions about the wider issue of regulation and oversight of private nursing homes. It will come as a shock to many people that the HSE has no role in the oversight of private nursing homes while HIQA cannot examine individual complaints, even those of an extreme nature.

I have specific questions and would appreciate specific answers. When was the Department of Health or the HSE first notified of concerns at Kilbrew nursing home or relating to the care of Mr. Meehan, and by whom? We understand that nursing homes around the country were under great pressure and crying out for help during Covid-19. Was that the case with Kilbrew? Has the Minister or his Department received the aforementioned reports from HIQA and the HSE? If so, what did they say about the situation in Kilbrew nursing home and any actions taken? How does the Minister propose to proceed? Will he commit tonight to a full independent rapid review of the clinical care provided to Ultan Meehan and related issues at Kilbrew nursing home? This should be done immediately and that is the wish of the family. It should be headed by a doctor, a consultant specialist in the area of medicine for the elderly. Will the Minister commit to that tonight?

I thank Deputy O'Rourke for raising this and acknowledge his kind words. The Deputy has raised this issue and continues to do so, and is advocating strongly on it. It may be useful if I read out the official position which sets out the statutory framework on what is happening. Before I do so, I will answer the Deputy's questions directly. I took down three, but I think there were more. On when the Department was told of the issues, I will find out for the Deputy. This question was not included in his original Topical Issue. I do not know the answer but I will find it and revert to the Deputy. On whether we have a report, none has yet been submitted to my Department. We will examine it as soon as it arrives. On whether we will commit to a full independent review of the care, that is not where we are at right now. Currently, HIQA and the HSE are investigating the issue and officials in my Department are liaising with them on it. I believe that is what we must do now.

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented challenges across our health service and none more than in older persons services. The health and safety of residents in nursing homes has been paramount in all our minds in recent months. The National Public Heath Emergency Team, NPHET, the HSE and HIQA have placed a focus on supporting older people from the outset of the pandemic. Every person who is supported by older persons services is entitled to expect and receive support of the highest standard. Quality care and patient safety is a priority and a continued focus and must always be delivered safely and to a high quality. Nursing home providers are ultimately responsible. We have regulators, the HSE, the Department and the Oireachtas, but nursing home providers are responsible for the care they provide to their residents. HIQA has been in place since 2009 as the statutory independent regulator for the nursing home sector, including HSE-managed and private nursing homes. It was established under the Health Act 2007 and has significant and wide-ranging powers up to and including the registration of a nursing home facility.

This means that a nursing home cannot operate as a nursing home without such registration. It has essentially graduated powers up to the point of shutting nursing homes down. This responsibility is underpinned by a comprehensive quality framework comprising of the restriction regulation, care and welfare regulation, and the national quality standards. HIQA, in discharging its duties, determines through the examination of all of the information available to it, including site inspections, whether a nursing home meets the regulations in order to achieve and maintain its registration status. Should a nursing home be deemed to be non-compliant with the regulations and the national quality standards, it may either fail to achieve or lose its registration status. In addition, the chief inspector has wide-ranging discretion in deciding whether to impose conditions of registration on nursing homes.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, nursing homes continue to be regulated by HIQA, which, under the 2007 Act has the legal authority to examine the operation of any facility under its remit. In addition, a series of enhanced measures have been agreed by NPHET for long-term residential care settings and these are being implemented at the moment.

As for this particular nursing home, I can confirm that the Department has received correspondence, including from the Deputy, on this matter and has forwarded these details to HIQA as the statutory regulator for nursing homes and to the HSE for appropriate action and follow-up. I also have asked my officials to engage with both HIQA and the HSE to follow up on this matter.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I return to the issue of the reports and planning as to where we go from here. That is really important and I do not want to leave that point. The family seeks an independent review of this case and this needs to remain on the table here, notwithstanding the fact that the HSE and HIQA are involved in this. Can the Minister indicate what the HIQA and HSE timelines are? A month has now passed. Is the Minister satisfied that this is an isolated incident? I do not believe that he can be confident that it is and this is the concern that people will have in this regard. Can the Minister further outline what plans he has for the broader regulatory framework for our nursing homes? This case highlights an anomaly, a loophole and a gap in the regulation and oversight. While many legal experts are calling for robust and strong safeguarding legislation, I principally require some clarity on the timeline. What timeline can we expect here and when will a report be available and published? On that point, was the Kilbrew nursing home crying out for help? Did it make repeated contact with the HSE or it is the case that this went below the radar? I implore the Minister, in my final ten seconds, that as this is shocking stuff, it needs the full weight of his Ministry to see it resolved.

I thank the Deputy and I am with him in this regard. I wish to acknowledge the pain and suffering of the Meehan family. The situation and the case we all saw reported is heartbreaking and shocking. I cannot begin to imagine what the Meehan family have been going through over the past few months. We owe it to them and to every resident in every nursing home to ensure there is a consistently high quality of care and that when people see issues, they can raise a flag in the knowledge that those issues will be taken seriously and will be reacted to.

The Deputy and Members will understand that I cannot go into too much detail here in public about any individual case, even though this case has been widely reported and I acknowledge the Deputy is speaking with the permission of the family involved.

I can stress that since the outset of the pandemic, HIQA has had in place a quality assessment process. All of the designated centres and the children’s residential centres are formally contacted on a regular basis by an inspector of social services to assess how they are coping, the welfare of the residents, any concerns they may have and any deficits identified in continuous high quality care. HIQA, as the regulator, has also completed a risk assessment of all nursing homes. It has not been able to inspect all nursing homes but it has completed the risk assessment. On 6 April, it commenced focused Covid-19 infection prevention and control hub to provide nursing homes with the guidance and support they need.

In answer to the Deputy’s direct question as to timelines, I will find out that information for the Deputy. As it was not part of the question, I do not have the information to hand but I will find out that information for the Deputy.

The other matter worth mentioning is that as the Deputy is aware, an expert group will report to me very shortly on the nursing homes. It is looking at what happened across the system. We all will be interested in what happened. What I am most interested in for now is what learnings there will be to ensure that everybody in those nursing homes, both those who work in them and the residents, is safe and secure. I will continue to work with the Deputy on this issue and will keep him up to date on how it is all going.

I thank the Minister. That concludes the debate. The Dáil now stands adjourned until 10.30 a.m. tomorrow in the Convention Centre. Gabhaim buíochas libh.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.
The Dáil adjourned at 11.50 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 8 July 2020.