Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 15 Feb 2022

Vol. 1018 No. 1

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The report of the Business Committee has been circulated and is to be taken as read. Are the arrangements for this week's business agreed to? They are not agreed.

For the second week in a row, the Government has refused to agree to any statements whatsoever requested by the Opposition. This week, the Government has about 12 hours of time available and none of it has been allocated to statements from the Opposition. This is not sustainable, and it cannot continue. This has been the Taoiseach's position week after week. I seek a commitment from him on the matter now. For example, last week he committed to statements on two ombudsman's reports that came from the North, but that was not agreed. In spite of there being 12 hours of Government time, none of it is allocated to the Opposition for statements. That is totally unsustainable and unacceptable. Will the Taoiseach commit to restoring statements from the Opposition to this week's schedule and in each of the coming weeks?

For the first time ever, legislation has been passed to end a farming identity in this country. As the Taoiseach knows, I refer to mink farming. The Government has shut down three farms that were creating employment, one of them in County Kerry. A fair and honourable commitment was given at the time, and we all expected it would be honoured. I refer to fair compensation and a fair package for the people who were working on the three farms. Unfortunately, every commitment and promise has been broken. That is not right. It is not fair.

What does it have to do with the Order of Business?

It has an awful lot to do with it. I will tell you why, a Cheann Comhairle. If not here, when, and if not now, where and how? It has to be arranged somewhere and this is all I can do on behalf of those three farms which the Government has shut down. What is the Government going to do to be fair, honest and reasonable in dealing with those involved?

I thank the Deputy. The time is up.

I plead with the Taoiseach on their behalf.

I ask why the short debate on the citizens' assembly has been removed at late notice from today's schedule.

Why has the debate on the biodiversity citizens' assembly been wiped from today's agenda? The Dáil declared an emergency and a crisis in 2019. It has taken two years for the Government even to put a date on the citizens' assembly. The much-heralded review of the national parks is delayed. The much-heralded announcement of the wildlife unit shows that only one person has been allocated to that wildlife unit. When I raised this on Twitter, someone said “I hope it is Ace Ventura that is being employed”. We need to be discussing biodiversity in the Dáil. It is a disgrace that it has been taken from the agenda today.

In light of the report in The Sunday Business Post in regard to governance of the HSE, it is incumbent on this House to have a wider debate on retention and recruitment in the overall health service. Many people who read that report were very concerned about the state of our public health services. We need a wider debate, not only in regard to that article but on the wider issue of retention and recruitment in the HSE.

There are important statements this week, first, on the commission on defence and, second, on the retrofitting initiative. I thought Members would have welcomed the opportunity to speak on those. The Opposition has three Private Members’ opportunities.

There are two. The other one is not for the Opposition only. It is for Government and Opposition.

The Opposition benefits from that as well. In previous times, there was only ever one Private Members’ opportunity so there are more opportunities in this Dáil and the last then there was historically in the House. There was a debate on legacy the week before last and we are committed to doing one on the ombudsman's report. In terms of the citizens' assembly, that is being prioritised for next Tuesday now.

Why was it taken off?

There was some technical issue around the wording. I will come back to the Deputies on that. I am anxious to get it done as quickly as possible and it will be prioritised for next Tuesday.

In terms of mink farming, I think it is the right policy. The mink is foreign to our biodiversity in many respects. As to fair compensation, the Minister has met with the farmers concerned. There was a lot of disquiet about the fact mink farming was going on in the country and it raised a lot of concerns. From a policy perspective, the decision was taken, it is in the programme for Government and it was followed through on. I will relay the Deputy’s concerns to the Minister, who is engaging with the farmers concerned in terms of the agreements entered into.

In terms of wildlife, we are currently recruiting for the wildlife investigations unit; that recruitment is under way and it is a very welcome initiative. On the broader National Parks and Wildlife Service, I can tell the Deputy that before this Government is finished, that will be well and truly enhanced in terms of resources and its status within the overall framework of Government infrastructure on the issue of biodiversity.

There was Deputy Gino Kenny's question on recruitment.

I dealt with that on Leaders’ Questions. Generally, the Government view is that we want to create space for legislation and for the legislative functions of the Dáil in addition to just statements all of the time.

I do not see how that recruits nurses.

I am putting the question, "That the proposed arrangements for this week's business be agreed to." Is that agreed?

Deputies

Not agreed.

Question put: “That the proposed arrangements for this week's business be agreed to.”
The Dáil divided: Tá, 70; Níl, 55; Staon, 0.

  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Browne, James.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Canney, Seán.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Carroll MacNeill, Jennifer.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Costello, Patrick.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Crowe, Cathal.
  • Devlin, Cormac.
  • Dillon, Alan.
  • Donnelly, Stephen.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Duffy, Francis Noel.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frankie.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flaherty, Joe.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Foley, Norma.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Higgins, Emer.
  • Hourigan, Neasa.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Lahart, John.
  • Lawless, James.
  • Leddin, Brian.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Matthews, Steven.
  • McAuliffe, Paul.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noonan, Malcolm.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Brien, Joe.
  • O'Connor, James.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Gorman, Roderic.
  • O'Sullivan, Christopher.
  • O'Sullivan, Pádraig.
  • Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Rabbitte, Anne.
  • Richmond, Neale.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smyth, Niamh.
  • Smyth, Ossian.
  • Stanton, David.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Barry, Mick.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Brady, John.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Cairns, Holly.
  • Carthy, Matt.
  • Clarke, Sorca.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Connolly, Catherine.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Cronin, Réada.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Pa.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donnelly, Paul.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Farrell, Mairéad.
  • Funchion, Kathleen.
  • Gould, Thomas.
  • Guirke, Johnny.
  • Healy-Rae, Danny.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kenny, Gino.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • Kerrane, Claire.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Mythen, Johnny.
  • Nash, Ged.
  • O'Callaghan, Cian.
  • O'Donoghue, Richard.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • O'Rourke, Darren.
  • Ó Laoghaire, Donnchadh.
  • Ó Murchú, Ruairí.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Ryan, Patricia.
  • Smith, Duncan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Tully, Pauline.
  • Ward, Mark.
  • Whitmore, Jennifer.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Jack Chambers and Marc Ó Cathasaigh; Níl, Deputies Pádraig Mac Lochlainn and Michael Healy-Rae.
Question declared carried.

We have 17 questions and 22 minutes. If Members are concise and the answers are too then we will get through everyone. Deputy McDonald is first.

Once again we have very disturbing, upsetting news from the north west and once again a question mark is placed over the ability of the HSE to safely provide services to citizens with disabilities. I understand the Minister is to establish an independent review not just into this latest episode but into the services more generally. When will the terms of reference for the review will be published? Who will lead that review?

When will the programme for Government commitments on safeguarding legislation be fulfilled? The legislation must include mandatory reporting and the legal right of entry for safeguarding and social care teams. It is urgent and essential if we are to ensure citizens are safe, that they are delivered quality services and above all else, that they have recourse in the event that things go wrong and where vulnerable people are failed.

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. HIQA advised the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, and the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, in December 2021 that the chief inspector had concerns about the ongoing governance of social care in community healthcare organisation, CHO, 1 and about a recent very serious adult and child safeguarding concern. The chief inspector of social services has instigated a regulatory programme requiring the HSE to take action to improve the quality of life for residents and regulatory compliance. HIQA is monitoring the progress with the HSE in that regard. It is my understanding the Minister met HIQA and the HSE and the Department of Heath is now preparing the terms of reference for the scoping exercise to strengthen safeguarding practice. Further work meetings are to take place between the Minister and the Department in respect of that.

I will come back to the Deputy on the timelines for the legislation.

A couple of weeks ago the Taoiseach agreed with me here that the mid-west needed an elective hospital given the massive overcrowding and that University Hospital Limerick, UHL, is simply too small. There are reports in the media that UL Hospitals Group, along with a number of others, has worked with a private organisation, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, UPMC, on building an elective hospital in the mid-west. Is this Government policy? Does the Taoiseach believe it should go ahead like that or, given what we have come through collectively in this House as part of Sláintecare, that the elective hospital in question should be publicly-built, publicly-owned and based at one of the health campuses within the mid-west, such as St. John's Hospital, Nenagh or Ennis?

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. Sláintecare identified in priority terms that Cork, Dublin and Galway would have elective facilities. That was some years ago. It has taken a bit too long to develop these projects so I have told the Minister and the HSE I want these elective facilities developed. The most effective way to deliver them is on State-owned land, getting the design done and getting them delivered. That is happening in Cork and Galway has been identified. There is a bit more work needed in Dublin. I have the same principle with the mid-west, namely, keep it simple.

We need elective facilities. Where we have State land to provide those elective facilities, we should do so. There is always a myriad of interests in health that say they will do it here or there, or this group want to do it here. I do not understand why the State should not go ahead, develop and get this thing done.

I will ask the Taoiseach about the Stardust inquests. It is 41 years since 48 young people never came home from a night out at the Stardust. In addition, 214 people were seriously injured that night. The fire had a devastating impact on the families and surrounding communities in Artane, Coolock, Kilmore and surrounding areas. The State response to the fire, and the total failure to uncover the truth about how it started, has had a major impact on the families and survivors. It is very important the remaining obstacles to the commencement of the inquests are dealt with urgently. It is essential a paid jury is at the inquests. Will the Government act now to ensure there is a paid jury at the inquests?

To be fair, the Government has responded to issues that have arisen, which have not been created by it. For example, the Government responded to the free legal aid issue and amended legislation to facilitate that in respect of the coroner's inquests. As the Deputy knows, there was a tribunal of inquiry some time ago, which clearly did not, for understandable reasons, meet the concerns of the families or give closure in any respect. It led to findings that caused a lot of upset. There have been subsequent reviews of that. The latest development is that legal representatives are saying that jurors are needed at the inquests. There has been some correspondence between the Minister for Justice and the coroner regarding that. I met with the families yesterday. There are issues around the Juries Act and the Coroners Act not facilitating a lengthy attendance for something that will take jurors four to six months. That is being examined.

A toxic time bomb is ticking at RUSAL Alumina near Askeaton. I remember visiting it when it was Aughinish Alumina, almost ten years ago, and meeting local campaigner Pat Geoghegan, who I believe the Taoiseach met when he was Minister for Health. I saw a massive, red mud storage area, which is now so big it can be seen from space. It comprises 50 million tonnes of toxic waste with no lining, contrary to the planning permissions. Uranium, lead, mercury and hazardous salt cake are contained within it. It seeps into the estuary, it kills wildlife and it threatens public health. It is a result of bauxite refining but RUSAL now wants to extend that refining even further. The question is whether the Government will simply stand by and let it happen. At the very least, will the Taoiseach order an investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and ensure no rock blasting prior to inspection?

The Environmental Protection Agency is there to protect the environment and to ensure adherence to the strict laws governing industrial projects of this kind, including manufacturing entities, mining entities and refining entities. I will refer the Deputy's remarks to the EPA and will seek a reply from it regarding this matter.

Children with additional needs in south Tipperary are in crisis. Parents have had 13 rejections from schools and, if they can get their children into a unit, are travelling up to an hour to get there. There are currently no units in the towns of Carrick-on-Suir, Clonmel or Cahir, although a new school is under way in Cahir and there will be a unit in that. We are delighted that a new Gaelscoil is being built in Carrick-on-Suir, for which, thankfully, the objections have been withdrawn. There is a crisis in autism spectrum disorder, ASD, services. It is not fair on parents or children to have to travel that distance. To get 13 rejections for a child who needs special supports must be heart-rending. I cannot imagine it. As I said, they have to travel up to an hour. I ask the Taoiseach to please try to do something to alleviate that.

There has been an enormous expansion in additional needs education. I am not clear whether all the schools in the area are accepting children with special needs.

In my view, schools should be open to accepting children. The Deputy might let us know if there are schools that have made applications for additional capacity in order that we can get those accelerated to cater for children who-----

My own school is waiting-----

-----should get places in line with their progression. In other words, if they need places next September, they should get them.

I raised the issue of school secretaries and caretakers in October 2021 with the Tánaiste. At that time, we got a very positive response. Negotiations have been ongoing, but there is an issue in respect of allowing school secretaries access to the public service superannuation scheme. This has not yet been brought to the Cabinet. My understanding is that it can be done by way of statutory instrument. It is an issue that is holding up progress with the negotiations to once and for all give school secretaries and caretakers what they deserve, including the quality of payment and increments in pensions they deserve and require.

We are very anxious to get this matter resolved and concluded. As the Deputy knows, talks with the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, have been ongoing for quite some time. Subject to agreement on all elements of the claims, the Department of Education has offered to move school secretary pay rates to a scale that is aligned with the clerical officer grade III pay scale on a pro rata basis, according to the secretaries' current working patterns. The Department has also offered to improve the conditions for school secretaries with regard to sick leave, annual leave and maternity provisions for this cohort of this staff. Further dialogue has taken place between the parties on these issues since 13 September last, with the aim of reaching an overall agreement. Talks are continuing, most recently at the WRC on 26 January. The parties are to meet again later this month following reflection of the matters discussed at the meeting on 26 January. I welcome the continued engagement between the parties and I encourage all stakeholders to focus on finalising an agreement.

I draw the Taoiseach's attention to the crisis situation in Galway regarding the absence of respite beds and carers. I have an up-to-date position on the numbers. Pre Covid, we had 25 respite beds in the city and country; we now have four. There are four respite beds, post Covid, in the entire city and county. On carers, we now have 278 people on a waiting list who are assessed as needing urgent care. I am drawing this to the Taoiseach's attention, as I have previously. These are the up-to-date figures. Post Covid, we are now worse off than we were before Covid and we were in trouble before that. This is putting an enormous burden on families and the hospital system.

I will refer those figures to the Minister for Health. That should not be the case because resources have increased. I accept what the Deputy has presented, but the resources to the services have increased. I will follow that up.

We have ten more minutes. We will cut questions to 30 seconds and answers to 30 seconds.

In 2009, the national immunisation advisory committee, NIAC, approved the human papillomavirus, HPV, vaccine for 12- to 13-year-old girls to reduce their risk of developing cervical cancer. In 2018, on foot of a NIAC recommendation, the HPV vaccine also became available to boys in first year. Currently, the Department of Health has asked NIAC to consider providing the vaccine to girls and boys who were eligible to receive it in first year but who did not receive it, in addition to women up to the age of 25. Unfortunately, an anomaly exists in that any boy who is in fourth, fifth or sixth year of school at present will not be considered eligible for that expanded programme. While that programme is great and is welcome, I ask the Government to do all it can to address that anomaly.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue, which he has raised with me previously. It is a very fair point. I will raise the matter with the Minister and the HSE in respect of doing the thing properly and making sure that HPV vaccine coverage is as comprehensive as possible.

I will ask about the planning exemptions for solar panels. The microgeneration support scheme received Government approval last month and the large retrofit scheme was announced only last week allowing premises to install and use solar panels, including schools, churches, community buildings and farm buildings. I understand the requirement for strategic environmental assessment. That is only right and proper but we urgently need to move and expedite this process to bring in the exemptions for solar panels for domestic use and across all commercial use.

I agree with the Deputy. I am putting enormous pressure on my colleague sitting two seats from me to get on with it; he assures me that it will be done in the next two to three weeks. I have been to schools where it is very dispiriting when students come up to me to ask why they cannot have a solar panel on their school.

This is part of a wider education and awareness programme. Young people want to lead on climate change and these sort of things so the pressure is on for everyone.

I also want to raise the issue of solar panels on schools. I recently visited St. Philip's senior national school which has been awarded a grant for a major refurbishment of the schools' walls and ceilings. It would be a shame not to have solar panels installed while that refurbishment work is being done. It is really important that the Government brings forward that exemption. According to a recent report from Stanford University, solar panels would meet 75% of schools' energy costs and would reduce the carbon footprint of the education sector by as much as 28%. It is well worth doing.

As I said, this Government would be the first Government to do it. No other Government has done this. We should do it. I take the Deputy's point.

As the Taoiseach will know, the Northern Ireland planned healthcare scheme was put in place last year to replace the EU cross-Border directive following Brexit. As we know, large numbers of patients, typically those on long waiting lists, have obtained treatment and-or procedures in Northern Ireland, Britain and elsewhere, which were then paid for by this State. People have accessed treatment and procedures in a variety of areas such as orthopaedics and, in particular, for cataracts. The scheme has been of great importance in providing necessary care to so many people. The scheme is now run on an administrative basis. Legislation needs to be put in place to underpin this scheme for the long-term. Can the Taoiseach given an assurance that there will be no delay in bringing forward and enacting that legislation?

It was a significant challenge to get the scheme on an administrative basis in the first instance. I pay tribute to the Minister for doing that. I was anxious that would happen. I am not clear as to the legislative timeline for it but I will revert to the Deputy on that.

At the risk of repetition, but for a valid reason, I raise the need for urgent review of the health services. I ask the Taoiseach, as a former Minister for Health who knows the subject well, that there be an emergency reappraisal of the health services with a view to delivering and bringing up-to-date waiting lists for all disciplines in the shortest time possible.

As I said earlier, the Minister will shortly bring before Government an overall plan for waiting list reductions for 2022. Approximately €350 million will be allocated for 2022, with a multiannual waiting list initiative afterwards as part of that. There is an urgent need to get waiting lists down as we emerge from Covid-19.

There are 84 people on trolleys in Cork University Hospital today. The INMO has described this as "dangerous levels of overcrowding", the highest ever that have occurred in the State. Many of these people are likely to be quite sick and elderly. I know the Taoiseach will mention Covid. It is a given that that has an impact, but the INMO has stated that it is not acceptable for the hospital group to continue to blame the national picture. Staff feel abandoned, that neither the HSE nor the hospital group is listening and that more records will be broken. There are fewer step-down beds in the Cork city area than there were before Covid. CUH needs urgent action. Will the Government and the HSE develop a bespoke plan for CUH?

In the first instance, we stand ready to support HSE South and the HSE more generally in respect of any plans that emanate from the region. The HSE at national level has taken an interest in what is happening in the south region in terms of structures and so on. The capacity issue also needs to be enhanced. We need proposals as well from the hospital and the hospital group in terms of initiatives that can be funded at central level and will be funded.

I note the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage is sitting beside the Taoiseach. The Killian Woods report from last weekend on the shared equity affordable housing scheme would seem to suggest that the Government's affordable housing plan is looking increasingly like it is going to be completely defunct. I do not agree with that scheme because I think it is chasing already unaffordable house prices. It now appears that the house prices for all the new builds that are coming, particularly in Dublin, for the most part are going to be way in excess of the caps for the scheme. In other words, they are going to be next to useless. What does the Minister have to say?

That is not the case. We have a target of 4,100 affordable units this year. We intend to meet that target. We brought forward the most comprehensive piece of affordable housing legislation in the Affordable Housing Act 2021. In large part, delivery of affordable homes this year and in the next two or three years will be by way of the shared equity scheme, which will work to deliver homes for many people. That is where we are at. We are going to do it.

The Deputy should not believe everything he reads in the paper.

This day fortnight, the Circuit Court trials which are supposed to start in Tralee and have done for generations will once again commence in Limerick city, which means all the jury members, the legal teams, Garda working in Kerry and witnesses will be taken out of the county for a period of five weeks. Not only is this inconvenient for all of those people, it flies in the face of the Government's Town Centres First policy because all of that business is gone from the town. I ask the Taoiseach to do what he can to restore the trials to Kerry.

It is a Courts Service issue.

It is a Courts Service issue. I will ask the Minister, Deputy McEntee, to engage with the Courts Service on the matter. We are always anxious to do what we can for Kerry.

Cork is very good to Kerry.

While we welcome the Government's decision to set up a statutory agency to oversee the State's response to domestic abuse, a number of issues flow from that, in particular the issue of maintenance and the difficulty people have in accessing maintenance through the current courts system, particularly when the defaulting party refuses to pay, where often abused spouses who live in refuges and shelters find themselves having to access the court system on a continual basis. Will this agency be given the power to step in and represent those people, particularly the most vulnerable among them, in relation to seeking maintenance?

The specific functions and objectives of the agency have yet to be determined. The overall objective is to co-ordinate much more effectively services and policy in relation to domestic violence, sexual violence and gender-based violence. It is felt that pulling the different strands together under one agency is the best way to go. Prioritising that will be policy, the wraparound services from Tusla and a more direct approach to building proper state-of-the-art centres and refuges. The point the Deputy raises is very interesting. As I understand it, the Department of Social Protection currently has a key role in that regard. I will talk with the Minister, Deputy McEntee, on the issue and ask her to pursue it further.

Top
Share