Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 24 Nov 2021

Vol. 1014 No. 5

Ceisteanna - Questions

Climate Change Negotiations

Alan Kelly


1. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the COP 26 United Nations Climate Change Conference. [54411/21]

Mary Lou McDonald


2. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the COP 26 United Nations Climate Change Conference. [54210/21]

Christopher O'Sullivan


3. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference. [57047/21]

Mick Barry


4. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference. [57285/21]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.

I participated in the world leaders' summit at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, COP26, in Glasgow on 1 and 2 November. At the action and solidarity round-table discussion for leaders on 1 November, I expressed Ireland's strong commitment to global action to deliver on the goals of the Paris Agreement and keep the global temperature rise to 1.5°C. On 2 November, I delivered Ireland's national statement to the plenary session and took the opportunity to reiterate our climate ambition, nationally and at European Union level, and our commitment to supporting small-island developing states and least-developed countries, many of which are very vulnerable to climate change. I announced that Ireland is more than doubling its climate finance contribution to at least €225 million a year by 2025.

The conference provided an opportunity to engage with many of my fellow leaders from around the world. I had formal bilateral meetings with the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and with Fijian Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama. Over the course of the summit, I also had informal meetings and exchanges with the United States President, Joe Biden, the Prime Ministers of Iceland, India, Israel, Norway, Palau, United Kingdom, Vietnam and many of my European Union colleagues, including Presidents Michel and von der Leyen. I also spoke with the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, as well as Northern Ireland First Minister, Paul Givan, and deputy First Minister, Michelle O'Neill. During my visit, I also met a delegation of researchers and students from University College Cork, members of the Dingle Sustainable Energy Community and youth delegates from Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, whose attendance at COP26 was supported by Irish Aid.

The overarching COP26 decision, the Glasgow climate pact, commits all parties to accelerate action on climate this decade. It recognises that the impacts of climate change will be much lower at 1.5°C compared with 2°C, and it resolves to pursue efforts to stay under the lower limit. Importantly, this means that the goals of the Paris Agreement can still be met. It strikes a balance between increasing climate ambition, delivering on calls for increased climate finance and adaptation supports and provides for a new dialogue on the issue of loss and damage, which is critical to supporting climate justice for those most exposed to climate change. It also provides for parties to revisit and strengthen their 2030 emissions targets in 2022.

The focus now is on delivery, including Ireland's commitment to cut greenhouse gases by 51% by 2030 and to reach net zero carbon by 2050 at the latest, as legislated for in our climate Act.

The Taoiseach has outlined his meetings and speeches at COP26. In his address to COP26, he said that every second of delay makes the task to cut emissions that bit bigger. He is correct. The crisis is cumulative and while we wait to take action we allow the problem to get worse. Unfortunately, not only were many of the outcomes of COP26 frustrating in betraying a lack of urgency at world leader level, in Ireland we are also seeing repeatedly long delays and missed deadlines in this Government's response to climate change.

We very much welcome the ambitious national climate targets. It is necessary that those targets are in place and that we all sign up to the targets of a 51% reduction by 2030 and to achieve net zero by 2050. That is vital, but we are not seeing the necessary detail of how we will achieve those targets. Last night, I addressed this to the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan. Following publication of the climate action plan, which sets out these very ambitious targets, I asked him when we would see publication of the accompanying detailed annex of actions, with timelines, to support delivery of the plan. The response I got from the Minister was that it would be published in the coming weeks. This detailed annex of actions and timelines is essential to provide all of us, and all the different sectors, with the information necessary to show us how we will achieve the necessary emission reduction targets. Will the Taoiseach now tell us exactly when this crucial document will be published, given that we have seen such delays in publication of the action plan and other crucial documents?

During consideration of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act last year Sinn Féin proposed, in an amendment, that appointments to the Climate Change Advisory Council should take the form of a public appointments process, based on the process of appointment to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. Our amendment was rejected by the Government.

It cannot be news to the Taoiseach that it is the general expectation that a transparent public appointments process is in place for such appointments. There have been years of reform on this matter and, in fairness, I acknowledge the former Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, who gave this matter much attention when he took up office in that Department. The public outrage at the Katherine Zappone appointment was not a result of her lack of qualifications, far from it, rather it was in response to the insider culture it represented.

The Taoiseach can levy all the charges he wants of the Opposition trying to do down the Government, but the reality is he knows full well that the appointment by Ministers of former colleagues, or in the case of the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, an active member of his party, is not right. It is the public first and foremost who find this culture offensive, but by actively avoiding an open appointment process Ministers undermine those they appoint regardless of their eminent qualifications.

I ask the Taoiseach to ensure that his Ministers put in place the appropriate public processes for such appointments in the future.

Yesterday, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities outlined new rules for data centres that want to connect to the electricity grid. I do not believe these changes would have come through if the issue had not been highlighted and campaigned on by climate campaigners. However, I also do not believe that the commission has gone nearly far enough. One condition is that centres must provide their own emergency power supplies. Will the Taoiseach tell us when that condition will kick in? Will there be any stipulation that these emergency power supplies will be based on green energy? Will the 70-plus data centres be allowed to develop supplies based on fossil fuels, should they so decide?

Does the Taoiseach agree the 11% share of our national electricity output used by the centres can only be expected to rise, given no prohibitions were announced yesterday, only new conditions? Does the Taoiseach agree the changes, in large measure, amount to kicking the can down the road? If so, does he not think a moratorium or ban on new data centres might have been a better option for our country?

The threatened sale of the Killegar forest in Enniskerry, which I highlighted and on which I am glad to say Coillte backed off, and the one raised by Deputy Cairns that the Taoiseach was talking about earlier on, indicate a fundamental problem with the mandate of Coillte, namely, that it is operating to commercial imperatives, rather than as a guardian of the forest estate and as the entity that is trying to expand that forest estate to deal with climate change and carbon sequestration and to enhance biodiversity. Something is fundamentally wrong with the way it is operating.

That mandate needs to be changed to prevent the sale of public forests and in order for it to act as a spearhead in dealing with the spectacular, ongoing, decades-long failure to meet our afforestation targets, to deal with our fundamentally unsustainable forest model based on monocultures and Sitka spruce and the market conditions around that and to deal with the need to assist farmers in embracing afforestation by supporting them rather than as is often the case where they find themselves at odds with Coillte which commercially dominates a market rather than doing the right thing by our forest estate.

Deputy Bacik raised the issue of the publication of the more detailed action plans. In the course of her questions, she said she had been engaging with the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications last evening. The Government has committed to publishing that detailed annex of actions, because it is important. I do not have a precise date here and now, but the Minister and his Department are finalising that. By any objective standards, this Government moved especially speedily to introduce the new Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021, which creates a legal framework for this Government and future Governments in respect of meeting clear obligations on climate change. That has to be followed by the climate action plan, which has been published and the detailed actions, but also by the carbon budgets for every sector.

The challenges will increase. I am not saying this will apply to the Deputy, because I accept her bona fides on climate change, but the challenge will be in implementing all of these actions as it will mean change. It is a bit like the opposition to carbon tax. We get attacked every day because of carbon tax. One has to ask the question as whether people are serious about climate change overall because all the international advice is that it works on a long-term basis. Of course, it does not work in terms of winning votes. I know that.

However, these are the kinds of calls we will have to make right across the board in every sector. The temptation will be to cynically focus in on certain areas of these changes, to undermine the overall effort for Ireland to play its part in meeting the 1.5°C because we are not strong per capita performers on climate change. We have to acknowledge that as a country and we have to move quickly. That is why the legislation around the marine planning Bill is essential for offshore wind. That has to happen and those frameworks have to be created for investment in offshore wind in particular and throughout other areas. This will be published.

On Deputy McDonald's point, those appointments were made in full accordance with the legislation and I think the Deputy acknowledges that because she said her party put forward an amendment which was not carried. There was a suggestion somewhere that the Minister had gone outside the legislation. He had not. Is the best the Deputy can do on climate change is just raise appointments under the Act? What about the substance of climate change?

That is what COP26 was about. The fact the United States has changed, because of the election of President Biden, has given a huge fillip globally to the whole climate change agenda. In partnership with the European Union and Great Britain, it has to be said, there is potential. Other countries have to come on board. The partnership with China towards the end of the COP26 was important and the US and China have signalled they will work proactively together in respect of that.

With regard to the appointments made by the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, no one can question the qualifications of the two individuals concerned, their commitment or that they would be good members of the council. It was in accordance with the Act passed by this Oireachtas. To be balanced and fair about this, there is a wider range of issues on which we should collectively be working and we should be honest about our approach to climate change in that regard.

In response to Deputy Barry, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, which is the legislatively created regulator, is responsible for the regulation of these areas. The conditions are balanced. It is important self-generation and backup generation would be provided. The experience is that, in many instances, many companies are now investing in renewables as compensatory measures. Recently, I was in Eli Lilly in Kinsale, a pharmaceutical company which has been there for more than 30 years, providing more than 1,000 jobs in Kinsale and more elsewhere. It has transformed what was land around the plant into the largest solar farm in the country. Likewise, DePuy Synthes has purchased two forests to ensure its contribution will be net zero in terms of its production facilities.

Many multinational companies are proactively working on the climate change agenda. There is no reason that should not include companies that build and operate data centres. The world is going through a digital transformation, as are we as a country. Infrastructure will have to be provided. We should not have a runaway system of data centres. I do not believe in that at all. There should be limits to this and conditionality attached to it. The CRU has provided a regulatory framework that changes the landscape and that will challenge companies to make a stronger contribution to our energy requirements, security of supply and climate agenda.

Deputy Boyd Barrett's point was raised earlier on the Order of Business. I have said consistently that State agencies now have to have climate change as a central part of their mandate. Bord na Móna and Coillte, in particular, should have it as the core part, given how much land both of them have and the retention and expansion of carbon sinks should be their number one priority.

Cabinet Committees

Mary Lou McDonald


5. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on health will next meet. [55666/21]

Alan Kelly


6. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on health will next meet. [55857/21]

Mick Barry


7. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on health will next meet. [57286/21]

Richard Boyd Barrett


8. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on health will next meet. [57323/21]

Paul Murphy


9. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on health will next meet. [57326/21]

Aindrias Moynihan


10. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on health is next due to meet. [57354/21]

Niamh Smyth


11. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on health is next due to meet. [57355/21]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 11, inclusive, together.

The Cabinet committee on health oversees implementation of programme for Government commitments on health, receives detailed reports on identified policy areas and considers the implementation of health reforms, including Sláintecare. The Cabinet committee last met on Monday, 8 November. It is intended that it will meet again shortly.

In addition to the meetings of the full Cabinet and of Cabinet committees, I meet with Ministers on an individual basis to focus on different issues. I meet regularly with the Minister for Health to discuss priorities in the area of health, including Sláintecare and especially our management of and response to Covid-19.

The health sector is expecting to face significant challenges this winter. The recently published winter preparedness plan 2021-2022 is structured around three key goals: avoidance of hospital admittance, unless absolutely essential; patient flow through our hospitals; and safe and timely egress of patients from hospital. The Government is investing €77 million in this year's winter plan.

It is important to recognise that €400 million from last year's winter plan has been retained and was locked into the regular annual funding base for 2022.

I thank the Taoiseach for the outline. I want to ask about the Government's spending on temporarily renting private beds in private hospitals. The Labour Party has continually advocated for expanding public healthcare by purchasing private hospitals outright. We are conscious that with the Covid plans, the Government essentially, at one point, took over full capacity of the private system. We now have this arrangement for leasing. We know that this arrangement cost the taxpayer €350 million between March and June 2020, and that a deal is currently in place with private hospitals should there be a need for them to manage capacity. How much is being spent on this temporary renting out of private beds in private hospitals? We have argued that the money would be better used to permanently expand our public capacity in a bid to tackle our ever-growing waiting lists, which we are all conscious of, our ageing population and the ongoing, devastating battle with the Covid pandemic.

Sláintecare calls for the building of three elective hospitals. This part of Sláintecare is essential to deliver the massive, radical reforms that out healthcare system so badly needs. It would surely be much better and more efficient to use the resources already available, by buying the hospitals to fulfil that key Sláintecare recommendation to support our healthcare service through the pandemic and beyond. We know 50% of the population has private health insurance. This expense is built on a fear that the public system will not be able to care for us and will not have the necessary capacity if we fall sick. Looking at European neighbours and at how other countries are coping with Covid, we think that now would be the best time to prepare our healthcare system. I ask the Taoiseach about the spending on private beds.

In response to my colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty, two weeks ago, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Simon Coveney, stated unequivocally that the families of the victims of abuse at Ard Gréine Court in Stranorlar, County Donegal, deserve to get the full truth and to see the full Brandon report; not an executive summary or an extended executive summary but the full report. Leaks of this report to the media tell us that there were 118 occurrences of sexually inappropriate behaviour, which impacted 18 victims, all extremely vulnerable individuals, many of them non-verbal. As Deputy Doherty has highlighted time and again, the families of the victims placed their trust in the centre and the HSE to protect their well-being and safety. This trust has been broken in the cruellest and most heartbreaking of circumstances. It was, as is so often the case, the courage of a whistleblower that led to investigations into the abuse by the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, and An Garda Síochána. Two years after that, the abuser was relocated and the abuse started all over again. Deputy Doherty wrote to the former Minister for Health in 2016 to raise the issue of under-reporting of abuse at the facility. He was told by the then Minister, Deputy Harris, that it was a matter for the HSE. We are here many years later and the HSE and Garda are blocking publication of the full report, the two State agencies responsible for protecting victims in the first place. I share the view of Deputy Doherty and the Minister, Deputy Coveney, that political input is needed to ensure that the unvarnished truth is published. This needs to be transparent. I ask the Taoiseach to ensure that there is urgency and that the victims' families have full sight of this report.

The Tánaiste has now raised the possibility that the Government decision on antigen testing might be delayed until the Cabinet meeting next Tuesday. Does the Taoiseach think this is an acceptable delay? It is 20 months into the pandemic, with more than 5,000 cases on some days, yet there is no action from the Government on this issue. Can the Taoiseach argue with my contention that the more antigen testing is done, the better it is from a public health point of view, and that more testing is likely to happen in the event of the tests being made free? No PCR tests are available in Cork today or tomorrow for anyone applying now. It is the same in 13 other counties. The HSE says that 210,000 tests were done last week. I understand that the laboratories and the test and trace system are coping, but we do not have enough swabbers. I put it to the Taoiseach that we failed to anticipate and put measures in place for this situation. What measures will be put in place now?

Elective hospitals for Cork, Dublin and Galway were mentioned earlier. Government Deputies told the The Echo that there would be an announcement about this in the first week of October. We are now coming towards the end of November. When will we get an announcement about our new elective hospital?

Yesterday, I said to the Taoiseach that people cannot get a PCR test in Dublin for love nor money. Now that fact has been confirmed, although people in the Government's front bench were shaking their heads when I said that. Something else that the Taoiseach might consider is that, if people cannot get a test for a couple of days, they can understandably feel pressure to get a private test, which can cost up to €99. They can go to private hospitals to get a test and pay for it, which underlines the point about how unacceptable a two-tier system is when we are talking about the lack of capacity in our system. It is not just about the ICU and beds but the ability to test. If a person has €99, he or she can pop up to the Beacon and be tested today. That is the reality of what a two-tier system provides when faced with a public health emergency. All that Covid has done is highlight the inadequacies that exist with the two-tier system. We have an ongoing public health emergency with waiting lists and emergency departments. It is unacceptable on the issue with testing. The Government will not provide pop-up centres, which we asked for yesterday. If we nationalised the private healthcare capacity, we would be able to test people as quickly and urgently as we need them to be tested.

When will the Cabinet committee on health next meet? Will there be an opportunity to discuss the well-being framework? It is a positive initiative which focuses on quality of life and a range of issues. The initial report was published months ago. As we make our way through the pandemic, there is a greater need than ever to focus on various aspects of our life, including mental and physical health and much more. Unfortunately, maintaining physical and mental well-being, and so many other things, slipped off the radar when people were isolated, including carers and people they care for. We see much more of this in mid-Cork and it is a worry. The HSE has identified a need for a daycare centre for older people around Macroom. It has identified an ideal site for it on the hospital grounds. It would present an opportunity for older, isolated people, a break for carers, social interaction and access to various therapies and supports. While the HSE has identified a site, it is hard to see progress on it. Will the Cabinet committee on health meet shortly? Will it discuss the framework for well-being? Will that framework give additional energy, priority and focus to those waiting for a day centre in Macroom?

I raise an issue that I have probably raised countless times in my five-and-a-half-year tenure here. It is about access to medicinal cannabis. I do not give the Taoiseach too many compliments, but I will give him one. I know he personally got involved in a number of cases in the past, which is to his credit, because this issue sometimes transcends politics. I have some good news. In the next week, three people will be registered and will get prescriptions under the medical cannabis access programme. That is very good news because that could be transformative for those three people, since they will get legal access to medical cannabis via prescription. That has been a tortuous road to get access.

That is good news.

Many of the people who contact me and others, including campaigners and families, want to know how they can get medicinal cannabis for their loved ones. I understand there are criteria in regard to the stipulations and conditions under the programme, but many people are extremely frustrated in regard to access. Some people have to go abroad and, even worse, some people have to do without. I have seen the impact on people of having to go without, in particular those whose children are in pain. It is terrible. I have also seen how this medication can be absolutely transformative for people's loved ones. I am pleading with the Taoiseach to make this programme work for the countless number of people it could benefit.

I thank all of the Deputies for the issues raised under this heading. Deputies Bacik and Boyd Barrett raised the issue of private healthcare. In an emergency and in a pandemic, it makes sense to use all capacity that is available within the country. In regard to the first deal, I was not in government then but, to be fair to everybody, it was entered into in the uncertainty of the first wave of a pandemic and it was not, perhaps, utilised optimally. It was a huge cost. In terms of what has happened since, the HSE has entered into a more sustained agreement with the private sector, but I do not have the exact cost here. It is a type of safety net programme, with up to 1,000 bed days per week currently being utilised and a plan to increase that to 3,000 per week given the pressures on the public acute system because of Covid-19.

It is important to point out that this year has seen the largest increase in the provision of beds in our public health system, with approximately 950 hospitals beds to be in place across the system by the end of this year. The number of ICU beds has increased from 255 in 2020 to close to 300 now, and it is hoped to expand that further. There is a clear programme of expansion of public sector health provision and capacity. There is a whole range of work still to be done in terms of the consultant contract issue and other issues. Meanwhile, the idea of nationalising other hospitals is not on the agenda, nor is it possible. We cannot just rock up and buy a hospital if there is no vendor.

As we expand the public health sector, it has to be integrated into our existing structures. In terms of the elective facilities mentioned, they are public elective facilities that have to be integrated into existing acute hospital systems within given regional areas. The relationship, for example, between an elective facility in Cork in terms of Cork University Hospital and the Mercy University Hospital and others is key. That has to be part of the wider public health provision and giving access to public patients. Likewise in Galway and Dublin, where elective facilities are being planned for. The Department of Health is working up proposals in respect of facilities in those locations.

I do not have the exact cost of the current programme but my understanding is that it would have been discussed in committee prior to this wave because it has been in place for most of this year. It is increased as pressures increase on the public system. The overarching objective is to increase investment in the public system. That remains the overarching priority.

In regard to the inquiry in terms of the appalling situation that occurred in Stranorlar and the terrible reports which we have learned about there, Deputy McDonald stated that the Garda is stopping the publication of that report. An Garda Síochána is the authority in this country in terms of the law and prosecutions to criminal law. Ordinarily, Government does not intervene and tell the Garda not to pursue something or to abandon its investigations. I believe in the full truth being known and that the report should be published. My understanding is the Garda is indicating that full publication could jeopardise its investigatory process. Ultimately, the report has to be published. The families of all those who have suffered need to be given the full information in respect of this case. It is a shocking situation.

On Deputy Barry's question, transmissibility of the Delta variant is enormous across Europe. Fortunately, we have had one of the better vaccination programmes, with 93% of our population fully vaccinated, which is protecting against severe illness. Other European countries that are at 65% and 70% are experiencing a real problem now with the unvaccinated ending up in ICU. Last week, over seven days, 210,000 were vaccinated. That is not an inconsiderable number of vaccinations. That should be acknowledged. We have to do more. We have to increase capacity and we are going to do that. In addition, we have expanded the use of antigen testing significantly in the past six months, both in terms of various sectors such as the food production and healthcare sectors and in terms of close contacts, in respect of which up to 60,000 free tests were provided and a further 100,000 were provided to the agriculture sector.

The Taoiseach did not answer my question with regard to the announcement on the elective hospitals.

I did. The Department is working up proposals. I do not have a specific date.

Deputy Boyd Barrett raised the issue of the private hospitals, which I have dealt with.

Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked about the well-being framework. The Department of the Taoiseach is overseeing the development of a well-being framework. It is along the lines of the late Bobby Kennedy's approach that we cannot measure everything in life by GDP and that we have to look at well-being metrics that dictate how well a country is doing and how a society is doing for its people. New Zealand and other countries have adopted such a well-being framework.

With regard to the day care centre in Macroom, it is the type of opportunity that gives quality of life to people in rural locations. We need more of those in terms of the community side of healthcare.

Deputy Gino Kenny raised the issue of medicinal cannabis. I accept the Deputy's point that this is torturous and that the issue of access to the medicinal cannabis programme has been going on for years. I am glad to hear from the Deputy that three people are now registering. I will pursue the matter with the Minister for Health and his Department in respect of greater access to that programme and fewer hurdles such as those we have all been jumping through on behalf of people for so long.

Departmental Programmes

Mary Lou McDonald


12. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will outline the key policy achievements of his Department since June 2020. [54364/21]

Richard Boyd Barrett


13. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the key policy achievements of his Department since June 2020. [57324/21]

Paul Murphy


14. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach the key policy achievements of his Department since June 2020. [57327/21]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 12 to 14, inclusive, together.

Since 27 June 2020, ten new Cabinet committees have been established with specific responsibility for a range of issues to advance the Government's programme. Through the work of the committees, supported by my Department, a range of policy work has been advanced since June 2020, including management of the whole-of-government response to Covid-19. This includes the national vaccination programme roll-out; the economic recovery plan, which was published in June and implementation of which is helping to drive a jobs-rich recovery and support our transition to a decarbonised and digital economy; delivery of an initial well-being framework for Ireland and supporting information hub, which are being developed to better understand and measure our progress as a country; establishment of a social dialogue unit in my Department, which is working to co-ordinate and support the Government's overall approach to social dialogue; driving delivery of our commitments on shared island on a whole-of-government basis through the shared island unit in my Department and the shared island fund; work of the Future of Media Commission, which has now concluded its work and has produced a comprehensive report and recommendations; completion of the work of the Citizens' Assembly on gender equality; launch of the revised national development plan, setting out the roadmap for investment of €165 billion in new and upgraded infrastructure over the decade ahead; publication of Housing for All, an ambitious and far-reaching plan to address the provision of housing; supporting the development of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 and the Climate Action Plan 2021, which are key elements of a suite of measures introduced to fundamentally alter Ireland's approach to climate change; supporting Ireland's role in Europe and the world, including through my participation in the European Council, Ireland's seat on the UN Security Council and with respect to continuing EU-UK discussions on the Northern Ireland protocol; and four legislative programmes published setting out priority legislation across government.

The Taoiseach and I have previously discussed the unintended consequences of the programme for Government commitment in regard to the children's disability network teams.

Full-time therapies have been taken out of some special schools, to be accessed instead through community HSE services. This policy has had negative outcomes for children and I know the Taoiseach shares some of my concern in that regard.

I want to raise again the outstanding issues at Carmona School in Glenageary. I thank the Taoiseach for pursuing the matters raised and for his correspondence to me last month. I need to inform him that the information provided to his officials in terms of resources being returned to the school are simply not correct. A speech and language therapist is on site just one day a week, primarily for the purpose of evaluations. The reality for the children is they have had no speech and language therapy since February of this year. The occupational therapist is only on site two or three days each week. The physiotherapist is not trained for emergency chest compressions, nor are the two nurses on site, as referred to in the Taoiseach's response to me.

The parents have repeatedly stated to the HSE and the Minister of State that their failure to reinstate this necessary on-site resource constitutes a real, foreseeable and life-threatening risk to children attending the school who are non-verbal and disabled. Perhaps most alarmingly of all, the parents have been able to ascertain through freedom of information, FOI, that no risk assessment was carried out by the Department or the HSE in advance of implementing the progressing disability services programme in special schools. I urge the Taoiseach to have his officials re-engage with the HSE on these issues as a matter of urgency.

Over the past number of weeks, many taxi drivers were pushed off the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP. In fact, many of them could have stayed on it but voluntarily signed off because their sector was recovering. Now the sector has gone over a cliff because of the night-time curfew, the public health advice for people to reduce social contacts and the work from home provisions. Taxi drivers are being offered nothing. They have got it in the neck from the word go in this pandemic. Every measure that is taken impacts on their ability to make an income. It is not fair that they will again be punished financially and get no supports. We need to give them back the support such that they can earn a little from the bit of work that is out there, while having the income support of the PUP.

Precisely the same goes for musicians, entertainers and people working in events and the night-time economy. It is not fair that, yet again, they get hit. They have been the longest affected and the worst hit - they have been repeatedly hit - but they are denied the right to the PUP. Indeed, while other business supports are maintained, the workers, who depend on the supports and were hit hardest, are hammered and their supports taken away, with no indication from the Government that it intends to restore supports for them and people in similar sectors that are particularly hit by the latest round of public health measures.

First, I will revert to my officials on the issues raised by Deputy McDonald in respect of a specific school and the point she made that services have not returned. My overall commentary is that the progressing disability services policy or programme was developed nearly a decade ago. I was not in government at the time and I remember having concerns from the Opposition benches and speaking about it to principals of schools. What is happening, in essence, is that the objective from the HSE's perspective has been to get a harmonised system. Prior to the progressing disability services programme, special schools, in particular, had their own complement of therapists as part of the overall multidisciplinary school teams. The progressing disability services programme wanted to create a centralised system in a given region or location to give equal access to therapies to all pupils in mainstream and special schools. It has been a very slowly evolving programme and there have been problems with it. In my view, the programme should be rolling out without impacting on existing services in education or in schools. That is my view and I know the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, shares those principles.

We are engaging with the HSE in respect of some schools where this issue has manifested more recently. I will have a look at the situation again. We will have to take a serious look at how the progressing disability services programme is being rolled out. It should not be done on a basis that undermines existing provision in existing special schools. We provided resources for an additional 100 therapists last year, so there should be room to develop this new system in parallel. The previous Government started a pilot scheme and my view, personally and from a policy perspective, is that it needs to be developed. There is merit in continuing with the multidisciplinary approaches in schools while, on a more general basis, centralising provision in some centres. For example, Enable Ireland in Cork has an excellent centre in Curraheen. The only problem is that the schools have not been located adjacent to it, which would be the perfect solution that would allow for the full panoply of resources available to children with special needs. This is something I intend to continue to pursue with the agencies and Ministers responsible in terms of a broader review of policy.

On Deputy Boyd Barrett's questions about income supports, as we have reopened the economy, there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of people on the pandemic unemployment payment. I do not think people were pushed off it.

I just think work came back. We know from the returns in revenue that the economy has picked up very significantly throughout the summer. Thousands of people got back to work, which is a good thing. It is where people want to be. The changes we have made in the past week, in essence, bring the hours back to midnight. It is not ending any particular sector. Prior to this, intervention economically was when we moved from level 3 to level 5 or where, in effect, a sector was closed down or rendered completely inoperable. Those were the triggers and there were other triggers in respect of the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, and the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, in terms of the closure of a premises, for example.

We are now in a different phase of the pandemic. The measures we adopted at the very start in terms of restrictions and all of that were necessitated by what we knew then about the virus, the level of vaccination and so on. Now we are in a fourth wave. It is a very transmissible variant. Right across Europe, there are very considerable concerns. People have adapted here and that adaptation in terms of reduced socialising is having an impact on certain sectors. I acknowledge that. The challenge for us will be to develop more bespoke models in terms of the broad-brush approach we have used in earlier phases of the pandemic. That is the approach we intend to take. We will assess the impact of the measures on specific sectors, including the areas the Deputy identified. We have brought it back to midnight but I would not call it a curfew. In Holland, I think it is at 7 o'clock or 8 o'clock at night that all activity stops. However, what we have done does have an impact. I do not disagree with the Deputy on that.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.
Sitting suspended at 1.59 p.m. and resumed at 2.58 p.m.