Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Tax Clearance Certificates

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, for taking this matter. I want to discuss the use of cash for the purchase of property, including small parcels of land and sites. It is important that such financial transactions be evaluated, controlled and monitored, with particular attention needing to be paid to high-value cash transactions. I pay tribute to the agencies of the State tasked with the control of illegal money and money laundering. The Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, the money laundering investigation unit of An Garda Síochána and the Revenue Commissioners are leading the way on this but more needs to be done. At present, there are some safeguards in place under the regulations of the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Act 2010 to flag cash transactions such as property service provider declarations and business risk assessment forms. However, land is being sold for cash with no genuine account taken of where the money is coming from.

Over the past two years, I am aware of at least five separate sites being purchased in suspicious circumstances in my constituency. In most of these cases, the vendors were completely unaware of to whom they were selling. It has subsequently come to my attention that these sites are now being used for miscellaneous activities and outside the normal planning regulations. Auctioneers have sold four sites near Blarney and two near Grenagh to individuals with no connection to the area. The sites have no outline planning permission and, after sale, a change of use has occurred in each case without planning permission. The same endless saga of planning and forceful proceedings is instigated, which inevitably leads to little or no action. This is happening right across the Cork North-Central constituency.

This irregular activity must be questioned. In many cases, the source of the money used to buy the land is not accounted for because cash is used. It behoves me to ask why a person would buy a site with no outline planning permission and where there is no intention to build on it. Where is the money coming from for these transactions? The proceeds of crime have never been so great and the use of cash remains the primary means of transaction for criminals and organised crime gangs. At a time when the rest of society is moving towards cashless transactions, this leaves legitimate people and businesses vulnerable. Genuine vendors are unaware of who the buyer is, genuine buyers are being priced out of the market and the proceeds of crime are being washed with impunity.

I ask the Minister of State to undertake a review of the implementation of sections 38 and 39 of the 2010 Act and to promote greater awareness between stakeholders of the requirement to carry out risk assessments and keep the vendor fully informed. Will he provide an update on how many convictions for money laundering have been secured over the past two years? I also ask that regulations be examined to prohibit the purchase of property in this jurisdiction with a value greater than €5,000 without a tax clearance certificate. In addition, it is worth considering whether, in the absence of outline planning permission, a declaration of use by the vendor should be provided before a sale is concluded. Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a situation where a large number of criminals in Cork are purchasing land, which is currently the subject of an investigation by CAB. A number of sites have been reported to the bureau and investigations are ongoing. People from far afield, in the United States and elsewhere, are listed as the registered owners of land, as per the Land Registry affiliation folio, but those people clearly do not exist. As I said, these matters are subject to examination by CAB.

There is a lot going on in this area and it cuts across a number of Departments, including the Departments of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Finance and Justice. We need to have an open discussion on the issues and come to some sort of conclusion in terms of how we keep records of these people and these potentially illicit activities.

On behalf of the Minister for Justice, I thank Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan for raising this matter. I am happy to clarify the Department's responsibilities in regard to land and property legislation. The Deputy mentioned a number of organisations, including CAB, the money laundering unit in An Garda Síochána and the Revenue Commissioners, as well as local authorities. As he rightly points out, this is also an issue that can impact across various Departments. The Department of Justice works to make Ireland a safe, fair and inclusive place to live and work. As such, our responsibilities include overseeing services for the buying and selling of property, namely, conveyancing and probate legislation.

The Property Services Regulatory Authority, PSRA, is the independent statutory regulatory body tasked with responsibility for licensing and regulating property services providers, including auctioneers, estate agents, letting agents and property management agents, some of whom the Deputy referred to in his comments. Under the Property Services (Regulation) Act 2011, any business or individual that provides a property service, other than those who are subject to a similar licence or authentication scheme in another EU member state, must hold a valid licence from the PSRA. The requirement to obtain a licence applies to the sale, by whatever means, of land, including houses, apartments and other buildings, the auction of property other than land, including animals, art and antiques, the letting of land and accommodation, and property management services. It is an offence to provide a property service without a licence. The licensing of property services providers is intended to protect the interests of members of the public in their interaction with property services providers by ensuring high standards are maintained and delivered. For example, licensees must possess specified minimum qualifications, have available to them professional indemnity insurance and pay an annual contribution to the compensation fund.

As part of its independent statutory remit, the authority has powers to investigate complaints of improper conduct made against licensed property services providers and to commence, of its own volition, an investigation into suspected improper conduct. It also has the power to prosecute unlicensed property services providers. There are, therefore, key provisions in legislation in regard to complaints in this area. The Act does not provide that purchasers of property be tax compliant and-or that they be required to submit a tax clearance certificate as part of the purchase transaction. This is the essence of the point the Deputy raised. To reiterate, it is not a requirement to provide a tax compliance certificate to complete the purchase transaction. Typically, purchasers provide a booking deposit to an estate agent worth approximately 1% to 1.5% of the property sale price. The purchase of a house for €350,000, for instance, will require an approximate booking deposit of €5,000, which is held by the estate agent until the sale contract is signed. There is, however, no legal requirement for potential purchasers to forward a booking deposit to the agent. Instead, they may forward it to the vendor's solicitor.

The issue the Deputy raised relates to private third-party transactions involving the engagement of the services of a solicitor, matters for which the Minister for Justice has no responsibility. Tax clearance certificates and stamp duty, payable when property is bought, gifted or exchanged, are a matter for Revenue. Questions in respect of registered property and planning permission come under the remit of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and its agencies, namely, the Property Registration Authority, PRA, in respect of registered property, and An Bord Pleanála in respect of planning matters. As the Deputy stated, the matter encompasses a number of Departments. I confirm that a tax clearance certificate is not required to complete a purchase.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. I recognise that this is a difficult issue and I must be careful in what I say. I expected the type of response he has given. As stated, the issues fall between a number of Departments. The crux of the matter is that individuals are able to pay large sums of money, whether €70,000 or €80,000 for a site or much more for a house, and can, in effect, go to their solicitor or whatever representative is acting on their behalf and make a financial transaction far in excess of their means.

In this State, it is very difficult for us to track or trace where people are acquiring sites, land or buildings when they clearly do not have the means to do so in a legal way. It is worth examining this either through the Department of Justice or elsewhere.

The Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, only has the resources to deal with so much, but it is quite clear what certain criminals are doing. They are purchasing land and hiding money - effectively money laundering. Any of these are subject to investigation. They are doing their best to hide the resources they have in the hope that when their investigation with CAB concludes they can go back on their merry way and carry on with their illicit activity or whatever the case may be. This has come to our attention on a number of occasions in Cork. Deputy Gould and I have met people who are affected by this. I hope that in the coming months when CAB does its investigation, these people will be held to account. The matter merits further scrutiny by government.

I again acknowledge the remarks made by Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan in highlighting issues of major concern to many people throughout the country. In my opening remarks I was speaking specifically about tax clearance certificates, but this is very important. A PPS number is required for a deed to be stamped before the transaction can be completed. There are various ways that can happen. If somebody has a legitimate PPS number, that PPS number goes on the stamped deed to the Revenue Commissioners and the Revenue Commissioners have the authority to follow that regarding where the funds for the transaction came from. The Revenue Commissioners have the authority to follow up and every stamped deed in the State has a PPS number.

Any of these PPS numbers can be obtained properly and appropriately through the solicitor who is involved in the transaction, assuming every solicitor does the job correctly. They can get a client ID service a few weeks after the completion of the transaction if the purchaser does not have a PPS number in the first place. This can happen in two cases. For example, property may have been left by a long-lost uncle to a person who does not have a PPS number in the State. That person might be from Britain, the United States or somewhere else and have no connection with the State. He or she may be abroad, may be inheriting the property from parents but may not have a PPS number. Such persons can apply for a PPS number here in Ireland once they produce photographic ID, a birth certificate, passport details, etc.

If a business is buying a property from abroad and is not incorporated in the State, it must get a certificate of incorporation which can be done through a solicitor. The directors will need to apply for a PPS number in respect of that transaction.

In every one of these cases, there is a PPS number that Revenue can follow if it has grounds for believing there is something to follow up. It does not require a tax clearance certificate in advance. I have outlined cases of people from abroad who might not have had any engagement with the Revenue Commissioners but the Revenue will have a PPS number in all these cases.

Wastewater Treatment

I am raising an issue I first raised with the Tánaiste two weeks ago, namely, water, in particular wastewater around the Copper Coast area of Waterford and specifically in or around the village of Bunmahon. As the name indicates, Bunmahon is at the mouth of the River Mahon. That river is only 25 km long but it manages to achieve a considerable amount along its course. It rises at the top of the Comeragh Mountains and falls as a waterfall into one of the glacial coums that give the Comeragh Mountains their name.

I know the Minister of State has cycled the greenway and when he crossed the magnificent viaduct in Kilmacthomas he crossed the River Mahon. If he looked down from that viaduct, he would have seen Flavahan's mill, which has been powered by the River Mahon for many years. If he had his porridge this morning, he will have been in some sense powered by the River Mahon today. It runs into the sea at Bunmahon, a surfing village in the middle of our Copper Coast. That in itself is a UNESCO global geopark and it deserves better than to be treated as an open sewer.

The existing wastewater system is 50 years old and has not been subject to any significant upgrade in that time. It was originally designed to cater for a population of approximately 120 people. It is the most basic of primary treatments. It has a holding tank where the wastewater sits for 24 hours, which allows certain things to settle. The liquid, which is still not very pleasant, is then syphoned off the top. The tanks are desludged annually. However, the permanent population is now double that and is 500 or more during the summer. Therefore, the wastewater system is operating at four times over capacity.

Last Friday, I went to Bunmahon to meet local residents and groups and see the situation on the ground. I stood over the pipe and looked at what was coming out. It was not a pretty sight. The primary treatment is not doing the job it needs to do in separating out the solids. I would not base anything on anecdote having popped out there for one day. Waterford City and County Council conducted a microbiological survey and found exceptionally high levels of E. coli in the water in front of the caravan park and below the bridge. A sample taken in August suggests figures as high as 7,000 or more colony-forming units per 100 ml. The locals know not to leave their kids play there but the holidaymakers might not know that.

Despite all this, Bunmahon was not included in the latest capital investment plan to 2024. The residents were told they would be reconsidered for inclusion in the next plan. I do not want to be parochial, but my constituents have every right to be represented by me on the floor of the Dáil. I could similarly point to Tramore Pier where the RNLI have to put to sea through water that is not fit for such a purpose. Wastewater from Arthurstown, Duncannon and Ballyhack empties into Waterford Harbour with implications for people who are involved in aquaculture further downstream. The Minister of State could name the areas around Carlow and Kilkenny. Zooming out to a European level, we are likely to face fines. I would much prefer to invest in infrastructure than pay fines.

In case I have created a certain image in the Minister of State's mind of Bunmahon, let me set him straight; Bunmahon is gorgeous. When we were there inspecting the water, we saw kingfisher hunting with that flash of electric blue. From where we were, we could see all the way back up to the Mahon Falls where the river rises. I ask the Minister of State to help me provide a solution that will look after the community and the amazing natural resource it has.

I had my Flavahan's porridge this morning which was oatily delicious. I have it every morning. I am certainly familiar with Bunmahon, a beautiful part of the country.

The primary responsibility for the monitoring, management protection and improvement of water quality is assigned to local authorities under the Local Government (Water Pollution) Acts and related legislation. 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 level, including investment in wastewater treatment plants and returning wastewater safely to the environment in an efficient and sustainable manner. The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, is the key statutory body for investigating complaints of pollution and the enforcement, both directly and through oversight of Irish Water and local authorities, of environmental legislation in Ireland, including compliance relating to licensed urban wastewater discharges.

As a country, we have much more work to do to bring our water services infrastructure up to standard. In this regard, as part of budget 2022, the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, secured funding of €1.57 billion to support water services. This includes €1.459 billion - €629 million in current funding and €830 million in capital funding - in respect of domestic water services provision by Irish Water. The overall investment will deliver significant improvements in our public water and wastewater services, support improved water supplies throughout Ireland, including in rural areas, and support a range of programmes delivering improved quality in our rivers, lakes and marine area. It is key to addressing Ireland's shortcomings in water and wastewater infrastructure, including compliance with the urban wastewater treatment directive.

Regarding the issues along Waterford's Copper Coast, I understand that Irish Water has met members of the local community to discuss their concerns with the existing wastewater infrastructure in Bunmahon, with Irish Water committing to review the operation of the current treatment system and to outline its plans for the Bunmahon agglomeration.

In playing a key role in the delivery of water and wastewater infrastructure to meet housing and development needs, addressing legacy infrastructure deficiencies and working to improve compliance with environmental standards for schemes across the country, I welcome Irish Water's engagement with the local community on this issue. However, we all know it will not be possible to fix all our infrastructural deficits overnight and this work will require significant and sustained capital investment. The Deputy painted a picture of a very challenging situation, particularly in summertime when the population increases fourfold due to visitors. Any treatment system has to reflect the population equivalent in terms of the level of treatment. The fact that it is not included in the capital investment plan, as the Deputy said, needs to be reviewed by Irish Water. It certainly sounds to me to be an issue of urgent priority which needs to be addressed. I will take it back to the Minister and make representations to Irish Water on the Deputy's behalf as well.

I thank the Minister of State; that is very much appreciated. When I raised this with the Tánaiste, the question I asked was whether we needed to invest more money in wastewater systems. I was amazed when he answered that this year there was an underspend of €100 million. I will give the Minister of State an invitation. If he had €100 million to spend in any county in Ireland, he is more than welcome to come to Waterford to spend it, where it would be well spent throughout the county. There are solutions available. The short-term solution in Bunmahon would be to seal the pipes and to pump out more often so that it is desludged annually.

As the Minister of State will know, only two valleys beyond Bunmahon is the Anne Valley where there is an integrated wetland solution. Wastewater has been dealt with there and there was been an enormous biodiversity co-benefit. Following that, there has been a significant amenity co-benefit because the entirety of the Anne Valley can now be walked. On top of that, there has been an economic benefit because people are walking on what is essentially a septic tank, enjoying it and having a cup of coffee on the way. I invite the Minister of State to walk that area with me and look at it as a possible solution for the Bunmahon area where it would suit just as well. The topography is there. The landowners would be more likely to buy in because they would see the positive example just one village over. It would give the community the signal it needs, because even if it were to be announced in the next capital plan, they could probably live with that if a short-term solution was put in place. Let them do the preparation work which would mean that they could hit the ground running in 2025 and make sure they could provide for their wastewater needs into the future as the village grows.

The proposals the Deputy has made are reasonable and should be given consideration. I refer to the point he raised about the underspend. Obviously, there are capacity issues and issues still to be resolved with Irish Water's structure and its ongoing engagement with local authorities on service level agreements and the work ongoing with the Workplace Relations Commission. That work is progressing well. It will result in Irish Water becoming a fully-fledged public service utility that delivers on the infrastructure and the capital investment, which is unprecedented in the history of the State and which is needed, this Government has committed to. Sustained investment is required in the next decade and beyond to meet the growing population needs and our obligations under river basin management plans and so on. This is an area that is very beautiful but also very pressurised from other sources such as agricultural intensification about which we are currently in public consultation through the river basin management plans. We urge the public to continue to be involved in that process.

I am very familiar with the constructed wetland systems. They offer a solution to which we should give due consideration. For small catchment areas and communities, and even in larger communities, they have proven to work very well. They involve relatively low-cost technology as opposed to large pieces of mechanised infrastructure and, as the Deputy said, they have the added biodiversity benefit. When looking at nature-based solutions for water management, we should consider those types of facilities as well. I would be happy to visit the area in the new year.

Regeneration Projects

We would love if the senior Minister was here, but it is apt that the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, is here to discuss Noonan Road. He accepted the offer of the previous Deputy to visit a particular location. He might also come and look at Noonan Road where I am sure he would be welcome.

Noonan Road is the main thoroughfare, but there are three or four little side streets off it, including Fort Street, Dean Street and Finbarr's Road. We can talk about Noonan Road in general. The flats were built in the 1960s and 1970s to replace the lanes and tenements that were previously there. Since that time, it has never had any serious renovation. This is a fairly small area. It is a tight-knit and very proud community, but it is in desperate need of regeneration at this stage. Some of the blocks of flats are in a deplorable condition. Of the housing maintenance requests that come from the south-central ward in Cork city, they are dominated by issues from Noonan Road and the surrounding streets.

The regeneration of the area has been discussed for about 15 years at council level, and probably longer by the people of the community. It has not been a pipe-dream but a priority for Cork City Council. It has submitted numerous proposals to the Department yet, for some reason, it keeps turning it down. It never qualified under the apartment deep retrofit programme of 2017 to 2020. This is a community that is being neglected. Will the Minister of State explain to the people of Noonan Road why they are consistently neglected and how we will get funding from the Department for requests that are coming from the city council to do the regeneration that is so badly needed?

Every time I meet with Cork City Council officials, I always tell them that if there is anything they need me to raise or support in the Dáil, I will do so. Noonan Road is one such issue. The apartments on Noonan Road and houses in surrounding areas are in significant need of regeneration and retrofitting. There was a Department announcement two years ago that this was going to happen and tenants and residents were delighted. We are now going into 2022 and there is no retrofitting taking place.

Some of these apartments are in dire condition. A report published in 2019 stated that one of the homes had not had hot water for 38 years - not days, weeks, or months - such were the bad conditions in this properly. There are issues with mould, damp and leaks. There are obsolete electrical fittings. There are serious issues with housing and maintenance. People are contacting me about the conditions of their bathrooms and bedrooms. Yet, Cork City Council cannot access funding. The council states that it is trying to get funding but the Government will not provide it because it wants to retrofit and regenerate the area. That is not good enough.

Deputy Ó Laoghaire and I have to go back to Cork to meet these people who live in these conditions. What answer will we give them from the Minister of State? The Government is quick to state the amount of money and support it gives to local authorities, but here we have an area that has been crying out for years. This is a community that desperately needs to be supported. This scheme would make sense. We know the cost to people trying to heat their homes is phenomenal. The situation is that older people are without heating and trying to stay warm because they cannot afford the costs.

I was trying to familiarise myself with Noonan Road earlier, although I am fairly familiar with Cork city.

Our Department launched the energy efficiency retrofitting programme in 2013 with the aim of funding the retrofit of social homes requiring insulation and energy upgrade works. Since the programme commenced in 2013, more than 73,500 units of social housing stock have been retrofitted with a total Exchequer spend of €161 million under the scheme. This Government revised the energy efficiency programme in 2021 and increased the budget for it to €65 million. The programme focuses on ensuring that the fabric of the home is upgraded and that an energy efficient heating system is provided. This revised ten-year programme will see a significant upscaling of deeper retrofit on what has been completed by local authorities in previous years. Budget 2022 will see an increased allocation of €85 million being made available, which will see approximately 2,400 homes upgraded to a building energy rating of B2 or the cost-optimal equivalent under the programme.

From 2013 to 2020, Cork City Council received funding in the amount of €21 million in respect of retrofitting works for more than 7,000 units. Cork City Council received additional funding under my Department's voids programme from 2014 to 2019 in the amount of €3.3 million. In November 2019, my Department approved funding in the amount of €90,534 to install energy and environmental monitoring equipment at eight apartments at Noonan Road. A claim received on foot of this approval has been fully paid by the Department. In July of this year, my Department received a submission from Cork City Council under the energy efficiency programme seeking funding of over €4 million for 68 apartments at Noonan Road. My Department sought clarifications on various aspects of the submission and is currently awaiting a response from Cork City Council. A decision on the funding request cannot progress until Cork City Council reverts with the information required by my Department. To date, Cork City Council has received funding approval for €9.8 million for the retrofit of 210 apartments under the energy efficiency programme. To date, 156 apartments have been completed and funding of €7.2 million recouped by Cork City Council.

My Department welcomes the efforts made by all local authorities to improve the energy efficiency of housing stock under their control. Since 2013 local authorities have drawn down in excess of €160 million under the energy efficiency programmes. Under the 2021 energy efficiency programme, Cork City Council was allocated funding in the amount of €3.3 million for 123 units. Unfortunately, none of these units will be delivered this year but we look forward to their early completion in 2022.

My Department has provided support to all local authorities this year in achieving targets agreed under the 2021 energy efficiency retrofit programme. In addition to direct grant funding, significant project management resourcing was provided to each individual local authority so that it could put in place dedicated administrative and technical supports to help it drive the energy efficiency programme. This is the responsibility of local authorities and within their competencies. My Department acknowledges the difficult environment within which local authorities have had to work in 2021 with a construction shutdown and supply chain problems impacting on delivery. We look forward to significantly improved output under this programme in 2022 and to the advancement of the retrofit works at Noonan Road.

The Minister of State was trying to figure out where Noonan's Road is in Cork. To be helpful, it just behind the Bandon Road and Barrack Street area. The area is very much associated with the late Toddy O'Sullivan. I take this opportunity to put on record my condolences to his family. I am reading the Minister of State's response and it does not acknowledge the many applications made between 2009 and 2019 which did not succeed. With regard to the November 2019 funding, I am not saying it was not welcome but that was about gauges and energy monitoring systems going into flats. That is fine. There is no harm in these things but they do not make the flat warmer, drier or more comfortable. While welcome, that was a bit of a disappointment because the residents were expecting a lot more. They were expecting regeneration. This is the first time I have heard this piece regarding a decision on funding. Obviously, I will check that out but it is my understanding that the city council has put this out to e-tender and is hearing that there is no programme ready for next year.

The Minister of State should put together a programme and announce it as soon as possible. This community needs generation as much as, or perhaps more than, any community and should be considered for a pilot programme if there is not going to be an overall programme.

I am looking at the Minister of State's script. In the last paragraph on the first page it is stated that between 2013 and 2020, Cork City Council received €21 million in respect of retrofitting works for 7,000 units. Did the council change light bulbs or what? A figure of €21 million to retrofit 7,000 units does not add up at all. I ask that be clarified. Cork City Council has 10,500 social housing units and the Minister of State indicated that 7,000 of these were retrofitted over a seven-year period. That means 1,000 were done a year. That does not make sense at all. That needs to be clarified. The Minister of State is right that €7 million was spent on 156 apartments. The properties of residents in areas like Wolfe Tone Street and Allen Square were done, but the residents had to campaign and blockade roads because of the condition of their houses. The works were a tremendous success. I will bring the Minister of State down to Allen Square and the residents will tell him how the works changed their lives and reduced their bills by half but all the communities around them in Baker's Road, Churchfield and Mary Aikenhead Place are living in the cold.

With regard to the Noonan Road project, there is no further action my Department can take in respect of the submission for funding until Cork City Council provides the clarifications we are seeking. Our Department supports local authorities in improving their social housing stock through a range of programmes, including energy retrofitting, regeneration and refurbishment works on vacant properties, in order to return properties to productive use as quickly as possible. It is to be led by the local authority. As well as receiving funding support under the voids and energy efficiency programmes, Cork City Council has also been a significant beneficiary under our Department's national regeneration programme, which provided funding in excess of €280 million nationally between 2016 and 2020 across the regeneration areas. The very impressive Harbour View Road project in Knocknaheeney in the north inner city of Cork is an example of the type of energy-efficiency projects funded by our Department under the regeneration programme.

My father lives there. It was a success.

This is in addition to the normal large-scale regeneration and rebuild programme of works which continues to be funded by my Department in the Knocknaheeney area of Cork city.

With regard to the point Deputy Gould raised about the €21 million spent between 2013 and 2020, there were different standards of works. The funding required for 7,000 units to meet the 2013 standards is significantly different from that required to meet the current B2 standards and requirements. We are seeking clarification from Cork City Council in respect of this specific project. I ask that both Deputies help us expedite that as soon as is practicable.

Foireann Seirbhíse Sláinte

Táim fíorbhuíoch as ucht an seans chun an t-ábhar tábhachtach seo a phlé sa Dáil anocht. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit as a bheith anseo chomh déanach anocht. Ocht lá ó shin, bogadh bean 90 bliain d'aois ó Ospidéal Pobail Chorca Dhuibhne i nDaingean Uí Chúis go saoráid chónaithe i gCill Airne. Tá Cill Airne os cionn 70 ciliméadar óna baile féin i mBaile na nGall agus beagnach trí uair a chloig de thuras fillte dá clann. Is é Máire Bean Uí Bheaglaíoch an t-ainm atá uirthi. Tá sé dochreidte go bhfuil sé seo ag tarlú in 2021 ach is é seo an cás. Is é an cúis leis an mbogadh seo ná an easpa altraí agus an easpa leapacha san ospidéal a ghabhann leis. Tá níos mó altraí ag teastáil uainn go práinneach in Ospidéal Pobail Chorca Dhuibhne chun na leapacha atá ann anois a choimeád ar oscailt agus na leapacha folmha atá ann a oscailt arís do mhuintir Chorca Dhuibhne agus dár seandhaoine leithéidí Máire ach go háirithe. Níl sé ceart ar chor ar bith go bhfuil Máire i gCill Aire, chomh fada sin óna baile, anocht cé go bhfuil 14 leaba folamh ina ceantar dúchais i gCiarraí thiar. Chaith Máire sé mhí i leaba gearrchónaithe in Ospidéal Pobail Chorca Dhuibhne sular bogadh í go Cill Airne. Bhí sí socraithe agus sásta go maith agus bhí aithne aici ar gach duine. Bhí sí ann a máthairtheanga a úsáid go laethúil le foireann an ospidéil agus le hothair eile. Níl sí in ann é sin a dhéanamh anois agus tá a clann buartha go mór go bhfuil sí imithe síos mórán le seachtain. Níl sí in ann na haltraí i gCill Airne a thuiscint agus níl siad in ann í a thuiscint. Níl sé ceart go raibh Máire ar an liosta feithimh fadtéarmach tar éis sé mhí a chaitheamh san ospidéal. Is cinnte go gcaithfear eisceachtaí a dhéanamh i gcásanna leis na tosca sin go léir.

Tá mé ag glaoch arís anocht chun Máire a thabhairt ar ais chuig a ceantar dúchais i gCiarraí Thiar ar chúiseanna daonnúla.

Chomh maith leis sin, tá an HSE ag rá ar feadh blianta anois go bhfuil siad ag déanamh a ndícheall chun altraí a earcú ag ospidéal pobal Chorca Dhuibhne ach níl na haltraí ag teacht. Tá an HSE ag rá go bhfuil ceithre altra nua ag teastáil uathu chun na hocht leaba ghearrthéarmach agus na hocht leaba fhadtéarmach a oscailt ach tá altraí ag an ospidéal ag rá go bhfuil i bhfad níos mó altraí ná an líon seo ag teastáil, go háirithe mar go mbeidh beirt altraí eile ag éirí as go luath.

Tá an HSE ag déanamh an rud céanna maidir leis an ospidéal ar feadh blianta ag súil le torthaí difriúla a fháil. Caithfidh siad plean a chur in áit chun foireann iomlán a chur ar bun chun na leapacha go léir a oscailt do mhuintir Chorca Dhuibhne agus todhchaí an ospidéil a shábháil.

We need nurses, we need more beds and we need to get Máire Bean Uí Bheaglaíoch back home and we need to make sure that this never happens to any person from west Kerry again. I cannot adequately state the stress this has caused, not just Máire herself, but to her entire family and community. I thank the Minister of State for engaging with me over the past week or so, especially on this case. However, we need the HSE to look at the exceptional circumstances of this case, address it and move Máire Bean Uí Bheaglaíoch back to Dingle, but also urgently address the need for more staff and more beds at west Kerry community hospital.

Tá an freagra seo as Béarla. I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. The west Kerry community hospital provides important and valued services for the people in the west Kerry area. As the hospital is one of just two units providing long-term care on the Dingle Peninsula, I understand the significant role it plays in the community and the depth of feeling associated with the hospital. As well as providing long-stay residential care, the community hospital also provides short-stay beds. These beds are used for respite and rehabilitation and the people using them generally stay for a number of days or weeks.

There are currently 34 long-stay residents in west Kerry community hospital and four people availing of short-stay beds for respite, rehabilitation, palliative care or other supports. The current bed capacity at the hospital is 46 and the HSE's plan is to increase this capacity, once more staff can be recruited. I am sure Deputy Griffin will understand my reluctance to speak in any great detail about the specifics of any individual case in the House, given the personal nature and complex circumstances involved.

We have spoken many times on the issue. I know the Deputy is passionate about it and I will continue to work with him on this case. Unfortunately, there is a waiting list for long-stay places in west Kerry community hospital, which I sincerely regret. A total of ten people are currently waiting to access long-term care beds in west Kerry community hospital. In line with legislation and to ensure equity and fairness for all applicants, waiting lists have to be abided by throughout our community hospitals.

There is a process for allocating these limited spaces when they become available, which is based on the date on which a person chooses the centre as their place of choice for long-stay care. Due to the current waiting list, it is an unfortunate fact that people may have to take up residence in an alternative centre for a period of time and await a placement for a long-stay bed in the west Kerry facility. This is what has happened in this case.

Staff recruitment to west Kerry community hospital and many other community hospitals in rural locations can be extremely challenging. The HSE has made extensive and prolonged efforts to recruit staff in order to increase the number of beds in west Kerry. Recruitment is ongoing and interviews are held frequently. There are currently four and a half whole-time equivalent vacant nursing posts and a number of healthcare assistants are also required to open the remaining beds.

The HSE will continue intensive recruitment efforts in order that the services available can be expanded in west Kerry and these efforts will include international recruitment. Unfortunately, the HSE cannot open any more beds until more staff have been recruited. With the current staffing levels in west Kerry community hospital, the maximum number of people that can be safely accommodated right now are being accommodated.

All efforts are being made to increase the staff complement, which would add another eight long-term residential spaces and another eight short-stay beds to the hospital. This would bring the total capacity to 54 beds and would go a long way to providing the services required to all individuals who are in need of these services. Officials from my Department will continue to monitor the situation and I have requested the HSE to keep me updated on any progress.

I thank the Aire Stáit for coming in tonight and the energy which she has brought to her role. She really puts her heart into her job. It is refreshing to see and I am grateful for that. I will emphasise my concerns about the crude system the HSE seems to have for long-stay beds. It seems to be based purely on chronological factors alone. Yet, in this case I have highlighted, which is just one case, age is a particular issue. Máire Bean Uí Bheaglaíoch is 96 years of age.

We have an teanga, which is a very important matter, not only in terms of well-being, but the basic day-to-day communications. Nurses in Killarney cannot understand her mother tongue. Her native language is Irish and she has difficulty understanding the nurses. That is both dangerous and very unsettling. In this case, there was also the length of time spent in the facility already and the element of having settled in. There are numerous other factors as well, such as the distance her family would have to travel. One would go from Cork to Dublin in the time it would take to get from Baile na nGall to Killarney and back home again. On humanitarian grounds, I ask that this case be revisited.

On the broader issue, we need to take a different approach. The HSE has to accept it has failed in its approach to date. It cannot continue the approach. It has to do something exceptionally different. The nurses simply are not coming. It needs to look at more flexible working arrangements and providing better incentives for people. I call on the Minister of State to engage for the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media and the Minister for Rural and Community Development on a cross-departmental approach, as was advocated by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, last week, to see whether we can try to help the situation through a number of Departments combining their efforts.

We need to acknowledge the peripherality of Dingle, in that nurses are located very far away. They will need extra incentives to come there or more flexible arrangements need to be given to qualified nurses in the locality who cannot take up employment. Other ideas are also welcome.

I sincerely regret the situation that Máire Bean Uí Bheaglaíoch finds herself in. The waiting list for the long-stay places in west-Kerry community hospital is of ten people. As the Deputy knows, community nursing units and hospitals are an essential part of our social care infrastructure and will, at a certain point, be a necessary option for some older people in order to meet their healthcare needs. They play a vital role in an overall continuum of care for older people over the coming years, as our older population increases in line with demographic trends. I have visited many of them over the past few months and see the care and support people get in the community hospitals.

Community hospitals, such as west Kerry community hospital, form an integral part of the local community. The ability to hire, support and retain experienced, dedicated staff is essential to the delivery of the essential services that facilities such as west Kerry provide. The HSE has advised it is committed to ensuring, as quickly as possible, that staffing capacity is built in west Kerry and a sustainable workforce is soon in place in order that the residents of west Kerry community hospital can have access to the services they require as soon as they require them.

I will continue to engage with the Deputy and officials from my Department will continue to monitor the situation. I have requested the HSE to keep me updated on any progress.

The Dáil adjourned at 12.09 a.m. until 9.12 a.m. on Wednesday, 15 December 2021.