Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

An Garda Síochána

I appreciate the opportunity to raise this important issue and the Ceann Comhairle's decision to select it. I thank the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Deputy James Browne, for staying so late on a Thursday. As the Minister of State will be aware, in recent days, we have seen an increased amount of footage online and our offices are receiving an increase in reports showing a worrying rise in criminal activity, especially in Dublin city centre. We need to respond to this with a high-visibility policing presence, not just in the our capital city but throughout the country. I have been calling for this for months and I have had wonderful interaction on it with the Minister of State, the Minister for Justice, Deputy Humphreys, and previously, the Minister, Deputy McEntee. I am not calling for this for the sake of it but because it is working in the parts of the country adopting it.

I attended a meeting of the joint policing committee in my area, which is covered by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, the other week. The statistics released by the chief superintendent are telling. Where the level of patrolling in public places has increased, burglaries have reduced by 53% compared with last year, theft is down 23%, robberies have declined by 37% and bike and vehicle theft by 32% and 48%, respectively. Incidents involving antisocial behaviour and assaults have also declined, as have other crimes. The mountain bike unit has also been strengthened with eight additional gardaí, which is very important, especially in the mountainous region and parklands, given that people have been spending much more time in open spaces in recent months.

If we are to prevent scenes such as those circulating on social media and the reports coming into our offices, we need gardaí on our streets. It is what gardaí want to do. We need administrative civilian staff hired to allow our gardaí to get out on the street and provide peace of mind. Before this debate, I took a walk from Kildare Street to Parnell Square via the main thoroughfare of our capital city, O'Connell Street, during which I saw one member of An Garda Síochána on patrol. That is simply not good enough. It does not provide a sense of security or well-being. We have to ensure the new rostering arrangements that worked so well are put in place and the demands of the public and gardaí are met by management. We must have a high-level, high-visibility policing presence across our main thoroughfares. That will act as a deterrent and see early intervention in crimes.

We are seeing an undoubted, well-documented increase in the number of attacks on people from racial minorities. We have seen homophobic attacks and attacks on women. We all listened intently and with deep sadness to the details of a chilling trial in the United Kingdom, which led to Sarah Everard's murderer being put in prison for the rest of his life, and rightly so. That is why we look to An Garda Síochána to provide a sense of security. I call for the Minister of State to work with the Garda Commissioner and others to ensure we have a strong Garda presence on our streets and crack down as we reopen our society and economy in order that people - men, women and children - can feel safe walking the streets, day or night.

I thank Deputy Richmond for raising this important matter. I assure the Deputy that the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and I are aware of the effects of antisocial behaviour on our communities. We are also both aware of the importance of high-visibility policing and know people feel safe when they see the presence of An Garda Síochána in our towns and cities. The Minister met senior members of An Garda Síochána in Dublin City, as recently as last week, to discuss the issue raised by the Deputy. She also met representatives of businesses in Dublin city centre, as well as local representatives, to hear their concerns. The Minister and I will be in regular contact with An Garda Síochána, as we progress through the autumn and winter, to ensure actions are taken and people feel safe, not only in Dublin city but in towns throughout Ireland.

I assure the Deputy that the Government is committed to ensuring more visibility in our communities. The Deputy will be aware that An Garda Síochána was provided with an unprecedented budget of €1.952 billion for 2021. This sustained level of investment is allowing ongoing recruitment of both members and staff to An Garda Síochána. As a result, there are now approximately 14,500 Garda members and more than 3,000 Garda staff.

The programme for Government and the Justice Plan 2021 contain a range of priority commitments and actions to support visible policing countrywide, chief of which is the implementation of the report on the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland through the Government's implementation plan, A Policing Service for our Future. The roll-out of the new Garda operating model under A Policing Service for our Future will deliver increased Garda visibility in communities, while facilitating a wider range of locally-delivered policing services underpinned by the redeployment of An Garda Síochána from non-core duties to front-line policing throughout the country.

Visible policing means safer communities that can feel supported in daily life. The benefits of effective Garda resources at community level can be felt by each and every one of us. Community safety is a cornerstone of An Garda Síochána’s transformation programme. Indeed, it has always been the primary focus of An Garda Síochána. This has been particularly evident during the Covid-19 period, when gardaí across the country consolidated their connection with local communities and were truly present during an unprecedented crisis.

Of course, keeping communities safe is not just about Garda numbers. The Government also recognises the need to strengthen and support community engagement services. This is central to comprehensive community safety policy, which is being developed by the Department of Justice. To this end, three pilot local community safety partnerships have been set up - one in Dublin's inner city, one in Longford and one in Waterford. These will run for the next two years ahead of a nationwide roll-out to all local authority areas. The new partnerships will bring together State agencies, including An Garda Síochána, local authorities, community groups and representatives to devise community safety plans that are tailored to the local needs of those communities.

The Deputy will appreciate that, by law, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the management and administration of An Garda Síochána, including personnel matters and deployment of resources. The allocation of Garda resources is made in light of the identified operational demand. This includes deployment of personnel among the various Garda divisions. Neither the Minister nor I have any direct role in the deployment of Garda resources.

I appreciate the Minister of State’s fulsome reply. I also appreciate the ongoing work of the Minister of State, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, particularly in the context of the recent engagement with various community, policing and business fora. However, people want to see direct action. They want to see the gardaí on the street. They want to feel safe walking down O'Connell street. They want to feel safe allowing their children - maybe not their young children, but their adult children - to be out at night as our communities and economy open up. I fully take on board the Minister of State’s point that the responsibility lies with the Garda Commissioner, and rightly so. That separation is extremely important.

Budget day is approaching. The Minister of State referred to last year’s financial allocation, which was welcome. It was a huge increase under Minister, Deputy McEntee. However, we need to see that maintained in order to allow the Commissioner to have the resources to follow a fulsome strategy that can provide confidence in every member of public in our capital city, in our major towns and in our villages to know that the streets that they will walk down will have a Garda presence and that gardaí in their duties. We need to maintain Garda numbers and the necessary level of resources - the, bikes, vehicles, stab vests, ICT infrastructure, etc. - in order that when crimes are reported, victims are not obliged to wait many weeks for an acknowledgement. Gardaí need to be freed up from administrative duties in order that they can police.

The second point of vital importance goes beyond policing. It relates to engagement with the community. It is important that the Minister of State and the Minister work in conjunction with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, in respect of the new community safety fund. More than €16 million in cash was seized from criminals. That money needs to be ploughed back into communities and into resources in order to keep people away from criminality. We must ensure that the resources are there to address worrying problems such as knife crime, drug crime, organised crime or the racial and gender-based attacks that we have seen in recent weeks.

I thank Deputy Richmond for raising this important issue. I know he has been consistent in raising his concerns about this matter. He is 100% right. We need to have clear engagement with communities around ensuring Garda presence and Garda involvement in communities. As the Deputy correctly pointed out, the community safety fund is important. Under the fund, the money taken from those who benefit from crime will be put back into the communities that are most deeply affected by those criminal elements. The new community policing strategy will also have an important role in bringing communities together to design safety plans and plans for Garda deployment that are tailored towards those communities. The Deputy will appreciate that those in local and senior Garda management are consulted during the allocation of personnel and are responsible for specific deployment or assignment of duties being undertaken at a divisional level.

An Garda Síochána continues to implement high-visibility policing plans to address public disorder-related issues and antisocial behaviour with particular overt and targeted policing of public places at times where public order incidents and antisocial behaviour typically increase. An Garda Síochána also rolls out information relating to policing operations on an ongoing basis in response to specific incidents of antisocial behaviour.

The Government remains steadfast in its commitment to enhancing community safety and supporting the valuable work of An Garda Síochána to this end. The publication of the landmark policing community safety legislation by the Minister for Justice earlier this year is significant in that the need for a cross-agency approach to community safety in partnership with local communities will be recognised in statute for the first time..

Antisocial Behaviour

We now return to the first item, which is to discuss the increase in antisocial behaviour, specifically in Dublin city. This has been tabled by Deputies Jim O’Callaghan and Gannon.

It has been great over the past month see Dublin city reopening. We see people back in their offices. We see shops and businesses reopening. At night-time, we see many people back out socialising again. Unfortunately, however, that reopening has also been accompanied by a significant increase in violent criminal activity in the inner city of Dublin. The title given to this matter is "Antisocial Behaviour" but I think it could be more appropriately referred under the title of "Violent Criminal Activity". I do not think we should understate the matter by simply referring to it as antisocial behaviour.

The type of activity I am talking about relates to young men or boys getting involved in violence against other people that they do not know. In effect, it is gratuitous violence being perpetrated by them against people who work in restaurants or doormen. It is violence being perpetrated against other young men and boys who are walking down the street. Even yesterday, I heard of an attack on a young woman not far from here. This activity seems to follow the same characteristics. These are young men attacking people who they simply do not know.

We need to try to formulate a method of approaching and resolving this very serious matter. It will become recognised as being just a part of life and Dublin unless we take a stance on it now. We need to send out the message – and I know the Minister of State will agree - that there should be zero tolerance for this type of gratuitous assault on individuals. It is simply not acceptable that boys or young men, who are in general the victims, are subjected to attacks on public streets by people they do not know. This is happening on Dame Lane, Merrion Row and St. Stephen's Green. It is happening all over the city. Deputy Gannon is the other Member who raised this matter. I am sure this is also happening in his constituency.

I ask the Minister of State that we ensure that we have greater visibility of policing, as was mentioned in the context of the previous matter, and emphasise that this type of behaviour is socially unacceptable.

I fundamentally believe that when we see crime, we should understand the context in which it occurs and the conditions which gave rise to it. However, I also believe that when people tell me they feel unsafe, there is an onus on us to create the conditions in which they start to feel safe again. In the city of Dublin at the moment, people genuinely feel unsafe. At the very heart of that are people who do not look like me. The people who feel unsafe are migrants, women and those who are of a different sexual persuasion to me.

We have seen images of attacks and violence on our streets captured on social media. When we see footage on social media of Deliveroo drivers being attacked, I am conscious that this is only a drop in the ocean when one considers what we do not see. It pains me to say that in the city of Dublin at the moment, people simply do not feel safe. There is an onus upon us in this Chamber to confront the issues that give rise to these attacks. I took the opportunity today to visit Pearse Street Garda station to meet Superintendent Dermot McKenna, who is a really good guy. One of the issues I relayed to him is that we simply need to see more gardaí on our streets. We need to see more gardaí around the city of Dublin, wearing the uniform and creating the conditions in which people can be made to feel safe, such as by intervening at the earliest opportunity.

I am conscious that the Houses are located in an area that is close to where people were attacked and where they feel unsafe. At the gates of Leinster House at the moment are gardaí who have been deployed from Pearse Street Garda station to stand outside and do the important work they do. However, policing in a city centre context is different. We need to provide as many personnel resources as possible in order that gardaí can police the protests that happen in every democratic society, guard Dáil Éireann and make people feel safe when they come into the city. There is an onus on us to do that.

I thank Deputies O'Callaghan and Gannon for raising what is clearly a very important matter. The Government, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and I are determined to tackle antisocial and violent behaviour. We are conscious of the effect it can have on people's quality of life and safety. We are, of course, aware of the effect it can have on residents and businesses of Dublin city, and on many of us who want to visit our capital city and enjoy what it has to offer.

The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and I are also aware of the importance of high-visibility policing and know that people feel safe when they see the presence of An Garda Síochána in Dublin. The Minister met with senior members of An Garda Síochána in Dublin city, as recently as last week, to discuss the issues raised by the Deputies. She also met with representatives of the businesses in Dublin city centre, including local representatives, to hear their concerns. The Minister and I will be in regular contact with An Garda Síochána and others as we progress through the autumn and winter on the actions being taken to ensure people feel safe in Dublin and other towns and cities throughout Ireland.

It is clear that incidents of assault or intimidation are completely unacceptable. People must feel safe in their communities. Preventing children and young people getting involved and diverting them from criminality after having become involved in it, is a key priority for me and both the programme for Government and the Justice Plan 2021, which contain a number of commitments in regards to this and the broader issue of tackling antisocial behaviour more generally and violent crime. In line with a commitment in the programme for Government, last year I established an expert forum on antisocial behaviour. This forum considers the effectiveness of existing legislation and proposes a new way forward, including new powers for An Garda Síochána and additional interventions to support parenting and offenders on a social level to help divert them from criminal activity. A subgroup of the forum has already considered measures which can be taken with regard to the misuse of scramblers and quad bikes in communities, and similar subgroups can be established for other issues. For instance, this week I chaired the first meeting of another subgroup on the issue of knife crime, a matter Deputy O'Callaghan has raised on numerous occasions in this Chamber. The group will now consider evidence-based best practice in addressing this issue which will inform both potential changes to legislation, as well as community safety policies, programmes, practices and interventions.

In April, the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and I published the Youth Justice Strategy 2021-2027. It considers the full range of issues connected to children and young people at risk of coming into contact with the criminal justice system, including early intervention and preventive work, family support, diversion from crime, through to court processes and facilities, supervision of offenders, detention and reintegration and support post-release. For the Deputies information, the current Garda strength as of the end of August in the Dublin metropolitan region, north central and south central divisions, which cover Dublin city is 1,384 members of all ranks. This amounts to an increase of almost 14% since the end of 2015. The divisions are further supported by Garda staff numbering 187, which is a 75% increase since the end of 2015. A key part of what is happening at present is the hiring of more Garda staff so existing Garda members can be redeployed into Garda duties and away from administrative duties.

I am assured that An Garda Síochána will continue to implement high-visibility policing plans in Dublin city to address public disorder related issues and antisocial behaviour, with particular overt and targeted policing of public places at times when public order incidents and antisocial behaviour typically increase, such as bank holidays and weekends. These uniformed members are supported by members attached to the division on drugs unit and the district crime prevention units performing covert patrols, gathering intelligence and, where appropriate, delivering effective policing interventions. In addition, the Garda national public order unit continues to be deployed in Dublin city and surrounding areas to address complaints raised by local residents and businesses regarding instances of antisocial behaviour.

I thank the Minister of State for that thorough response and, like him, I am fully aware this is a problem that cannot simply be resolved through increased Garda visibility or strengthening our laws. We need to focus on the group of men and boys in our society who seem to think it is acceptable to use violence against people they do not know, be that for the purpose of trying to rob from them or for the purpose of inflicting gratuitous harm upon them. We as a society need to generate a message that this type of behaviour is socially unacceptable. Let us look at how we dealt with drink-driving. Years ago, drink-driving was not treated with the same seriousness as it is today, however, the message went out that it was socially unacceptable. We need to learn from that information campaign as well. It may be the case that we need to start publicising the individuals committing these crimes and perhaps that will have a deterrent impact on them. We need to consider having an information campaign to ensure the recognition that this type behaviour is not acceptable in our society.

There are few occasions in this Chamber when we can unify and agree on an approach, and I think this is one such occasion. In our capital city at present, there are people who do not feel safe. The UN safer cities initiative for women and young girls requires resources and involves talking to young men about men's violence against women and tackling a culture of toxic masculinity. We can start by going into schools and meeting people at the youngest age possible and speaking to them about what it means to be a young man, and providing role models and counselling services. We must also acknowledge that when people are attacked, as is happening to Deliveroo drivers, people of different ethnicity, and those of different sexual persuasions, we need to come down hard, because that is not the image of the city I love that I want projected to the world. At present, we have lost our grasp of the issue and need to recapture it strongly. In a scenario where people feel unsafe, we need to come down hard and create the conditions where women, people of different ethnicity, and people working in delivery services must feel safe as they go about their duties. We can unify in that approach across this Chamber, and the Minister of State will have my full support in doing so. This beautiful city is ours and it needs a stronger hand now.

I thank both Deputies for raising this important matter.

I again thank the Deputies raising this matter. I understand what they have said and I am in full agreement with them. There can be all sorts of underlying reasons the violence is happening and it needs to be confronted head-on. On tackling the underlying issues, perhaps something driving some of that violence is a lack of understanding or comprehension of the exact damage they are causing. That is where restorative justice can come into play by compelling young people to confront the damage they do and appreciate that it is not simply a five- or ten-minute incident but that it can have lasting effects, which very often lasts for years or the rest of people's lives. Restorative justice has a significant part to play in this, as does educating those young men on their thoughts and behaviours, and the toxic masculinity, as raised by Deputy Gannon, and the behaviour coming from that. This is evident in knife crime whereby people are beginning to carry knives out of a defensive purpose. However, if a person carries a knife, more than likely, it will be pulled out and used against the person or somebody else.

Following the setting up of the antisocial behaviour forum on knife crime, we should be able to conduct a scoping exercise within eight to ten weeks. We must then move on to the next phase by looking at what is driving some general antisocial behaviours, such as dangerous violence by young men. It is a trend we are seeing more of and it needs to be tackled. We are addressing this particular type of incident through the knife crime forum. However, we can look at the issue in a broader sense as well at the issue that seems to be developing. On the local community safety partnerships, there is one pilot established in north inner city Dublin, one in Waterford city and one in Longford. They will have a real impact and need to be rolled out. It will not be like the joint policing committees where politicians and gardaí sit at the top table. There will be gardaí and some politicians, but we also want representatives of the HSE, TUSLA, housing and other State agencies around that table so they can bring comprehensive approaches where there are localised issues of violence and antisocial behaviour.

Home Care Packages

We now move to the final matter, which is tabled by Deputy Ó Murchú. He wishes to discuss the lack of home carers and the impact this is having on families.

I thank the Minister of State for taking this question. I assume Members have, as I have, experienced multiple call-ins to our constituency offices by families struggling to get carers in order for them to put a home care programme in place so they can keep their loved one in their home. There were numerous reports in the last year, particularly during the pandemic, when many of us recognised the type of work done by carers, and how their work makes a huge impact in our State and society, in addition to saving the State a significant amount of money and resources.

The problem, and we have all dealt with this, concerns people being unable to get care packages or only being able to get insufficient hours. From time to time, there have been issues in this regard. For example, community healthcare organisation, CHO, 8 might not have had enough directly-employed HSE staff or contract staff available. We hear at times that such problems have been sorted out but we still have these cases. If we are going to deliver home care that is an alternative to nursing home care, if that is what these people and their families want, then we must ensure that we resource this option.

I go through the details of some cases. I will speak in generalities and not name names. These cases have come through our office in the last while. The first concerns a 61-year-old woman. She lives in north Louth and had a stroke several months ago. She was in the care of the RCSI Hospitals Group in Drogheda and later in Dundalk. She was due to return home recently and her family made many attempts to try to get the recommended home care package. It involves four visits by two carers seven days a week. The family, however, has not been able to secure that package. The family has also been absolutely clear from the outset that this woman will not go into a nursing home. She is a young woman of 61 years old and a nursing home is not the place for her. The family are very supportive and are willing to do whatever they can but they must be facilitated. We must find solutions to cases like this.

I have another case involving a 93-year-old lady who spent a few days in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. She was discharged but a care plan was not put in place and no advice was provided to her daughter, who attempted to try to put something together at that stage. She made contact with a district nurse who was very busy and it was not possible to get a meeting for about a week. We had contact with people in CHO 8. They have been in touch and are assisting her. Again, it was stated that there was a need to deal with such cases and that people should not be let out of care until the correct home care package is in place.

The next case I will raise has been brought up previously. It involves a 74-year-old woman. These are all cases involving women and in most cases, the carers are also women. We are failing miserably in this regard. The lady involved in this case has advanced dementia. She had secured home care but not sufficient care for the weekends. The situation is the same months later. We are dealing with a family whose members are exhausted and at their wits' end. They are doing everything they can to try to give the required care to this lady on the weekends and get her through to the weekdays, when a better care package is in place. That is it, however. We are again talking about people doing their absolute best. It is, though, keeping an engine going with baling twine. It is not good enough. If we are talking about home care as an alternative to nursing home care, then we must offer people what is necessary.

I thank the Minister of State for being here to deal with this matter.

I thank Deputy Ó Murchú for raising this important issue. It is a timely one, as tomorrow we celebrate the UN International Day for Older People. It is a key priority for the Government and for me to enable more people to engage in services that allow them to remain independent and live in their own homes with dignity for as long as possible. To advance this, the Government is committed to establishing a new statutory scheme on home support. In July, I announced the selection of four sites to test a reformed model of service delivery, through the delivery of 230,000 hours of home support. The four CHOs selected were CHO 2, CHO 4, CHO 7 and CHO 8. This pilot will underpin the development of the statutory scheme for home support services and will be fully operational on 1 November.

A national home support office will also be established before the end of this year to support the testing of the reformed model of service delivery. In addition, approximately 130 posts have been funded for the national roll-out of the interRAI Ireland system, which the home support pilot will test as the standard assessment tool for care needs. Recruitment for these posts will commence shortly. In parallel, work is ongoing by the Department to make progress with other aspects of the scheme, including the development of a regulatory framework and the examination of options for the financing model. The Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, is examining that aspect for us.

To answer the Deputy's specific question, while this new home support scheme is under development, the Government is prioritising improving access to home support services for older people. An additional €150 million was allocated in budget 2021 to provide for 24 million hours of home support. This is an increase of 5 million hours, or more than 25% on 2020. Therefore, my budget for home support this year is €666 million, and that is a phenomenal amount of money. Provisional data indicate that at the end of August 2021, approximately 13.2 million home support hours had been provided to 53,905 people. This is about 2 million more hours compared to the same period last year. Approximately 478 people were waiting for funding approval, representing an 88% reduction compared to the same period in 2020. This has resulted in keeping 1,200 people out of nursing homes this year alone.

The difference now is that in other years, we did not have the funding. This year, I have the funding but we have a shortage of staff. That is the whole issue. Due to these issues with capacity and staff availability, there are sometimes delays between the approval of funding and the delivery of home support hours. There are ongoing difficulties with the recruitment and retention of staff, with particular local areas experiencing increased pressures. This is particularly the case at weekends and in rural areas. It is a problem in my constituency. This no doubt affects access to home support for approved clients, even where funding is available. At the end of August, some 4,449 people had been assessed, approved and were waiting for a carer to become available. The funding is there to support the package of exactly what those people need. The problem, though, is that we do not have the carers to deliver the packages. As a result, this week I met Joseph Musgrave, CEO of Home and Community Care Ireland, HCCI. I also met representatives of the HSE. I spoke to them this morning to see what we can do to resolve this issue. It is not an issue with funding. I have the required money. We have established a strategic workforce advisory group with the involvement of key stakeholders, including representatives from the sector, education and the Government. Someone delivering home support now has to have a level 5 qualification before entering the house. The group will provide a forum for practical actions. It will also look, however, at aspects such as recruitment and retention. Terms and conditions are important for private providers as well. There is a financial issue in respect of mileage if, for example, a carer is going out to a rural area three or four times a day.

I welcome that answer from the Minister of State. She stated clearly and I accept that the issue now is not one of funding but involves a shortage of staff. I also welcome the establishment of the strategic workforce advisory group. To quote someone else, we must do the devil and all to ensure that we can deliver the staff required. It is as simple as that. The problem concerns added pieces to fill the gap. As this pilot is worked out, I would like to think that it will catch some of the mistakes made before. That could include communicating with people to tell them that it will be possible to offer them the enhanced package with weekend cover, even if not immediately, and that everything necessary is being done. Even if we know that is the situation, then we can be part of the messaging service. If that only served to give people hope in the form of letting them know that we are aware they are in a bad place now but that we will deliver for them, that would be welcome.

It is what is necessary, and we have had multiple reports in this regard. When it suits the family, the person involved and everybody wishes it, the whole idea is that it is necessary to offer the person concerned the ability to live in his or her own home. In situations where families are adding their help, support and capacity, they are doing a huge favour for the State. It is saving the State an absolute fortune. Therefore, we must add those bits of the picture which are missing now and which will make this option possible and doable. I welcome the work that the Minister of State is doing, specifically the meetings with the HCCI and the HSE. It looks like it is happening from the point of view of delivering this scheme. I would just like the Minister of State to add a wee bit more on the specifics. I know it is difficult for her to give me a timeline in this regard but it would be good to get some idea of a general scenario where we are on the correct road and that in two, three or four months' time, we should be in a situation where these types of issues are resolved. I may contact the Minister of State afterwards regarding these specific cases.

One wonders, if the main problem is with personnel, whether it will be possible to magic them up out of somewhere. Will work permits be an issue in this area?

I thank the Deputy for the constructive approach. I sat where he was sitting for four years and I raised this issue on a weekly basis. You can attest to that, a Cheann Comhairle.

In May 2020, there were 7,250 people waiting for financing of a home care package and, currently, there are 1,440 waiting. That shows we have improved by 90%, which is fantastic. The challenge we face now is to try to get more home care workers into position. We are going to look at alternatives. For example, there might be parents who do not work and whose children are in school, and we are going to try to get a flexible approach so that they might be able to deliver perhaps three hours a day. We are looking at that.

There is also another option that is taken up by very few families. It is in place since 2018, but it has not been spoken about very much. People can receive funding from the HSE to provide home care support and they can hire the providers themselves, but that has never really taken off. There is an option for people to receive the funding allocation it would cost the HSE to provide the package and for them to hire the staff themselves.

We are also looking at weekends. For most people, home care is not an issue from Monday to Friday, but Saturdays and Sundays are an issue. We are looking at providing financial support to people at the weekend and they might be able to get help in themselves. We are looking at all the options. For once, I have the budget, but I am challenged currently with not being able to get the staff. There are staffing issues across a lot of sectors of society.

Permits are a bit difficult because 75% of home care workers are part time and if we bring in somebody from a non-EEA country we must pay the minimum wage. The rate we have to be able to pay is €27,000. Given that most home care workers are part-time workers, most of them do not work for the required number of hours.

I say to the Deputy and the Ceann Comhairle, as I know he is very interested in the sector and he often raises it with me, that we are trying to do everything we can. Coming into the winter we need to get as many home care workers as possible, and we will do our utmost to do that.