Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Disabilities Assessments

As the Minister of State knows, the primary medical certificate is issued by the HSE and is a declaration to say the holder is severely disabled and-or a permanently disabled person. This certificate is required for the purposes of the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994. A primary medical certificate is only awarded to people with a very high level of disability. Holders of the certificate automatically qualify for a disabled parking permit. The primary medical certificate also provides a tax relief or fuel rebate for disabled drivers and passengers. Reliefs may also be used to help disabled drivers adapt their vehicles.

Qualification for the primary medical certificate is subject to one of several conditions, for example, being wholly or almost wholly without the use of both legs, or being wholly without the use of one leg and almost wholly without the use of the other leg. The conditions go on like that and it shows us how archaic the system is at this stage, that these are the criteria which are still used regarding qualification.

I am led to believe the HSE is considering the matter of primary medical certificate assessments in the context of its revision of the HSE recovery and restoration plan. In reply to a recent parliamentary question, the Minister for Finance stated:

Following approval of the Finance Act 2020, which provides for the medical criteria for the Disabled Drivers Scheme in primary legislation, a comprehensive review of the scheme, to include a broader review of mobility supports for persons with disabilities and the criteria for qualification for the Scheme, will be conducted this year. On foot of that review new proposals will be brought forward for consideration.

I have many examples of people who are discommoded by the scheme. This scheme has been frozen for quite some time and it is hoped this review will come forward, but I have my doubts. For example, one gentleman, who has just turned 50, suffers from idiopathic Parkinson’s disease, dystonia, which is severe cramping, and dyskinesia, which is an involuntary movement.

He applied for the certificate in June 2018. The medical officer assessed him at home and told him on the day that he would not qualify under the criteria. He received the refusal letter on 27 November 2018. He was told he would not qualify until the criteria change. This gentleman had to get a loan to buy an automatic car as he was no longer able to drive a manual vehicle. No supports were available for this man and his family even though he had a registered carer.

Another example is a woman in her late 40s who is registered with the Irish Wheelchair Association and was refused a primary medical certificate. She had an accident in 2007 and has had multiple back surgeries to allow her to be able to walk. She has bolts and screws all over her back. If she was to lie down on a floor, she would not be able to get back up. She is in chronic pain, unable to work and finds walking a challenge. The last operation she had was in 2015. She lost the use of her left leg for over a year but movement has partially returned. She is unable to use public transport. This is a scheme she would benefit from but she does not satisfy the criteria. She has applied many times and been refused.

There is no review process for these applications. An applicant can appeal but will have to travel to the Disabled Driver Medical Board of Appeal in Dún Laoghaire for a hearing. Before Covid, it was taking a year for appeals to be heard and at that stage, when people are in chronic pain, they cannot travel what is a long distance in some cases. A review system should be set up and made accessible in each county, similar to the social welfare appeals that are called for oral hearings.

In September 2019, the Minister for Finance stated that he had no intention of reviewing the criteria that allowed people to qualify for the scheme. A new functional scheme needs to be put in place without delay because there are many people who would benefit. As a society, we should make sure people benefit from this scheme and contribute to our society by being able to purchase vehicles and secure transport for themselves.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. He has outlined some difficult cases he is aware of and there are many such cases throughout the country.

The disabled drivers and passengers scheme provides relief from vehicle registration tax and VAT on the purchase and use of an adapted car, as well as an exemption from motor tax and an annual fuel grant. The cost of the scheme in 2020, excluding motor tax, was €67 million. The scheme is open to severely and permanently disabled persons, as drivers or passengers, and also to certain charitable organisations. In order to qualify for relief, the applicant must hold a primary medical certificate issued by the relevant senior medical officer or a board medical certificate issued by the Disabled Driver Medical Board of Appeal. Certain other qualifying criteria apply in relation to the vehicle, in particular that it must be specifically constructed or adapted for use by the applicant.

To qualify for a primary medical certificate, an applicant must be permanently and severely disabled with a physical disability. The terms of the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994 set out the following medical criteria, at least one of which is required to be satisfied in order to obtain a primary medical certificate: be wholly or almost wholly without the use of both legs; be wholly without the use of one leg and almost wholly without the use of the other leg; be without both hands or without both arms; be without one or both legs; be wholly or almost wholly without the use of both hands or arms and wholly or almost wholly without the use of one leg; or have the medical condition of dwarfism and have serious difficulties of movement of the lower limbs. I think everyone would agree that is language from a different era. None of us would write medical criteria like that in this day and age but that was in the legislation, which is now subject to the recent Supreme Court decision.

The medical criteria for the tax concessions available under the scheme have changed over time. When the scheme was first introduced in 1968, the legislation only allowed for one medical ground. In 1989, four medical grounds were added. In 1994, one additional medical ground was added. The Supreme Court decision of 18 June 2020 found in favour of two appellants against the Disabled Driver Medical Board of Appeal's refusal to grant them a primary medical certificate. The judgment found that the medical criteria set out in the regulations did not align with the regulation-making mandate given in the primary legislation to further define criteria for severely and permanently disabled persons.

On foot of legal advice, it became clear that it was appropriate to revisit the six medical criteria set out in regulation No. 3 of SI 353 of 1994. In such circumstances, primary medical certificate assessments were discontinued until a revised basis for such assessments could be established. The medical officers who are responsible for conducting the assessments need to have assurance that the decisions they make are based on clear criteria set out in legislation.

In order to allow for assessments to recommence, the Minister for Finance brought forward an amendment to the Finance Bill to provide for the existing medical criteria in primary legislation. Following approval of the Finance Act 2020, the HSE has been informed that medical assessments can recommence from 1 January 2021.

The scheme is still in operation. All persons or charitable organisations can currently access the scheme. While some assessments have taken place this year, some of the key medical officers involved are tied up with the roll-out of Covid vaccines and that has led to a delay. The HSE has confirmed that the community medical doctors and their teams are predominantly deployed on Covid at the moment.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. I am glad he acknowledged the archaic language used in the scheme and the fact it bears no relation to the difficulties people live with now and for which they need support. The Minister for Finance has opened up the scheme because of a court action. He was forced into it, basically. I am wary that we might not see changes coming forward for this. It is vital that we do and that we make sure it happens.

The Minister referred to significant tax expenditure in a reply we received to a parliamentary question. The Government ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities but not the optional protocol. Furthermore, it does not provide the necessary resources to give disabled people rights. That is what this is about. Disabled people are often an afterthought for governments. We talk about encouraging disabled people to participate in society but then put barriers in their way. It is not good enough any more and we need to address it.

The examples I highlighted are just some stories of many. I am sure every Member of the House has more stories. It shows the draconian rules implemented by government. Donegal is a rural and isolated county and has among the highest forced car ownership in the country. Given that the county is so badly served by public transport, what are disabled people supposed to do? If they are not granted relief to purchase a vehicle, how will they get those supports?

It is urgent that this scheme be reviewed and a proper system put in place to ensure disabled people can access what should be theirs as of right. I believe there would be a return to the State from that. The Minister referred in his answer to the costs of doing this. There will be a return because people will be able to go out and participate in our society.

Again, I thank the Deputy for his comments. All Deputies have encountered this issue in their constituencies over many years. We are all familiar with it.

Given the Supreme Court decision, the temporary measure the Minister put in place to put the medical criteria in primary legislation was, to some extent, a swift move within a couple of months and the scheme got up and running, narrow as it was. At least the scheme was not suspended ad infinitum after the Supreme Court decision. It was good the Minister moved as quickly as possible but everybody recognises that there is need for review of the scheme.

The Department is carrying out preliminary work, including the examination of the main issues which will frame the scope of the review. Officials have been engaging with other Departments in the context of other ongoing work in mobility supports. It is envisaged the review group will be established shortly and will include stakeholders from other Departments, the medical board of appeal and other representative groups.

One of the first questions I asked before coming in today was how many people are involved in the scheme. Last year, the scheme supported the purchase of 5,500 new vehicles. Many of the people availing of the scheme have done so for a long time and are getting new cars. We need to know how many people would like to be in the scheme but are not.

The best indication we have is that there are at least approximately 17,000 people in the scheme because that is how many fuel grant scheme payments were made in 2020. There are 17,000 in the system as we speak, based on the fuel grant applications, and they are the most serious issue. I will urge my Department to move as quickly as possible with other Departments to complete the review.

Common Fisheries Policy

Last week, as the Minister is aware, more than 60 vessels steamed up to Cork Harbour. Fishermen are very concerned about their livelihoods and the future of the industry. They handed a letter in to the Taoiseach with seven points of concern. I know a lot of these people. They are salt-of-the-sea people, as opposed to salt-of-the-earth people. They are decent, hard-working families who are concerned about the future. They are concerned about the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP. They say Ireland has not been allocated a fair share of fish quotas that reflect the contribution of our fishers across the European Union. They are also concerned about the Brexit trade and co-operation agreement, TCA, between the UK and the EU. They say it is unfair and unjust and penalised Ireland's fishing industry. They are worried about the penalty points system. We have had this debate back and forth on a few occasions. They maintain that it should only be applied to licence holders and skippers following a court conviction. They maintain the fact that there is no appeal mechanism for it is unfair.

They maintain the revoking of Ireland's fish landing and control plan by the European Commission is impacting on the reputation of the entire Irish fishing industry. They take issue with having to weigh the fish on the quay side, de-ice the fish and then re-ice it and bring it on from there. They say it is unsafe as there are no hazard analysis and critical control point, HACCP, controls. I ask the Minister to comment on that.

The fishermen are concerned about our fishing grounds at Rockall. They want a review of the migrant workers atypical scheme. They also want the Brexit adjustment reserve fund, of which €1.2 billion is said to be available to Ireland, to be used to redress the damage to the Irish fishing industry caused by the unfair loss of quota. A compensation package should be assessed and paid on the basis of the loss of earnings that will accrue from generation to generation and year after year in the future. The Minister might comment on that as well. What is the situation with respect to the €1.2 billion?

A lot of families around the coast, from Dingle to Wexford, are very concerned about the CFP. In the previous debate we had a discussion about wind energy off the coast but a lot of these families are worried about whether their future will be sustainable and if they will be able to survive or if they will have to stop fishing altogether. In industries like fishing and agriculture we need to attract young people to keep the business going and to keep it viable. It is very hard to attract younger people if there is no future or no wage at the end of a week. We know how difficult and how challenging it is for fishermen to go out into the Atlantic when the seas are rough and to bring in fresh fish that we all like and enjoy.

I am very interested in hearing the Minister's comments on these points and what he can do to reassure fishermen about their future, that they will have an income and they will be able to put food on their own tables as well as food on other tables, and that they will be treated more fairly, as they see it. Could the Minister indicate if he is in constant contact with the Irish South & West Fish Producers Organisation? What can he say to reassure those families about the future of their industry?

I thank Deputy Stanton very much for raising this issue and for giving me an opportunity to update the House on it. I saw the flotilla on the news coverage last week and I recognise the frustration among fishermen that led to it. I hope to address some of those issues here in the House tonight. The main points raised by the fishing industry during the demonstration on 26 May relate to: the inequitable burden on Ireland in terms of the quota transfer to the UK following Brexit; Ireland's share of quota in our 200 nautical mile zone; and issues concerning EU fisheries controls.

The impact of Brexit on Ireland's seafood sector, and the coastal communities dependent on it, is understandably a major issue of concern for the sector. However, this impact would have been far greater had the Barnier task force agreed to UK demands, or had we been in a no-deal scenario which would have seen all EU vessels barred from UK waters and subsequent displacement into Ireland's fishing zone. However, that is not to diminish in any way the very real impact that exists, which amounts to a 15% reduction in our national quota between now and 2026. The aggregate final transfer by Ireland to the UK under the trade and co-operation agreement is estimated at be €43 million.

I assure the House that this Government intends to continue to keep the focus on the disproportionate quota reductions for Ireland. I have raised the matter of inequitable burden sharing for Ireland at EU level, most recently at the May Agriculture and Fisheries Council held last week, and I will continue to do so whenever an opportunity arises.

Regarding the out-take from Ireland's 200 miles exclusive fisheries zone, over the period 2011 to 2015 average landings of all species amounted to just under 387,000 tonnes with an approximate value of €444 million. Of that, Ireland accounts for 42% by weight and 36% by value. I am seeking an update for more recent years and will publish the data when I receive them. I am pursuing every opportunity at EU level to increase the available quotas for our fishing fleet. As I have previously advised the House, I am committed to doing all possible through the upcoming review of the CFP to secure additional quota, where possible, for Irish fishers.

Fishers also raised the issue of fisheries control. The monitoring and control of fishing vessels within Ireland's exclusive fisheries zone are matters for the Irish control authorities. Under the Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006, all operational issues of this nature are exclusively for the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, and the Naval Service. As Minister, I am expressly precluded from getting involved in operational matters such as this. The SFPA is currently engaged with the sector on these matters.

The impact of Brexit has been a major blow for the Irish fishing industry, but I am convinced that there is a sustainable future for the sector. There are opportunities for growth if we invest in and add value to our seafood sector, and there is a strong commitment from the Government to do this. My objective is to work with the industry to grow the sector in the years ahead. My Department's action plan for 2021 sets out the priority actions to be implemented this year to drive the development of a sustainable, competitive and innovative seafood sector. Importantly, I also set up a seafood sector task force, which brings all voices in the sector together, to advise on how we can invest in and develop the sector in the future. I anticipate receiving the interim report from the task force shortly. I assure the Deputy and the House that this Government is committed to working with the seafood sector to adjust to the impact of Brexit and to ensure a clear path for the growth of the sector in the years ahead.

I thank the Minister for the work he is doing in this area and encourage him to continue in the strongest possible way to assist the fishing industry. I wish to make two points in particular. Could the Minister comment on the revoking of Ireland's fish landing control plan by the European Commission, whereby the fish have to be weighed in many instances on the quay side, to be de-iced, weighed and then re-iced again? It strikes me as being very strange and perhaps even unsafe.

I understand €1.2 billion is said to be available to Ireland from the Brexit adjustment reserve fund. Could the Minister indicate if any of this could be used to address the damage to the Irish fishing industry caused by what the Minister acknowledges is an unfair loss of quota? Is any compensation package available to fishermen from the fund to help them? I would like the Minister to address the two questions on the revoking of Ireland's fish landing control plan and the Brexit adjustment reserve fund. Has the Minister been able to secure any funding from those moneys to assist fishermen at this time?

Could the Minister comment on the future of the fishing industry in Ireland? He acknowledged that it is under a lot of pressure. There is a lot of stress and concern there at the moment. I commend the fishermen on the demonstration in Cork the other day. It was respectful and well organised. They linked up with all the authorities to cause minimum disruption to everybody while getting their message across. They recognise that others have to make a living as well. Unfortunately, they may have to do it again to draw attention to the real concerns they have.

They do not want to be doing this as they want to be out fishing. I await the Minister's response.

I thank the Deputy. I will deal first with the final point, which was the respectful nature in which the fishermen made their protests and their point, and I want to recognise that as well. They certainly made their point very strongly.

As I said in my opening contribution, any sector that has been impacted in the way they have, coming out of Brexit, where 15% of quota is to be lost between now and 2026, would be massively frustrated, and that is certainly a source of massive frustration to our fishing sector. The fact a no-deal Brexit would have been worse, or what the British Government was looking for in negotiations would have been worse, is only small consolation given the fact there is a 15% impact. As I recognise that very strongly, I have set up a fisheries task force to advise on how we can invest in the sector to mitigate the impact of Brexit, alongside the efforts I will make at European level in regard to addressing burden sharing and, importantly, to support the sector financially to grow and to mitigate the impact of Brexit in the time ahead. I will be very much advised by the fisheries task force on how to go about that.

On weighing at the pier and the revocation of the control plan which facilitated weighing in factories, that has undoubtedly posed a very significant challenge for many fishermen. It is a decision the European Commission has taken following on from an administrative inquiry that it carried out. The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority has the legal and operational responsibility in this regard and it is engaging with the sector to seek to address the impact of that decision. It recently outlined to the Oireachtas committee its intention to work towards developing a new control plan.

I fully understand the impact this will have, particularly for the whitefish sector. In the wider sense, I will work with the sector in every way I can to deal with the many challenges that face it at the moment and to help it grow into the future.

Child Abuse

I want to express my disappointment that the Minister, Deputy Foley, is not present. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, for dealing with the matter.

I have raised the issue of redress for victims of historical abuse in Irish national schools numerous times in my five years as a Deputy. I have spoken specifically in regard to survivors of sexual abuse at Creagh Lane national school in Limerick. I am deeply frustrated by the glacial pace of progress on this issue so we can imagine the frustration of the survivors. To quote Professor Conor O’Mahony, the Government special rapporteur on child protection, he recently stated that we are quick to criticise other countries who ignore international law but our Government has openly flouted a decision of the European Court of Human Rights on its liability for sexual abuse for seven and a half years and counting.

It is disgraceful how long these men have been waiting for answers. In 2009, their abuser was convicted but they were excluded from any redress. In 2014, Louise O'Keeffe won her case in Europe. The fact that she had to bring her own State to the courts of Europe is a shame on all of us. The men from Creagh Lane travelled to Brussels in 2017 with the then MEP, Liadh Ní Riada, and myself, and they highlighted their case at the European Parliament to a number of MEPs. In 2018, the Government of the day had to be defeated in a Dáil motion from Fianna Fáil to ensure that the obnoxious prior complaint requirement was waived. The then Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, apologised to victims in July 2019. That same summer, the Minister, Deputy McHugh, stated he was happy to meet with the survivors of Creagh Lane and he said that it is what we do next that counts. What we did next was to erect new barriers to redress and no meeting has taken place.

To move on to the Thirty-third Dáil, in July 2020, I raised the issue directly with the Taoiseach, who said he would meet with the Department of Education that week with the intention of providing me with a timeline for the roll-out of a new redress scheme. In September of the same year, the Taoiseach told my party leader that we were still awaiting the outcome of the review. We are still waiting. Since then, I twice raised the issue with the Tánaiste in December 2019 and in March of this year. My party raised the issue and I subsequently wrote to the Taoiseach in March 2021 but, to date, I have not received a reply.

They are no longer young men. Their childhood and youth was stolen from them by their abuser. Those who were abused did not just suffer in childhood and this violent intrusion affected many throughout their lives. For some, there were family breakdowns and they were robbed of an education. They carry the ramifications of this evil with them every single day. They were children and now they are ageing men. Some, unfortunately, are not with us anymore as they have passed away. They do not have time to wait for an outcome. They should not have to wait this long for a decision on redress. This is about a sense of closure to the trauma they have lived with for their entire adult lives. These men feel utterly abandoned by the State. Is it any wonder when we consider how callously the State has treated them?

In 2015, an ex gratia payment was offered but claimants were required to prove a prior complaint of sexual abuse had been made. This was impossible. Thankfully, in 2019, Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill reviewed this and deemed it to be a wrong interpretation which closed off redress to many sexual abuse survivors. In the Dáil in 2019, the then Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, made an apology to the survivors on behalf of the State. It was important and long overdue. The apology was appreciated by the survivors and suggested to them that action would follow. I stated as much in my remarks to the House that this action and work was needed. It is now June 2021, 23 months later, and there has been no progress at all on including these men in the redress scheme.

There should not have been a need for review for the former pupils of Creagh Lane. Their abuse was proven in court and the onus of prior complaint has been rightly removed, yet these men had to fight for every inch they have travelled on this journey towards justice. They have been outside the gates of Leinster House protesting, they have had to talk about these painful incidents with the media and they have travelled to Brussels to highlight their mistreatment. The State made Louise O'Keeffe jump through the courts system before she was provided with justice. Is the Department playing a new game? To take almost two years to complete a review suggests it is. I ask the Minister to use the weight of her position to fast-track this review or to intercede directly to ensure redress is provided to the former pupils of Creagh Lane.

I thank the Deputy for setting out the timeline from his perspective. It is important to say the legacy of sexual abuse against children, whether in residential institutions, day schools or in any other setting is harrowing. I understand the review of the ex gratia scheme is ongoing and it is the Minister, Deputy Foley’s intention to bring proposals to Government shortly in this regard.

It has always been the contention of the State that it bears no strict liability for abuse in day schools, given the unique context of ownership and management of the schools in the system. This has been strongly supported by key rulings in the domestic courts relating to the proceedings brought by Louise O’Keeffe against the State in 2005 and 2009. Following the Supreme Court judgment, 203 cases against the State were discontinued by litigants with a commitment by the State that costs would not be pursued against them. In 2014, as noted by Deputy Quinlivan, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the State bore partial responsibility for what happened to Ms O’Keeffe because it had no system in place to act on the complaint that had already been made against her abuser. In response, and without legal obligation, the State settled the 22 cases where prior complaints had been made and not acted upon. It also opened an ex gratia scheme for those who had already discontinued their cases - there were 203 cases of those - and therefore had no way of coming back into the court system to establish their case that a prior complaint had been made against their abuser and not acted upon because of a lack of a system to address such a complaint. The scheme received 50 applications, none of which was successful.

The State appointed an independent assessor, retired High Court judge, Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill. The role of the independent assessor was to assess cases of those who applied for the ex gratia scheme but were declined by the State Claims Agency. In 2019, Mr. Justice O'Neill was asked to review 19 cases which had not been successful in their application to the scheme. He concluded that 13 were entitled to a payment from the ex gratia scheme. These applications were originally declined because they failed to furnish evidence of a prior complaint. The State undertook to abide by the determinations of the independent assessor. All 13 applicants whom the independent assessor determined should be entitled to a payment from the ex gratia scheme have been offered payment. The current position is that 16 offers of payment have been made and I understand that, to date, all 16 have been accepted. The other six cases referred to the independent assessor are not entitled to a payment from the ex gratia scheme because they failed to meet the additional criterion of having discontinued their litigation cases. It should be noted that the report of the independent assessor is not a legal ruling or judgment.

It is important to recognise the scheme is addressed towards a specific cohort of historic discontinued day school sexual abuse cases which were impacted on by the European Court of Human Rights judgment in the O’Keeffe case.

The crux of the Deputy's question was on the ex gratia scheme. Work on this was delayed for a period due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the Department of Education and the Office of the Attorney General are devoting significant resources to progressing this matter and there has been intensive engagement on the most appropriate revisions for the ex gratia scheme, including examining in great detail the complex legal questions involved.

I thank the Minister of State for her response but it seems from her remarks that these men are no closer to achieving an answer on this. They still do not know if they are included in the review of the scheme, despite numerous parliamentary questions we have put in. The Taoiseach himself has met these survivors. He made both public and private commitments to them on this. He was vocal on the matter in opposition and before the general election. The time for review has long passed. These men deserve and, as a matter of fairness, must be provided with redress. It is long past the time for the Government to act. The abuser of these men was convicted in court in 2009.

I will ask the Minister of State some questions and I would appreciate direct responses. Will she confirm that the ex-pupils of Creagh Lane are to be included in the redress scheme? Does she anticipate the review being extended further? Will she provide me and, more importantly, the survivors with a date by which the review will be completed?

As the Minister of State will be aware, the State is facing a court case on 7 July. The matter needs to be addressed before then. The State cannot bring all these people in front of the courts; it is so unfair. Frankly, it is embarrassing the State is resisting and prevaricating on many of the issues of redress and the survivors see no alternative but to go to court to get justice that should be awarded. The Minister has to intervene to stop this. I ask the Minister of State to give the survivors a definite answer, give them hope and peace of mind and not to let the State fail these citizens again. The former pupils of Creagh Lane do not need to be included in any review or any other scheme. Their case is clear cut. There is a conviction and, if the political will is there, the issue for them can be resolved. I hope we can get a better answer than the Minister of State gave in her first reply. It was very disappointing to come back with legalese. We are dealing with just 19 people specifically in the Creagh Lane case. It is clear cut with a conviction in court and commitments from the Taoiseach that he would intervene personally. We need to hear answers on that.

I hear the Deputy's concern and his genuine compassion for the people on whose behalf he is speaking. It is important to stress the issues involved are highly sensitive and complex and therefore require careful deliberation before any proposals can be finalised or brought to the Government. It is important to have a complete awareness and understanding of the extent of the issues that are arising, the number of people who could potentially be involved, the legal implications of any course of action, and an accurate estimate of likely costs before a new or modified scheme is determined. As I mentioned earlier, my understanding is the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, will bring a proposal to the Government. The review is ongoing and the Minister hopes to be in a position to bring forward a modified scheme once the review is fully completed.

I am not in a position to comment on individual cases or schools. I am aware, however, that survivors of day school abuse are pursuing cases through the civil courts and are receiving settlements either through the courts or on an out-of-court basis. I am not in a position to comment on whether it could be extended in the future or to give a date. I can only reiterate that it is a priority for the Minister.

Recognition is important. As Deputy Quinlivan noted, the former Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, apologised on behalf of the State in July 2019. It is important that everyone is looked after as well as they can be. Having said that, the issues I outlined must be taken into account.

Seirbhísí Oileán

Beidh spéis ag an Leas-Cheann Comhairle san ábhar seo freisin. Tá baile Chill Rónáin suite ar Inis Mór nó ar na hOileáin Árann mar is ceart a rá. Tá scéim bheag séarachais i seilbh Uisce Éireann i gCill Rónáin a dhéanann freastal ar thithe comhairle contae a tógadh ansin blianta fada ó shin. Thóg sé píosa fada go dtí gur ghlac Uisce Éireann go raibh freagracht air i dtaobh na scéime seo a ghlac sé faoi dheireadh. Taobh amuigh de sin, níl aon scéim séarachais ar an mbaile beag seo, baile go bhfuil bocht i dtaobh foráis faoi agus a dtugann go leor daoine cuairt air. Tá sé spéisiúil a thógáil san áireamh fiú nach bhfuil na leithris poiblí atá ag an gcomhairle contae ceangailte le scéim séarachais poiblí ach le ceann beag príobháideach.

Le tamall fada anuas, tá mé ag scríobh agus ag scríobh ag an EPA faoin gceist seo agus de réir mar a thuigim tá sé ag feidhmiú faoi dheireadh le rud éigin a dhéanamh faoi ach is paisteáil atá i gceist. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil cás cúirte - níl a fhios agam céard faoi go díreach - le bheith ann an mhí seo. Tá an cás go ginearálta faoi shéarachas ach níl a fhios agam cén chóras nó céard faoi. Is cuma cén chaoi a bhreathnóimid air, níl ach réiteach amháin ar an bhfadhb seo, is é sin go dtógfar scéim séarachais ceart as an nua do bhaile Chill Rónáin ar fad.

Caithfimid a thógáil san áireamh go dtagann suas agus anuas le 2,000 duine isteach go dtí an céibh i gCill Rónáin sa samhradh. Caitheann an chuid is mó de na daoine sin am i gCill Rónáin, baineann siad úsáid as na saoráidí ann, bíonn béilí ag go leor acu ann agus níl aon scéim séarachais ann. Beidh breis turasóirí i mbliana mar go bhfuil bád nua ag dul ag tosú as Gaillimh a bheas in ann 400 nó 500 paisinéir a iompar ach arís níl tada ag tarlú.

Tá mé tar éis an cheist a thógáil roinnt uaireanta le hUisce Éireann agus tá sé admhaithe aige go gcaithfidh sé rud éigin a dhéanamh faoin scéim bheag atá aige féin i láthair na huaire. Le barúil chomh dona agus atá cúrsaí, dúirt sé go bhfuil conraitheoir fostaithe aige anois le breathnú ar an percolation area mar a thugann sé air, le feabhas a chur air agus le fuíolluisce a stopadh ag luí ann. Sin rud nach mbeadh duine ag súil leis ar oileán de chloch aoil ach rud atá ag tarlú le fada. Sin chomh dona agus atá rudaí.

Caithfear an obair ghearrthéarmach a dhéanamh ach teastaíonn scéim nua ar fad a chlúdódh an baile ar fad agus gach séarachas príobháideach sa bhaile agus a ligfeadh don bhaile fás. Is mór an náire don oiread sin daoine de mhuintir na háite agus do dhaoine ag teacht isteach agus séarachas Chill Rónáin mar atá sé.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta Ó Cuív as an gceist seo a ardú agus as an seans a thabhairt dom dualgas Uisce Éireann a leagan amach sa chás seo. Seo obair thábhachtach agus tuigim gur ábhar imní é go áitiúil i gCill Rónáin, Inis Mór. Tá brón orm ach tá an freagra as Béarla.

As the Deputy will understand, this is a matter for Irish Water in the first instance. Since 1 January 2014, Irish Water has had statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local levels. Thus, the prioritisation and progression of individual projects, such as those outlined this evening, are a matter for determination by Irish Water.

My Department has made inquiries specifically with Irish Water on the issue mentioned by Deputy Ó Cuív. I understand that there is a small waste water treatment system serving a small number of houses in the village and that it is managed by Irish Water, along with its partner, Galway County Council.

I am informed that Irish Water has been investigating complaints and that works required to improve this facility are currently being reviewed. A programme of works is currently being planned. It is anticipated that these works will be completed in the second half of 2021 to alleviate the concerns of residents in the area. Further information is available from Irish Water's website, or by telephone on 1850 278 278. Details of all Irish Water's plans and projects are available at

Significant and sustained investment is needed to ensure the continued operation, upgrading and repair of the country's water and waste water infrastructure and to support economic growth in the years to come. In this regard, as part of budget 2021, my Department secured funding of over €1.4 billion to support water services. This includes €1.3 billion in respect of domestic water services provision by Irish Water. This overall investment will deliver significant improvements in our public water and waste water services, support improved water supplies right across Ireland, including rural Ireland, and the islands.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit as ucht na ceiste seo a thógáil, ach caithfidh mé a rá go bhfuil an t-eolas a tugadh dó thar a bheith easnamhach. Mar a dúirt an tAire Stáit, tá €1.4 billiún do chaitheamh ar sheirbhísí uisce agus séarachais i mbliana agus ní beag an méid é, ach tá lúb ar lár anseo, in ainneoin an méid a dúirt an tAire Stáit.

Nuair a chuir mise an cheist ar Uisce Éireann an raibh i gceist aige scéim séarachais ceart a chur isteach i gCill Rónáin a chlúdódh, mar shampla, séarachas na comhairle contae ó na leithris poiblí agus áitreabh eile ar an mbaile, séard a dúirt sé liom ná nach féidir leis scéim séarachais a chur isteach i gCill Rónáin mar go bhfuil rialacha ag an rialaitheoir a chuireann cosc air aon scéim séarachais nua a fhorbairt. Léifidh mé amach go díreach, focal ar fhocal, an rud a dúirt sé:

At present, there is no approved funding model for such situations and Irish Water currently has no remit or responsibility to fund such schemes under CRU funding rules. [Mar a dúirt siad fhéin] Irish Water is not responsible for the operation of any other waste water system on Inis Mór other than through providing for the aforementioned Kilronan cottages. Irish Water has no plans to provide a waste water treatment plant at Kilronan village.

An bhfuil i gceist ag an Aire Stáit na rialacha a athrú chun gur féidir scéimeanna uisce, mar a dúirt an tAire Stáit féin, a chur ar fáil ar na hoileáin? Faoi láthair, is cosúil go bhfuil cosc ann ó thaobh an rialatheora de ar é sin a dhéanamh.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta Ó Cuív arís as an gceist faoi chóras séarachais i gCill Rónáin, Inis Mór, Árainn a ardú.

I understand how the lack of satisfactory water services and sewerage systems can affect communities, business and the environment. I take on board and appreciate the frustration of the Deputy in this regard. His last point is significant. It is one on which we will follow up in our inquiries with Irish Water.

The works planned in the second half of 2021 are an immediate priority for Irish Water. Any future wider works for the village can be considered in the context of longer-term planning. We will raise this as a matter of priority. In the meantime, the Government is committed to ensuring substantial funding is provided to Irish Water under the review of the national development plan to continue its programme of upgrading water services. It is important to state this includes rural areas and our islands.

We are making progress on the challenges we face and additional moneys were announced today for ten additional waste water treatment plants under the recovery and resilience fund. There is significant investment required but I appreciate the points raised by Deputy Ó Cuív, particularly on this case. We will respond to him in that regard.

The Dáil adjourned at 10.36 p.m. until 9.12 a.m. on Wednesday, 2 June 2021.