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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 21 Jun 2022

Vol. 1023 No. 7

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

School Staff

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to again raise this particular issue. I acknowledge the Minister's presence in the Chamber to address it. I am talking about three schools, two of which are jointly located and a third that is some miles distant from that group. The schools that are jointly located are second level schools and the one by itself, in a place called Kilshanroe-Carbury, is a national school. The problem is that the national school is about to lose a teacher. It had five teachers but will end up with four. The difficulty is it is a small school and the numbers have burgeoned since last year. It barely had the numbers with just 107 pupils on the roll in September 2021. This year, however, it already has 112 pupils. This will now place an extra burden on the teachers, especially their ability to give of their best in a demanding situation. There is at least one situation whereby two children with autism will have to share a classroom with more than 30 children, which is not suitable for the other children or those who require a special autism unit. No such unit is available in the area.

I understand the usual appeal has been made in this particular case but it has been refused. In view of the fact that children with autism are involved, as is the loss of a teacher who will be replaced again next year, I do not see the logic in it. The Minister has vast experience in this particular area. It goes without saying she would be equally knowledgeable and, it is to be hoped, sympathetic to reviewing the issue once again as it affects the school, with a view to a favourable outcome.

Two second level schools are located on the same Maynooth campus. It was a ground-breaking, and long and dedicated, effort on the part of parents, boards of management, etc. when they sought to place both schools on the same site. They share recreational and many other facilities. It is a big school campus. Approximately 2,000 students attend both schools.

It is important to note that, whatever indications were given during the initial negotiations about an extra teacher in line with the criterion of 1.5, a teacher is about to be lost as well. This is a high-density area with a rapidly growing population. Following the extensive negotiations between the parents, boards of management and previous Ministers, an indication was given that there would be a derogation so as to ensure that there would be an extra teacher, but the schools will lose a teacher in the current year.

The pressures are obvious, including population size and the need to cater for so many students at the one location, which the schools are doing successfully. The pressures merit further evaluation by the Minister. I do not want to tell her, or suggest to her, how she should do her job - she is well versed in this area - but I ask that she give full consideration to the question.

I thank the Deputy for the opportunity to outline for the House the position on staffing in schools, particularly the schools referred to by the Deputy.

The key factors for determining the level of staffing resources provided at individual school level is the staffing schedule for the relevant school year and pupil enrolments on the previous 30 September, those being the October returns. Previous budgets of 2016 and 2018 improved the staffing schedule. Budget 2021 implemented a reduction of one point for the 2021-22 school year so that primary schools were allocated teaching posts on an average basis of one classroom teacher for every 25 pupils. Budget 2022 progressed the ongoing major investment in our primary education sector by providing a further reduction of one point for the 2022-23 school year so that primary schools would be allocated teaching posts on an average basis of one classroom teacher for every 24 pupils in September 2022. This brings the staffing schedule to a further new historical low for primary schools. Lower thresholds apply to DEIS urban band 1 schools. In addition, there has been a reduction of three points in the retention schedule, which has helped schools that would otherwise be at risk of losing teaching posts.

The staffing process includes an appeals mechanism for schools to submit a staffing appeal under certain published criteria. The primary school referred to by the Deputy has had its appeal considered by the Primary Staffing Appeals Board and has been informed that it will retain its current staffing for the 2022-23 school year, pending - this point is important - confirmation that the school meets the required enrolment threshold in September.

Teacher allocations to all second level schools are approved annually by the Department in accordance with established rules based on recognised pupil enrolments. The Department provides a staffing allocation to each education and training board, ETB, based on the overall enrolment of the schools within the ETB. The distribution of this staffing allocation is a matter for the chief executive officer, CEO, of the ETB based on the overall enrolment of the schools within the ETB.

The criteria for the allocation of posts are communicated to school managements annually and are available on the Department's website. In accordance with the published staffing arrangements, each school management authority is required to organise its subject options within the limit of its approved teacher allocation. Where a school management authority is unable to meet its curricular commitments within its approved allocation, the Department considers applications for additional short-term support, for example, curricular concessions as the case arises. This concession is available as a short-term support to enable essential curricular provision to continue.

The allocation processes include appellate mechanisms under which schools and ETBs can appeal against the allocation due to them under the staffing schedules. The ETB can submit an appeal under certain criteria to an independent appeal board, which was established specifically to adjudicate on appeals on staffing allocations in post-primary schools. The Post-Primary Appeals Board operates independently of the Department.

I thank the Minister for her reply. I am sure that the criteria applicable to Kilshanroe will be followed up on immediately.

The question on the Maynooth post-primary schools relates to previous Ministers, who made promises to the two schools because of the unique nature of their co-location, the large number of students being catered for and the fact that the previous school was being made available for other uses, which will come about in due course and be a matter for further discussion.

The Minister's reply underlines her own knowledge of the issue. I am sure that the school authorities on the campus on Moyglare Road will pursue it through the appropriate channels. The decision was not made by the Kildare and Wicklow ETB, KWETB, but by previous Ministers. They made it for an obvious reason, that being, the challenges facing the schools in bringing so many students together when sites were scarce. They did it, and all credit goes to all involved. With the KWETB, perhaps the Minister, using her good offices, might encourage the bringing about of the commitment that was entered into previously.

I acknowledge the Deputy's ongoing commitment to, and interest in, all areas pertaining to education, particularly these cases.

Regarding the primary school, I have outlined that the application has been successful, pending the 30 September enrolment numbers. Regarding the campus and the post-primary schools, the Department provides the staffing allocation to each ETB on the basis of the overall enrolment of students within schools in the board's charge. Responsibility for the distribution of that staffing allocation falls upon the shoulders of the ETB's CEO.

Where there may be a specific shortfall and a school management authority is unable to meet its curricular commitments for the students within its approved allocation, the Department considers applications for additional short-term support. This concession is available to enable the continuation of essential curricular provision. The allocation process includes appellate mechanisms under which schools and ETBs can appeal against the allocations due to them under the staffing schedules. The ETB is free to submit an appeal under the criteria to the independent appeals board if it is the ETB's opinion that it is not in a position in a particular school to provide the curricular demands. It is within the remit of the ETB to do that, and the appeals board, which operates independently of the Department, gives consideration to all cases that are brought to its attention.

I thank the Minister.

Schools Building Projects

I thank the Minister for being present for this debate. The hour is late and, therefore, I appreciate her attendance.

She will undoubtedly be aware that planning permission has been refused at a new site for the Malahide Portmarnock Educate Together National School. I was there on Friday when I met its principal, Ms Emer Hoy, her deputy principal, Ms Ríona Wise, and Mr. Matt Harrison, a member of the board of management who is also a staff member. I walked around the school and looked at the accommodation. To say that it was less than ideal would be flattering. I pay tribute to the school staff and parents for keeping the show on the road, but the school has been in temporary accommodation for eight years. I understand that the need for primary education is decreasing in some areas, but that is not the case in my area. We are one of the fastest growing areas, not just in the State, but in Europe. As such, the need for the school is increasing and it has to be put on a permanent footing.

It is impossible for Emer or any of the staff to be able to plan.

I want to hear if the Minister can set out a realistic timeframe for the delivery of the new school because it looks like they have been put back to the start of what was a long process. As I have said, they spent eight years in temporary accommodation. We could have a conversation about what "temporary" means if it lasts for eight years. There comes a point when the word "temporary" has to be replaced with "inappropriate" if the accommodation is not appropriate. Having said that, the staff are doing their best to keep the show on the road for the sake of the pupils. There are simple things. For example, they have the use of a field but they do not have access to it because they do not have a gate to get into it. That would be an additional place for the kids to go and play. They are doing running repairs on the accommodation, which is less than ideal but they know they have it for at least the next two years thereafter. The hope would be that they would be moving into a new school. I hope the Minister will tell me that will happen but they cannot be in a constant situation of doing running repairs when they do not know when they will get their new accommodation.

Everybody agrees they need the new accommodation; there is no disputing that. The Minister, the parents, the pupils and the staff do not dispute that. We know there needs to be new accommodation and that it is in a part of the State where the population is growing, so the need is there. The staff want to hear if the Minister will commit her officials to working closely with Emer, the rest of the staff, the board of management, the parents and the representatives there to deliver this and to ensure they do not have to go through the same processes they have already gone through again. They are at this stage where they have spent eight years in temporary accommodation, including seven years in their current location. The news that the planning permission was not granted devastated the parents. I was going to come in and read out the emails and recount the situation to the Minister but she knows exactly what news like that will do to a community. The pupils who started originally are finished. They started in the temporary school thinking it might be a year or two years, maybe three at a push, but they are finishing primary school and moving on to secondary school. I am hoping the Minister has some good news for me tonight.

I thank the Deputy for raising the matter as it provides me with the opportunity to update her on the building project to provide a new school for Malahide Portmarnock Educate Together National School on lands at Broomfield, Malahide, County Dublin. As the Deputy has outlined, Malahide Portmarnock Educate Together National School is currently in interim accommodation in the former Teagasc building at Malahide Road, Kinsealy.

Fingal County Council, under the memorandum of understanding between the Department and the City and County Management Association for the identification of new school sites, identified the site for the new school in Broomfield. The site was recommended by Fingal County Council as suitable for the development of school facilities and acquired in conjunction with Fingal County Council under the Fingal model agreement. Planning permission was submitted to the local authority on 4 March for the development of a new two-storey, 16-classroom primary school. The Department received notification that the planning permission application was refused by the local authority on 27 April 2022. The Department has had a post-refusal meeting with Fingal County Council, which was constructive. During the meeting council officials pointed out factors which could be addressed in a new planning application, including pedestrian access to and from an adjacent housing development. The Department's project manager and design team are liaising with the local authority in preparation for a new pre-planning meeting with a view to the submission of a new planning application for the school project as early as possible.

I am familiar with the school and I understand the case the Deputy is making on the long-term experience in temporary accommodation and the disappointment when it did not get through the planning process. We are continuing the work. We had a positive engagement at the post-refusal meeting and we are pursuing a pre-planning meeting with the intention of submitting a new planning application to move this apace. In saying that, I want to acknowledge, as the Deputy has, the extraordinary commitment from staff, students, the entire school community and the wider community. I know there is a huge investment that has been made and I appreciate the Deputy's bona fides in raising it here as well. An investment has been made by so many people in advancing this and it is our determination to look at making a new submission. We have gone through the process of the post-refusal meeting. The pre-planning process is the next step and then we will be submitting, as quickly as we possibly can, a new application to advance the school as quickly as possible.

I thank the Minister for the reply. I note that in the Minister's reply she says that as part of the post-refusal meeting, factors were pointed out that could be addressed in a new planning application, including pedestrian access. If that had been advised in advance then that would have been addressed because that is not a huge issue. It is something that could be addressed quickly and to have things put back, because of something that is not trivial because pedestrian access is important, but because of something that could have been addressed in advance, is deeply frustrating for the staff.

I wanted to hear a realistic timeframe from the Minister. She is saying the factors can be addressed. Can she commit that some of her officials will work with the school and Fingal County Council to bring this all together? It is a project that is nearly there. To be fair to the staff, parents and students, they thought they had done the heavy lifting on it but now they are here and they find themselves with more work to do. The problem they face is they do not want to be back at the start. If there are factors that can be addressed, how quickly can that be done? Can the Minister ensure that somebody from her Department will proactively work with them to get these issues addressed and over the line? The Minister knows well that the job of a teacher and a school principal is many and varied without adding architecture, along with a little bit of building and minor works, onto it. They are stretched.

I refer to the running repairs that have to be done to the temporary accommodation. Will it be possible to ensure that they can be fast-tracked? A lot of these works are required immediately in order to facilitate the expansion of the school. I appreciate that this was not envisaged because they thought they would be in their new school by now.

I want to underline my clear appreciation and understanding of the school community and the position in which they find themselves. I am familiar with this case and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and others, have engaged with me on an ongoing basis on this school. On the planning process, we engaged in the pre-planning aspect of it and no one knows better than someone involved in a planning application that any issue can arise once a planning application has been submitted. We are re-engaging in the process in good faith and we are determined to ensure the facility will be made available as quickly as we possibly can. I say with sincerity to the Deputy that it would be unwise of me to predict a planning application process. I wish I could because that would be of enormous benefit to everybody concerned.

I am giving the Deputy an absolute commitment that we will move this as quickly as we possibly can. We immediately engaged with the post-refusal meeting and we are engaging in the pre-planning process. We will move this apace as quickly as we can, in deference to the great need in the community and for the school community. On the specific issues the Deputy has raised, we will engage on an ongoing basis on the shorter-term needs it might have and we will make suitable and appropriate provision for it. I am under no illusion as to the necessity and urgency of this appropriate provision and I give an absolute commitment, as I have done on an ongoing basis, that we will expedite this as quickly as we possibly can. That involves the appropriate engagement with the planning authority, which we will do. It is my expectation that we will meet all the criteria that are required.

Public Transport

I appreciate the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, is here as a representative of Government and I would appreciate if she could bring back to the Minister for Transport something critical in Dublin city for two groups of people. They include those who seek a taxi, often at weekends late at night, many of them young people who have not had a chance to go out for the past few years and who are enjoying that great city but cannot get home safely and quickly, which they would be able to do with a functioning industry. It is critical also for an industry that includes drivers. Taxis are public transport. We should protect and work with them to make sure it is an attractive industry for young drivers to enter and for those who have spent their lives working with taxis.

I am worried on two fronts. For some time, prior to and throughout the pandemic, the National Transport Authority, NTA, has operated as a hands-off regulator and has not been working with the industry. It has a taxi advisory group but it is not transparent. Many representative bodies are not represented on it and there is not the full engagement about the future of the industry that is needed. The NTA has not been doing its work and this week, as a result of the shortage of taxis, some of my Government colleagues, including those in Cabinet, have spoken about introducing ride-sharing arrangements, sometimes referred to as Uber but other services are available. That free-for-all deregulation would remove all the protections for many young people, women and people who rely on the safety and knowledge that taxi drivers are vetted and regulated. We cannot go from an over-regulated, micromanaged approach by the NTA to a system of total deregulation of a ride-sharing app. That would be unsafe and bad for customers and drivers.

Weekend after weekend we get stories from people coming in. I know the Minister of State is from Waterford but in Dublin city some of the geography means people walk huge distances. They come out of pubs at 12 midnight or 12.30 a.m. and walk from Camden Street to Dorset Street or have to walk from the city centre to Phibsborough to get taxis. People end up going on longer journeys with friends because they do not want to leave people behind, or people are left walking on their own. We know from experience that none of that is safe. We have seen high-profile cases where people who get into strange cars are incredibly vulnerable.

The Minister for Transport needs to take this by the horns. We need to solve the problem of the shortage with more taxis and we need a better deal for taxi drivers. That is all possible if the NTA rolls up its sleeves and sees itself as part of the solution.

We need a commission on the future of the taxi industry to look at all the challenges, the biggest of which is the ten-year rule. Next year 5,344 cars will be taken off the road because of that rule but the next morning they can operate as limousines and they can also operate as limousines on some of the apps because of an anomaly in deregulation, one of many such anomalies. We should be open to listen to the taxi industry and to consumers. This is not something apart from the important issues of our city. It is core to the running of our city and to having a healthy night-time economy, which is important.

I thank the Deputy and assure him that, though Waterford is smaller than Dublin, we have taxis there. I am sure the Minister of State would need one if she was to get back-----

It was her knowledge of the geography of Dublin I was referring to.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. I will bring his comments back to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan. Just before I came down to take this matter, it was being addressed on "Prime Time" tonight so it is getting, I believe rightly, focus.

The regulation of the small public service vehicle, SPSV, sector, is the responsibility of the NTA under the provisions of the Taxi Regulation Act 2013. The number of drivers licensed to operate in Dublin rose by 381 from a total of 14,572 at 31 December 2021 to 14,953 at the end of May 2022. In terms of licensed vehicles, the total number and breakdown by type of SPSV vehicles licensed in Dublin to the end of May 2022 has also shown a small increase of 32 since the beginning of the year, which is a positive sign that drivers are slowly returning to the industry.

Last week, the NTA approved an average increase of 12% on taxi fares from 1 September 2022, as proposed in the recent national maximum fares review, which will be the first increase on such fares since 2017. Increasing taxi fares, particularly the premium fare charged for journeys taken between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. or on Sundays and public holidays, is designed to encourage more taxi drivers to operate during that time, thus increasing availability to passengers nationally.

While the NTA has statutory responsibility for regulating the SPSV industry, taxi drivers are self-employed individuals and, as such, decide on their own business strategies within the regulatory framework. Additionally, SPSV operators choose the times at which they operate. The 2022 SPSV driver survey, conducted by the NTA earlier this year, shows that 93% of drivers are now working but only 29% currently undertake night work. That bears out the point the Deputy has been making. Some 30% of drivers reported that they would consider doing night work if the relevant fares were to increase. In recognition of this, the proposed fare increases have been weighted in favour of the premium rate. The increase in cents and euro for each taxi user per journey is not substantial; however, the cumulative impact will be significant for drivers, and the weighting in the increase has been designed to encourage more drivers to operate, particularly at night, to meet the renewed levels of demand that have arisen because of the increase in social activity and the reactivation of the night-time economy.

The Deputy will be aware that the Minister for Transport and the NTA introduced several supports during the Covid-19 pandemic to reduce the costs for licensed SPSVs to continue in the industry during this difficult period. These included several extensions of the maximum vehicle age on an emergency basis. The NTA also introduced a regulatory measure during Covid to allow licence holders to be inactive for 24 months - previously it was 12 - to allow them to remain attached to the industry with no associated costs during that uncertain time. It is hoped that a significant proportion of these licences will return now that demand for services is increasing.

The SPSV motor tax refund scheme was introduced as an additional financial support to assist the SPSV industry in its recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. The Minister provided funding of €2 million to the scheme, which commenced on 1 September 2021, ensuring that SPSV licence holders could receive a reimbursement of €95 for their SPSV motor tax. The scheme will end on 31 August 2022.

I appreciate the Minister of State outlining some of the changes but my experience of representing many taxi drivers during the pandemic was that we treated them totally differently from other businesses. They had to use savings or their €350 pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, to cover business costs. In every other industry, with very generous and important supports such as wage subsidy schemes and rates rebates, we funded the costs of industry, but we did not for vehicle-bases services, including the taxi industry.

The problem is we now expect those 3,500 taxi drivers to buy a new car, which is a once-in-a-decade investment, after two years of almost no business. A bank manager would be mad to give a loan to anybody in those circumstances.

The Minister for Transport wants to decarbonise the fleet and so do I. It is one of the important ways we can show electric vehicles can be part of the change to decarbonisation but we have a silly anomaly whereby the person has to borrow the entire amount to replace the car and subsequently reclaim the grant they will be given. There is no way for them to bridge that finance but it would be better to allow them to pay the balance and allow the garage to claim the grant directly, reducing the costs. That is one example of how the ten-year rule is not working.

The NTA has to look at this very obvious problem in respect of grants for electric vehicles. It is a problem to which there is a solution, one that would make things easier for taxi drivers. As I said, this is about getting a better deal for taxi drivers so that we can get more taxis on the road. I ask the Minister of State to bring back to the Cabinet my warning against the introduction of ride-sharing. It is unsafe and unfair on the industry. In my view, it is a headline-grabbing attempt to solve a problem when the real solution is to roll up our sleeves and work with the industry and consumers to resolve it.

I will certainly bring the Deputy's thoughts and comments back to the Minister. I will touch on the issue of transitioning the fleet. The Department of Transport remains committed to supporting the transition of the SPSV fleet towards zero and low-emission vehicles. It has made funding available to the NTA to provide grants for the provision and conversion of vehicles to make them wheelchair accessible, which is a requirement for new entrants, and a grant is also provided to convert the SPSV fleet to lower-emission and zero-emission vehicles. The number of such grants administered has been encouraging with 780 issued between the beginning of the scheme in 2018 and 2021, notwithstanding the Covid pandemic, with associated funding of €13.7 million provided. A further €15 million in funding was provided in budget 2022. The Minister has said that he is satisfied that the measures taken to date to assist the taxi industry as it emerges from the pandemic should encourage new entrants to the industry - and we are hopeful they will - while also encouraging a significant proportion of inactive licenceholders to return to the industry both nationally and in Dublin city now that the demand for services is again increasing.

In addition to supporting the SPSV industry, the NTA is committed to providing additional bus services that operate on a 24-7 basis as part of the BusConnects programme in our cities. Routes C5 and C6 to Lucan, Maynooth and Celbridge began operating on a 24-hour basis in November 2021, bringing the number of such routes in Dublin city to five. Another one is operating in Cork. A further three will be provided in Dublin this year, one of which, the N4 between Blanchardstown and the Point, commenced operation on 29 May. As funding allows, more will be added each year as the new BusConnects Dublin network is rolled out. Additionally, the Nitelink bus services continue to operate in Dublin over the weekend. In saying that, I take on board everything the Deputy has said. We all have young adult children - well, I certainly do - and we hope that, if they need a taxi at night, they will be in a position to avail of one.

Hospital Services

Last week, the Saolta University Health Care Group announced the closure of the two day per week cath lab service at Sligo University Hospital, SUH. This announcement sent shockwaves not just through the community in Sligo, but across Leitrim, Roscommon, Donegal, Mayo and Cavan. This two day per week service was inadequate to begin with. What we really need is a full-time service. It is a slap in the face that this service is being withdrawn. What steps were taken by the Minister or the HSE to stop this service closing at the end of June? I sat in this Chamber just a few weeks ago and listened to the Taoiseach tell a Deputy that the second cath lab in Waterford is being funded and that staff resources are in place. Good luck to the people of Waterford and the south east. They need that lab but what about the north west? Why are we being bypassed again? North of a line from Dublin to Galway, there are no specialist centres. There are two in Dublin and one each in Waterford, Cork, Limerick and Galway. According to the national heart attack audit report, it is estimated that it takes heart attack patients approximately three hours to reach Galway from their time of arrival in Sligo University Hospital. That is the median time. The ideal time is 90 minutes. What government could stand over this discrimination? Will the Minister of State explain to us this evening why this is happening?

Deputy Harkin and I, and in fairness all of the other Deputies in our constituency, have been talking about cath lab services for Sligo since I was elected to the House in 2016. It was a one to two day a week service in a mobile unit. It was totally inadequate and not doing the job. I remember speaking to the cardiologist in the hospital, Dr. Murray, and he told me that when he retires, it will be very difficult to get another cardiologist because nobody will want to work in a hospital that does not have the diagnostic services. Despite this, we are now not only talking about the poor and inadequate service we had but about that service being taken away entirely. It is an absolute disgrace that this is happening. Deputy Harkin spoke about a line between Dublin and Galway. There is nothing above that line. What are the people of the north west supposed to do? Where are the answers here? It is just unbelievable.

Last December, I submitted a written question on this matter and was told that a national review of specialist cardiac services under the chairmanship of Professor Philip Nolan was continuing. That started in 2018. We are now in 2022 and the inadequate service we have is being taken away. Prior to that, in 2013, the HSE in the north west carried out a review of cardiac services and indicated that there should be a full, proper, permanent service put in place in Sligo University Hospital. Here we are, almost ten years later, and the inadequate service that was there, which was useless for anyone who happened to suffer a cardiac arrest or other problem on the wrong day of the week, is now being taken away. It is beyond belief that this is happening. I have not read the Minister of State's response yet but the serious problem we had until now has become a serious crisis. The Government has to have a long-term solution to this, which is to put a full and proper service in place, but it must also immediately ensure that the poor and inadequate service we have now is at least kept in place until a full and proper service is provided.

I thank both Deputies for raising this really serious issue. I am here with my colleague from Waterford who is Acting Chairman tonight. We could talk about cath labs all day long. My very first speech after being elected in 2016 related to cath lab services in Waterford.

As the Deputies will know, mobile cardiac cath lab services have been provided at Sligo University Hospital by a private company. I am informed by the HSE that the company concerned is to cease its provision of mobile cath lab services at SUH and other hospitals in the Irish market at the end of June. As a result, the Saolta University Hospital Group is working with hospital management on contingency measures to ensure adequate services are provided to patients. The HSE has advised that all options have been explored in relation to the continued provision of cath lab services in SUH after the cessation by the current service provider later this month.

In light of these considerations and the lack of private service providers in the marketplace, it is not possible for the service to continue in SUH when the mobile service ends on 30 June. As a result, the service will temporarily be provided at University Hospital Galway, UHG. Strong clinical service links are in place between Sligo and Galway, with an existing cardiologist at SUH providing a sessional commitment at UHG. Designated access will be provided for Sligo patients at the UHG cath lab unit.

We are also waiting patiently on the national review of specialist cardiac services, which is in its final stages and due to be published shortly. The review will set out the roadmap for future delivery of cardiac services nationally. As Deputy Martin Kenny said, the national review of specialist cardiac services commenced in January 2018 under the chairmanship of Professor Philip Nolan and a steering group formed from nominations of interested stakeholders representing medical, professional and technical staff and nursing and patient representatives. The aim of the cardiac services review is to achieve optimal patient outcomes at population level, with particular emphasis on the safety, quality and sustainability of the services that patients receive by establishing the need for an optimal configuration of a national adult cardiac service. This aligns with the Sláintecare reform programme. In terms of scope, the national review covers scheduled and unscheduled hospital-based services for the diagnosis and treatment of cardiac disease in adults.

I know the Deputies will be extremely disappointed with the answer I have read out.

We have all come together in Waterford and the south east for many years trying to achieve an extension of hours in cardiac services. I understand how devastated the Deputies are to lose the limited cardiac service Sligo has because the private provider is leaving. While I cannot say for definite, I am pretty sure it is the same provider that previously provided services in Waterford three days a week. Apparently, it is ceasing to operate in the country completely. It is leaving the Deputies in a bad situation.

I read the reply before I came to the Chamber and it contains devastating news for them. I understand what Deputy Harkin said. It necessitates a three-hour journey from some parts. We all know how time is so important. I will bring their concerns back to the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly. I will listen to what they have to say again now.

I do not doubt the sincerity of the Minister of State. I have read the answer which stated that the HSE advised that all options had been explored. What were those options? When did they know? What did they do? We are getting absolutely no information. The Minister of State spoke about when she was first elected to the House. Back in 2018 a colleague of hers, the former Deputy, Eamon Scanlon, raised this issue here. He also said that not having a permanent cath lab in Sligo has serious implications for the recruitment of an additional cardiologist. Everybody in Sligo knows that is staring us in the face right now. It is not just the cath lab.

This answer tells us that strong clinical links are in place between Sligo and Galway. The Minister of State said it takes three hours to get there from some places. That is the median time. The longest time is between five hours and six hours. I did not quote the longest time. I do not blame the Minister of State personally. She read out what she was given. I have heard one excuse after another. It is time we got answers. We need them.

I am very disappointed with the answer that the best the HSE can do is to provide a temporary service in Galway. A service existed in Galway anyway. This is not something new. There is a cath lab in Galway. It is totally inappropriate to suggest that is the best that can be done. Why can a temporary cath lab not be supplied in Sligo now? Why can that not be the plan? There is no mention of anything happening in Sligo University Hospital.

A previous Topical Issue discussed a school operating in temporary accommodation for the past 11 or 12 years. Temporary can very quickly become semi-permanent and totally inadequate. We fear that is what will happen with this. The clear message from the people of the north west is that the Government needs to step up to the mark on this issue. We cannot be left without a cath lab service in the north west and in Sligo University Hospital. It must be put in place. There are no excuses. There is no other way of doing it. It must be put in place. I appeal to the Minister of State to go back to the senior Minister and express those views. These are not just the views of Deputy Harkin and me. They are the views of all the other Deputies, representatives and people of the north west who feel very let down and very cross about this situation. The Government simply must deliver it and do so now.

I can understand how upset, annoyed and disappointed the Deputies are about what has transpired. We have had many conversations about cardiac supports and how important they are. As I outlined earlier, the HSE has advised that all options have been explored regarding the continued provision of cath lab services in Sligo University Hospital after the cessation by the current service provider later this month. It will exit the Irish market completely at the end of June which is very disappointing. I know the Deputies are disappointed with the answer and with the detail it contained. They can rest assured that I will bring this back to the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly.

I can go through the response and tell them what has been provided in Galway. I understand that we also need a good service in Galway. We need services everywhere, especially cardiac services. I understand completely. We have had an enormous battle in the south east for many years. I know the Deputies in the north west have been raising it and have all come together as a collective. I will certainly pass on their concerns. I have no doubt this will be raised again on the floor of the Dáil.

It is an example of the failure of a private provider doing something. It can turn its back and walk away at any time. The State has to step up to the mark on these issues.

We have not provided for an extra contribution.

I am chancing my arm.

Cuireadh an Dáil ar athló ar 11.16 p.m. go dtí 9.12 a.m., Dé Céadaoin, an 22 Meitheamh 2022.
The Dáil adjourned at 11.16 p.m. until 9.12 a.m. on Wednesday, 22 June 2022.
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