Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

I appeal to all leaders to adhere to the allocated time.

The lack of affordable and secure homes is the biggest problem facing our people for the past decade. We have a generation whose lives have been defined by this housing crisis. When the Taoiseach came to power six months ago, he said that his Government would be the Government to sort out housing, but that promise has fallen flat. Rents remain sky-high, houses remain unaffordable and the council waiting lists still heave with applicants waiting for years on end. At the sharpest end of this crisis, the number of people using homeless services has increased. We know that the true level of those experiencing homelessness is at least 20% greater than official Government figures would show.

We are facing into 2021 and people are asking where the ambition is. Where is the sense of purpose from the Government to fix housing? Where is its sense of urgency to change the direction and to turn the tide of this crisis? People do not see it because it is not there. Ordinary people are paying the price. They pay it by forking out obscene rents to landlords, by living in the box room of their parents' house, and by still not being able to afford a deposit despite saving every single available euro. Far from fixing housing, the Government is making the same mistakes that got us into this mess in the first place and it is doing it with its eyes wide open. It is making mistakes that will ensure more children call a bed and breakfast home, more families face the prospect of homelessness and more young people will give up on ever owning their own home. The Government's lack of ambition was seen again on Monday when the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, re-announced his cost rental plan. A total of 350 units was the best he could do, 50 fewer than promised in the budget. Meanwhile, the Government persists with its belief that €380,000 is affordable for a three-bedroom house.

It is not enough just to build houses; we have to build houses that people can really afford. The Taoiseach seems to have serious trouble understanding what actually is affordable for ordinary workers. That is because his idea of affordability is linked not to public need for decent housing but to the need for profit. I think he is afraid to do the right thing because he does not want to upset developers and landlords. We only have to look at the fact that the direct spend on affordable housing by local authorities and approved housing bodies in 2021 will be a miserable €35 million. Meanwhile, the Government puts €1 billion into the pockets of landlords by subsidising social housing tenants in the rental market. The Taoiseach is truly in an ideological cul-de-sac. At the centre of the Government's housing failure is the absence of its long-promised affordable housing plan. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, first promised that the plan would be published in September. Then it was promised for after the budget. Then it was promised for some time in the autumn. Now the Minister is saying he will bring this plan forward to the Government soon, whatever that means.

That is not good enough. People now are crying out for action. Fianna Fáil had four years to prepare for the housing Ministry. A group of officials in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has been working on an affordable housing policy for two years. The Taoiseach has been in charge for six months. My question is clear, it is simple and it is this: where is that affordable housing plan?

If I may, a Cheann Comhairle, I would like to take the opportunity briefly to wish Deputy McDonald and all Deputies in the House a very happy festive season and a safe one. This might be my last opportunity to speak. I wish a happy Christmas to the Ceann Comhairle and his team, the superintendent, the head ushers and the entire team here who have kept our national Parliament operational during a global pandemic, a once-in-a-century event. The voice of Parliament is central to our parliamentary democracy. I genuinely want to thank all of the staff and all of the team here for enabling it to happen - albeit in the convention centre as well as the Dáil - under really significant restrictions for them, including putting their own health at risk in terms of the cramped conditions in Leinster House, which was never built for a pandemic. I just want to thank all and sundry for that help and assistance to enable Parliament to operate. I wish everyone, with their families, a safe, peaceful and happy Christmas.

On housing, I say to Deputy McDonald that Fianna Fáil has hit the ground running and the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, has hit the ground running. In the very first month, in the July stimulus, for example, funding was provided to being back 2,500 voids. These were houses that were in disrepair within local authority ownership. We said that we were not going to waste a moment and that we would give money and funding to local authorities. That has worked and those 2,500 houses will be occupied by the end of this year. There has been tremendous progress in regard to that specific initiative alone. The Minister has exemplified this practical and get-down-to-work approach.

In regard to the budget itself, the largest ever budget for housing in the history of the State has been provided. The largest and most ambitious social housing programme in the history of the State has been provided for. Some 12,750 social houses will be provided next year. That is separate from the housing assistance payment, HAP, process. A total of 9,500 of the social houses will be new builds, with the remainder in terms of leasing. That is a very significant provision.

Affordable rental has been committed to and it is now going to happen. The first will be Enniskerry, which was conceived of many years ago and is now coming on stream. Deputy Kelly would have been piloting it at the time. It is coming on stream now, with others. In fairness to the Minister, he has got it going and it will happen. Sinn Féin has voted against affordable housing in this Dáil on numerous occasions. It voted against the first-time buyer's grant, for example. A total of 19,500 people have benefited from the help-to-buy scheme or the first-time buyer's grant. This has enabled them to afford to buy houses. The Deputy voted against that every time. Her party consistently voted against it. Under its scheme, any couple earning over €75,000 would be out of the equation and would not be able to participate in the proposals it put forward.

The Land Development Agency legislation will be brought to the Government very shortly. The Minister has worked very hard to develop the shared equity scheme, and fair play to him. The draft heads of the Bill for that scheme are ready as well. The Deputy also mentioned HAP, which has been with us for nearly a decade now. The bottom line is that this budget had to provide for additionality in terms of the HAP scheme in order to provide housing for people. The Deputy voted against that and has consistently done so. If her vote had succeeded, it would only have exacerbated the plight of the housing crisis for many people out there who need assistance and who need help. The Government has provided up to €3.3 billion in this budget to enable us to deal with all aspects of the housing problem. In particular, in regard to homelessness, there has been a reduction in homelessness figures, down to 8,600 compared with more than 10,400 last year.

That number will fall further by the end of the year. Critically, there have been 6,000 exits from homelessness this year. That is considerable movement out of homelessness.

Finally, I refer to the Planning and Development Bill 2020. Perhaps the Deputy can confirm she will vote for it this evening. This will extend provisions to protect tenants from homelessness until next April. That is important legislation. The Minister has been active across the board. He has worked with all the NGOs and approved housing bodies on the homelessness question. I have said to the homelessness and housing sectors, particularly the approved housing bodies and local authorities, that we will deliver. We want them to improve their capacity. The real challenge facing our housing efforts next year will be the capacity to build houses.

The Taoiseach is indulging in the tried and tested strategy of his predecessors. Not only is he trying to explain away the housing crisis, he is trying to live in an extraordinary world of make-believe where there is no crisis. However, the crisis is real. I have rehearsed previously with the Taoiseach the fact that average rents in Dublin are now above €2,000. The average rent nationwide is now above €1,400. I have said to the Taoiseach very directly that his idea of an affordable price for a modest family home does, €380,000, does not tally with reality. I have challenged him before and I challenge him again. We will continue to challenge the Taoiseach until we see real delivery on housing at pace. That means building houses to scale, building affordable homes and building public housing on public land. That is what is required.

We also need a moratorium on evictions into homelessness and real and substantive rent control. Those are the measures the Taoiseach and his friends in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will not take. They have not come off the path of allowing housing policy to be led by developers, landlords and vested interests. It is for the haves. The Government is now facing into 2021 with no coherent plan.

That is just empty rhetoric and nonsense. Housing construction is not being led by developers. I have said repeatedly that 18,000 houses will be built this year if we can get there. Covid-19 has had a negative impact. More than half of those houses will be built by public initiative. Next year, 12,750 houses will be socially delivered. Some 9,500 of those houses will be built by local authorities or approved housing bodies. The old political ideological mantra that housing policy is being led by developers is a complete untruth. It is not.

We need more houses built by the private sector, the public sector and approved housing bodies. It is time for local authorities to bite the bullet where particular schemes are concerned. They should take ideology out of the room and get some housing schemes delivered. Perhaps Deputy McDonald could commit that her party will stop objecting, as all parties should do.

I agree that this is a crisis. It is a crisis for many young people and many homeless people. I have always said it is a crisis. It will take some time to get to the bottom of it. We can only collectively deal with it if we take ideology out of the room, allow mixed-development schemes to go through and stop constantly objecting. Sometimes particular local issues can arise, but there is a consistent thread here - if a development does not fit in Sinn Féin's particular ideological prism it will not happen. Sinn Féin needs to loosen up in terms of affordability. That party's strictures exclude many people who desperately need help and support. Deputy McDonald has not addressed her consistent opposition to the first-time buyers' grant, from which 19,500 people have benefitted. I really would like her to confirm that she will vote for the legislation the Minister is bringing through the House this evening.

There is growing unease among all of us on the management of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland. Dr. Gabriel Scally, whom we all know well, said that if Northern Ireland was a football team, it would be in the relegation zone and the directors would be bringing in a new manager and coaching team.

It is deeply concerning to see ambulances parked in rows outside hospitals with the engines left running. The National Health Service, NHS, is at breaking point. The scale of the crisis in Northern Ireland is a situation we have never seen before. I am deeply concerned about how the Executive there, composed of Sinn Féin and the DUP, is dealing with this issue. We have reached a point where instead of playing politics, trying to be on both sides of many arguments, bickering and dithering, our Government needs to state very clearly that the Executive's way of dealing with this crisis is not working and is having a huge consequence for the rest of us on this island.

The infection rate in Northern Ireland is now four times the rate in the South. The difference in infection rates is alarming. Cork and Kerry have 14-day incidence rates of 25 per 100,000 and 30 per 100,000, respectively. In Northern Ireland, the local government districts of Antrim and Newtownabbey, Mid and East Antrim, Causeway Coast and Glens and Mid Ulster have all had 14-day incidence rates of 300 per 100,000 in recent days. In Mid and East Antrim the figure is more than 500 per 100,000. The people of the North have been let down. There has been a knock-on effect on our Border areas and further afield. The 14-day incidence rate in Donegal is the highest in the State at 225 per 100,000. My colleague, Deputy Ged Nash, has made serious representations on the situation in County Louth, where the rate is at 175 per 100,000. Cavan and Monaghan both have rates above 100 per 100,000.

We need action. The Taoiseach and the Government must make it very clear to the Executive, which does not have experience in making hard decisions, that it is going to have to change tack and quickly. I ask the Taoiseach to express his solidarity and that of all of the people of this jurisdiction with the workers and people of Northern Ireland, who are trying to deal with this issue. He should also express his deep unease with the strategy imposed by the Sinn Féin-DUP Executive in Northern Ireland. From our jurisdiction's point of view, this will have very negative consequences. He should offer whatever help is possible from our jurisdiction.

I agree with the Deputy that the situation in Northern Ireland, and indeed throughout Europe, is very worrying and concerning. Yesterday the Netherlands closed down before Christmas. Germany has done the same. The positivity rate in Northern Ireland is about 9%. It is not clear that testing there is at the same level as here. The numbers have been worrying for quite some time. There are now significant issues in emergency departments. In a week or ten days this may manifest itself in a shortage of beds. It is important to say that we are in solidarity with the people of Northern Ireland, who are going through a very difficult time right now. There will a meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council on Friday, which will be held virtually because of the Covid-19 situation. We will work with our colleagues on the Northern Ireland Executive. Any assistance we can offer will always be available.

There has been ongoing contact between clinicians in the two health systems either side of the Border, and my understanding is that the Minister of Health, Robin Swann, will bring proposals to the Executive. I think he has led well throughout this crisis. He has had to deal with a challenging situation. The Northern Ireland Executive is a multi-party Executive like our three-party Government here, and that creates its own challenges.

This also illustrates the exponential growth of this virus once it gets to a certain critical level. We in the Republic need to take note of what is happening in the North in how we behave as individuals and collectively. We should wear masks indoors and in crowded outdoor situations. Social distancing, washing our hands and proper etiquette are still as important as ever. From next Friday people will be allowed to go home. People will want to meet their grandparents and parents. To enable people to do so safely, all our behaviour from now on matters. Every contact matters. Once the virus gets to a certain level, it transmits very quickly thereafter and grows exponentially. We have a strong testing capacity; nonetheless we must be very vigilant now because what we are witnessing in Northern Ireland could happen here if we allow things to get out of control, which we will not do. We have had a period of severe restrictions for six weeks. At the Council of the European Union meeting last week I met prime minister after prime minister who told me his or her country was shutting down and bringing in more restrictions, while I was saying we had partially reopened because of that six-week restriction.

I take on board very seriously what Deputy Kelly has said. It is a matter of grave concern. The Border counties in particular are a worry for us. The numbers are higher in our Border counties than in the rest of the country. We are considering how we can provide greater supports and protection and whatever measures we have to take in the Border counties.

I am aware that the Northern Ireland Executive is a multi-party Executive. I am also aware that there is a North-South Ministerial Council meeting coming up. I raised this matter for that reason. I think the whole of Ireland was shocked by the pictures they saw last night. They reminded us of various times in our past when we had to send up our fire service to help out. We need a number of things. The Taoiseach needs to make it very clear to the Northern Ireland Executive that, from the point of view of performance, it needs to do much more. It needs to make hard decisions in the next 24 to 48 hours because the impact of this is not limited to Northern Ireland but will be here, across all the Border counties and further afield. I ask the Taoiseach to make that very clear. He might share with us the form of assistance he is thinking of when it comes to helping the people of Northern Ireland. Furthermore, what additional measures or help can we give to our Border areas to help them? Finally, do we have a plan - one is referred to in the roll-out that was announced yesterday - to ensure that once vaccinations start, and it is hoped they will start in this jurisdiction before the new year, we will have a co-ordinated approach across both jurisdictions as to how we will ensure consistency in the roll-out in order to help those Border areas in particular?

We will be in discussions with the Executive and will discuss the Covid situation on Friday. There are political sensitivities here, and one must always be mindful that whatever initiatives the Northern Ireland Executive takes, they are the Executive's initiatives. It has to own them and be comfortable in bringing them forward, even if that means further restrictions. It is to be regretted that we have not had complete alignment in respect of restrictions over recent months, but that is as it is. I am very mindful of the fact that the Northern Ireland Executive is responsible. It will have to deal with the situation as it presents itself and the advice it gets from Northern Ireland's chief medical officer and Minister of Health. The Government will meet weekly to keep an eye on the situation. NPHET and our officials will meet weekly to keep a constant monitoring and evaluation of our situation in tandem with what is happening in Northern Ireland. Deputy Kelly's point about alignment, particularly in the counties either side of the Border, is well made. Clearly, the evidence shows there are particular pressures because of the high incidence rate in the North, but we want to work in solidarity. Very often if one comes at such things externally and tries to tell people how they should do things, one gets a very quick response, so I do not advise that. We will work in solidarity, and any help we can give we will give.

I wish to raise an issue with the Taoiseach regarding the temporary wage subsidy scheme, TWSS, which was introduced last March to help small businesses, and all businesses, to try to keep their employees and the employers connected in order that they would not have to go onto social welfare or be let go from work. When this scheme was introduced, it was a very good scheme and helped a lot of businesses to stay afloat. However, I now have some cases coming to me in which, when Revenue did some checks, it found that some businesses did not fully meet the criteria in the sense that their turnover is supposed to be down by 25%. In a number of these cases, when the businesses did their projections they had no business in March. They looked at all the options and looked at the scheme that was in place. They decided that in order to keep the loyalty of the employer and the employee intact, they would go with the TWSS. In one case, the owners of a company took out an overdraft to look at other options to try to create business, which they did. Their online business grew substantially in the meantime, leaving them in a position whereby their company was down 17% or 18%, rather than 25%, on turnover. As a result of all of this, when Revenue checked up on the company in recent weeks, it asked it to repay all the TWSS it got. If this is the way we are doing business, we will drive these small businesses out of business in a very short time. I ask the Taoiseach to look at this with the Minister for Finance and consider how Revenue is looking to recover this money. These businesses have never defaulted. The sole purpose of what they did was to keep their business going and to keep their employees employed, but they are now being penalised harshly for that. They are not looking for anything for nothing; they are just looking for perhaps a graduated refund of some nature because they still have a loss in their business. There now seems to be a tactic of trying to get this money back before the end of this year. I think this will put a shiver down the spine of every small business if it is trying to remain in operation through next year. I ask the Taoiseach to look at this and give me his comments.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I reassure him that there is no tactic or strategy here to try to claw back revenue or anything like that. That is not motivating any actions on the part of the Revenue Commissioners at all. As the Deputy will be aware, between March and August 66,500 firms received payments under the TWSS. This amounts to approximately one third of all employers from 2019. Over 664,000 jobs have been directly supported over the period, and many more indirectly. The whole objective was to protect the viability of businesses and the jobs within those businesses and to enable them to come through this Covid period intact. That remains the objective of the scheme. It was originally meant to be in place for 12 weeks but was then extended until the end of the summer.

Then we moved into the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, phase. As a result of the novel situation around the reopening of the economy in the summer, we had to close down again. Changes were also made to the scheme to allow additional flexibility for employers.

In terms of the issues the Deputy has raised, he is correct that the subsidy was targeted at otherwise viable employers. As he stated, they are people who have never defaulted before. They had to demonstrate a 25% reduction in turnover during the second period of 2020. It was administered on a self-assessment basis whereby employers make a declaration to Revenue as to their eligibility for the scheme. Such declarations are subject to compliance checks by Revenue to ensure that the considerable sums given to employers under the scheme were in accordance with the provisions set down in legislation. Employers had to be able to show to the satisfaction of Revenue that the negative disruption led to a minimum of 25% of a decline in actual or predicted turnover. Considerable guidance was issued on the scheme, including Revenue's expectation that any employer availing of the scheme should be able to produce supporting documentation in respect of certain criteria if and when requested to do so, the overall principle being, of course, that Exchequer funds are targeted at genuine cases that meet the criteria. As with any area of tax compliance, it is very much in the interests of businesses to review their own behaviour and approach Revenue to resolve matters voluntarily before compliance action is taken.

The temporary wage subsidy scheme, TWSS, is under the care and management of the Revenue Commissioners, who are independent of Government in the administration of the scheme. Revenue has continued to work with employers and to take a practical and pragmatic approach to the administration of the scheme while also ensuring that it is fairly and consistently administered across all employers and in line with legislation. That said, the example and illustration raised by the Deputy is an interesting one in terms of an initiative taken by the employer who probably was not in a position to predict how well the online part of the business would go and is now in difficulty. I will raise the issues with the Minister for Finance who may, in turn, present them to Revenue just to evaluate the scheme, ascertain how frequent these issues are and what is the rate of such cases.

I thank the Taoiseach for his positive reaction. The important thing is that when these businesses were availing of the scheme, Revenue stated that it did not consider that any business needed to take professional advice or assistance in proving to the satisfaction of Revenue that the criteria were met. It was stated that Revenue would validate some employer eligibility for the scheme but, in so doing, it would adopt a reasonable, fair and pragmatic approach in considering whether the criteria had been met. That is the underlying issue here. These small businesses did everything in good faith. They exceeded the projections they made because the owners of the business rolled up their sleeves and looked around to see where they could get business. They found the business online and took out an overdraft to finance what they were doing. Now they find they are being penalised horrifically. It is something that needs to be addressed rapidly.

First of all, there will undoubtedly be ongoing consideration of the scheme. There needs to be an evaluation of the scheme, how it worked and its effectiveness. I have no doubt that it has been very effective in terms of supporting many businesses. As I stated, more than 66,500 firms received a payment under the TWSS, supporting more than 664,000 jobs. If the Deputy can submit the details of the cases to me and the Minister for Finance, that would assist in any evaluation, There genuinely is no motivation here to target or undermine people who applied in good faith under the scheme, given the situation in which they found themselves at the start of what has been an unpredictable global pandemic that no one could have anticipated. I do take the Deputy's point.

Brexit is a huge worry on the minds of many people in the Republic as the deadline is looming ever so near, with no agreement in place as we speak. There is no doubt that Brexit will impact on many businesses. While much preparation has been made for that impact, not knowing is the hardest pill to swallow right now. Agriculture will be hard hit. A recent Central Bank report stated that beef and sheep farmers will be the most economically vulnerable. It states that up to one third of farms could be forced out of business because of Brexit. The fishing industry will be most affected. The biggest shock of all is to see Michel Barnier negotiating with senior British officials and offering 18% of fish or more in a Brexit deal with the UK. I have asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach in the past two weeks whose fish Michel Barnier is offering but I have not received an answer. We all know it is Irish fish that are on offer, but there is no Irish Minister negotiating on our behalf in these talks with Michel Barnier as more and more rights in terms of Irish fish and waters are being thrown away, like successive governments have done for decades.

My question relates to Brexit and all those in this country who are suffering from pain or the nightmare of going blind. In October, I asked the Taoiseach about the cross-border directive. I have asked the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, and the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, about it in the past two weeks. I asked the Tánaiste about it last Thursday. All of them stated that an agreement is in place for taking cancer patients from Donegal to Derry and an agreement for taking cardiology procedures from the North to the South will be in place, which is great news. In reply to me last Thursday, the Tánaiste and leader of Fine Gael stated, "I cannot give as clear a reply as I would like [to the question on the continuation of the cross-border scheme] because some of these issues are still being worked out." He continued, "we are trying to put alternative arrangements in place to maintain the status quo when it comes to cross-border healthcare", but this has not been worked out yet.

More than 5,000 people availed of the cross-border directive last year for cataract, hip and knee procedures among others. I or any other politician would totally agree with the statement of the Taoiseach that these procedures should be carried out here in the Republic, but that is not happening. Belfast or Blind bus No. 64, organised by me, Deputy Danny Healy-Rae, Councillor Ben Dalton O'Sullivan and Councillor Danny Collins, will leave Cork on Sunday. It will be full of people desperately trying to get to the North before 31 December because no one knows whether any type of cross-border scheme will be in place by 1 January.

Will people in this country, be they from west Cork or Donegal, who are in dreadful pain because they are in need of a hip or knee operation or who are going blind and in need of a cataract operation and cannot wait for three to five years for surgery, be able to contact a private hospital in Belfast from 1 January to have their procedure carried out and then be reimbursed by the HSE? In other words, are all the necessary arrangements in place or is the Government still negotiating a new cross-border deal?

I admire the Deputy's ingenuity. He is aware these questions are supposed to be about just one topic but he managed to get fish and the cross-border directive into the question. I do not know whether it is blind fish that are being caught off the coast. Can the Taoiseach deal with this matter?

First, on Brexit, we have been working very hard to avoid a no-deal Brexit. The Deputy is correct in stating that the western regions and the Border counties in particular would suffer very severely from a no-deal Brexit, and farming would be very negatively impacted in terms of dairy, beef, sheep and all agricultural products. The impact would be very severe. As for fish, it would potentially be disastrous if there was a no-deal Brexit, because it would mean an immediate hit. Therefore, Michel Barnier is negotiating on behalf of 27 member states. I am sure the Deputy knows that. There are not 27 member state ministers on the negotiating team. He knows that. I do not know why he says what he says in the way he says it in terms of ministers. We have all fed into that process, of course, and the negotiating team know the Irish bottom line in relation to fisheries and what we are trying to achieve here. We are endeavouring to avoid a no-deal Brexit. Doing so is in the best interests of Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the other member states of the European Union. It is the common-sense and logical thing to do to avoid a no-deal Brexit. I would appreciate if the Deputy would confirm that it is his view also that we should avoid a no-deal Brexit.

On the issue of the cross-border directive, it was a European Union directive. I would like the Deputy to acknowledge that the reason it is coming to an end as a cross-border directive under EU legislation is because the United Kingdom has decided to leave the European Union.

There is no appetite in the Northern Ireland public health system to continue the scheme. We have to develop a scheme unilaterally. Essentially, two private hospitals in Northern Ireland provide these services. Last year, there were 7,800 applicants. More than 7,300 accessed care there with almost 98% of these patients accessing care in Northern Ireland. The remainder accessed it in the UK. That is the overall position. Irish patients predominantly travel to Northern Ireland to access healthcare under that directive.

The total value of the reimbursement was €16.6 million. That was the taxpayers' outlay in this regard, which is why I and the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, have approved funding for developing our capacity in the Republic to deliver more orthopaedic and cataract operations, in particular. We are protecting a range of cross-border healthcare measures even as the UK leaves the European Union, such as the treatment abroad scheme and the European health insurance card, for example, where there will be equivalence for Northern Ireland resident citizens. The cross-border treatment directive is different from those schemes. We are working on the issue and it will be continued administratively in the early months of next year.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply.

I thank the Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly - I always believe in calling a spade a spade - for sorting out the medicinal cannabis access for Vera Twomey's daughter Ava and for so many sufferers who desperately need access to this medicine. However, people are suffering from the worry of losing their eyesight. They are contacting me and other politicians to find out if they can access cross-border care of a different type from 1 January next. There is no point saying they may for a month or two or that it might or might not be in place. It is quite simple. The Taoiseach says there will be extra resources to have these procedures carried out in the South, which is 100% commendable, but it might not happen in places such as Cork. It might be a year or two before these surgical areas are resolved.

In the past week a Fine Gael Senator in south-west Cork said that this is resolved and that people can go to the North. How is it that he has information? He told the Southern Star newspaper I was scaremongering, that this is resolved and he asked what was wrong with me now. His leader has not said it is resolved. The Taoiseach has not said it is resolved, but that the Government and the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, are working on it. Will there be a cross-border scheme next year? A seamless transition is what we are seeking. I am not suffering from any of these illnesses, but I am asking for the people who are in need of these surgeries. Will there be a seamless transition from the current scheme? I acknowledge the UK is leaving the EU, and I am keeping my fingers crossed that an agreement can be achieved, but this is the concern we have this year. I would appreciate if this could be resolved in the coming days for the 7,000 people who will require surgeries next year, or is it resolved?

As I said, the intention is to continue this on an administrative basis first and then to see if we can introduce legislation to underpin it. Essentially, officials in the Department of Health are giving detailed consideration to the implementation of a unilateral cross-border directive type of arrangement. It cannot be the same because the UK is no longer in the European Union and it does not have to reciprocate. The cross-border directive gave entitlements to citizens to go into other European countries, get treatments and for those to be reimbursed afterwards, if the public health system here could not provide them. That falls when the UK leaves.

I acknowledge that approximately 7,700 have availed of the scheme. We do not want people shut off, particularly those in the Border counties where it is used to a greater degree. There will be a unilateral type of scheme or arrangement which will provide that Irish residents can continue to access services provided by private health service providers in the UK post the end of the transition period. We will continue on an administrative basis and then underpin it with legislation.