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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 21 Sep 2022

Vol. 1026 No. 4

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Dental Services

I thank the Minister of State for attending to take this debate. This issue is not unique to anyone's constituency, but I hope to hear from the Minister of State what I can tell my constituents when they ring my office. I will provide an example and call the woman involved "Mary". That is not her real name, but I am sure she does not want her name used. Mary has multiple sclerosis and lives in Swords. Last June, she needed to attend a dentist. She is a medical card holder and she tried every dentist in her local area, but none of them was taking on new patients and some of them that she had previously attended had since pulled out of the scheme. The story will be similar up and down the State. She rang the HSE and, happy days, it gave her the number of a dentist a small bit outside her area. Remember, this is a woman with a significant and ongoing condition, but she said it was great anyway and she would ring the dentist. My constituency is the largest in Dublin in terms of population as well as geography, but according to the HSE, there is only one dentist in the whole of north County Dublin taking patients with medical cards. Surprise surprise, but he was full and was not taking on any more patients.

From time to time, I advise my constituents to try to attend the Dental Hospital, but that is not really an option. In the interim, routine care is being missed out on. It is not unique to my area, but we have ended up in a situation where our level of extractions is among the highest in Europe. That is because people cannot access dentists before the point where they are up all night with a toothache. I am someone who hates the dentist. Even though I know I should not, I wait until I am up all night with a toothache before going to one. For people who are trying to be proactive about their dental health, there is nothing available.

I want to hear from the Minister of State what I can tell my constituents. I understand that negotiations are ongoing with the Irish Dental Association, but what should someone who needs to see a dentist do in the meantime? I will not go through everything, given that the Minister of State will have heard it all in her own area. What can we tell people who need to access dental treatment but who do not have the necessary means? In some of the newer - I will not say "swankier" - dental practices that are chains, the first thing that people see when they walk in are large signs telling them that there are payment plans. We are in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis and people cannot afford to get their teeth done. They certainly cannot afford to be getting themselves into debt, but they are now at the stage where they have no choice. Getting a loan to have their teeth done and another loan to get them done again is not a feasible option for people on fixed incomes. They have been granted the medical card for a reason, that being, they need it.

I am at my wits' end. When people come to see me, I tell them that I will raise the issue, and I have done so. I have asked a number of parliamentary questions, which the Minister of State will know, as has my colleague, Deputy Cullinane. We have brought the issue to the Government's attention. What should I say to my constituents when they tell me that they are in pain and cannot afford to see a dentist or wait to attend the Dental Hospital?

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue of access to dental treatment for medical card holders. She is right, and there is nothing she has said with which I could disagree. It is the same in every constituency office and the situation is difficult the length and breadth of the country, more so in some areas than others. Swords in north County Dublin has a large population.

I am taking this debate on behalf of the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly. Dental treatment for medical card holders aged 16 years and over is provided under the dental treatment services scheme, DTSS. Services available annually have included an examination, two fillings and emergency extractions. Deputy O'Reilly is right, in that some of us - it might be because of our age - find it difficult to face going to a dentist and we leave it too long whereas others are proactive and go every six months for scaling and polishing, at which point problems they might have show up. More complex care and a broader range of treatments for patients with special needs and high-risk patients is also provided, some of which requires prior approval.

One of the questions that has to be addressed is that of why so many dentists do not want to participate in the scheme and are leaving it. I believe that 42% of people have a medical card or doctor-only card. That is two in every five people who may need to access a dentist using a medical card. This can cause difficulties if you are in pain and cannot access a dentist. The number of patients being seen and the numbers of treatments being provided under the DTSS have started to increase in recent months. Patients are also accessing the reintroduced preventative scale and polish, which is a positive development.

Reintroduction of the scale and polish is in line with the preventative ethos of the national oral health policy, Smile agus Sláinte. I have been assured by the HSE that the local services on the ground will assist any persons who are still experiencing problems in accessing a service. I take on board the experience of Deputy O'Reilly's constituent who we called "Mary". It can be quite difficult for some people who do not have transport.

The Minister is aware that contractors are looking for more substantive reform of the dental treatment services scheme in the longer term. This concern is recognised. It is the Minister's intention that this is addressed in the context of the implementation of the national oral health policy, Smile agus Sláinte, which sets out a body of substantial reforms of dental services. Work is under way within the Department of Health to design a Government framework to oversee and facilitate root and branch reform.

To answer the Deputy's question, an extra €26 million has been provided this year on top of the original budget spend. Slowly but surely, we are seeing increases in the number of people being treated. However, I accept that it is slow.

I thank the Minister of State. I will highlight one of the sentences in her reply:

I have been assured by the HSE that the local services on the ground will assist any persons who are still experiencing problems in accessing a service.

I refer the Minister of State back to the direct experience of the woman to whom I spoke. She said she contacted the HSE about the dentist and the medical card issue and was told there was only one dentist in Balbriggan. That was the extent of the service. The Minister of State said the HSE assured her that "local services on the ground will assist", but they directed this woman to a dentist only for her to find, notwithstanding the difficulties in getting there, and she was going to go, that the dentist is not taking on any new patients. That was the extent of the help. Is it possible that in each of our local areas we might have a telephone number or nominated person? I do not want someone's name; I am just talking about a telephone number. We do not want to be torturing someone; I get that. That could be co-ordinated. If the Minister of State is correct when she says that more dentists are going to come on stream - I have no reason to dispute it - that information needs to be in the HSE. There needs to be a person whom people like Mary can contact directly. The HSE assured the Minister of State that local people are helping. I mean no disrespect to the people in the HSE who are working hard when I say they are not helping. It is no help to Mary be told to go to a dentist in Balbriggan, which will be tough for her to get to - that is grand; she will do that - when that dentist is not taking on any patients. The difficulty is when a person makes all the telephone calls. I spoke to someone who rang 29 dentists in one day and was told "No" every single time. This person was waiting and thinking that the dentist she previously attended was going to reopen. She rang continuously and then eventually snapped, as one would do. She made all of those telephone calls in one day and got a "No" every single time. Where can I direct people in my constituency to get the help that the HSE assured the Minister of State they will be given?

As I mentioned, additional funding has been provided to resolve the current problems with accessing the dental treatment services scheme. The preventive scale and polish, which has been reintroduced, is being accessed by patients. However, the Minister and the Government recognise that the current model of provision of oral healthcare is in need of fundamental reform. I think we all agree on that. The Smile agus Sláinte oral health policy provides the guiding principles aligned with Sláintecare. It will support the provision of all levels of care and has two goals, which are to provide the supports to enable each individual to achieve his or her personal best oral health and to reduce oral health inequalities across the population. That is what we are really talking about today by enabling vulnerable groups to access oral healthcare and improve their oral health.

I have taken on board everything the Deputy said. I had a case where I was contacted by somebody in a direct provision centre in Carrick-on-Suir, which is not in my constituency but is only a few miles down the road. Again, I was able to go through the HSE and refer her on. It did take a few days, however, and the person was in a lot of pain. I accept and acknowledge that.

I am hopeful about the extra funding of €26 million that has been provided this year on top of the funding that was already there. We are seeing slowly but surely that some people are coming back. I am also hearing on the ground that if a person goes to a dentist privately, the waiting lists have gotten longer than they were previously. I do not know whether that is a challenge with regard to the number of dentists we have in the country. I know from personal experience that a member of my own family had to wait four weeks for a routine check-up, which was not the case previously. It is certainly something that is very much on the Minister's agenda. It is on all of our agendas because we are coping with it every day of the week. I thank the Deputy very much for her question.

Childcare Services

I am very grateful to the Minister of State for coming in to take this really important debate early this morning. This is an issue that Deputy Cathal Crowe, who is in the Chamber, has raised a number of times under Questions on Promised Legislation, as have Deputies from all sides of the House. As the Minister of State can appreciate, it is something that is particularly close to home for me because I have kids in this age bracket but also because my wife works as a Montessori teacher. I do not know if that is a declaration of interest or whatever but it frames the context of my contribution.

The concern I have is that this new funding scheme was rightfully announced last week with a bit of fanfare from the Minister. I really welcome it. This is the key opportunity for the Government to introduce a scheme that will bring down the cost of childcare for parents and increase the level of availability for parents and guardians, but also ensure that providers can earn a good living and pay their staff a good wage. I welcome the decision by the Workplace Relations Commission the other day. The scheme will ensure providers can run a viable business that serves a vital cohort in the community, not just the young children themselves and their parents, guardians and grandparents, but also employers who are desperate to ensure that parents can return to work when they can and when they are ready.

However, the sad fact of the matter is that 90% of providers have taken this up but there is an absolute geographic split. In my constituency where I am from in the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area of Dublin, it is only an 81% take-up. It is in the 80% bracket across the Dublin city and county region. It is the same when one goes to Cork city and county. There is an imbalance where we have some counties in which pretty much all the providers have bought into it but in others, providers have just said they simply cannot afford to go into this scheme based on the core funding model the Department currently has at hand. I am extremely worried that the core funding model is based on an interest rate calculation that is quite simply outdated at this stage. It also does not bear in mind the very significant additional costs that providers, particularly those based in Dublin, will have that are at a different rate from those encountered by people across the country.

Another issue is that when we look at the rising inflation generally in society, we must also look at the rising fixed costs that all these schools have. They need light and heat. They cannot afford to turn off the heat when they have three-year-olds and four-year-olds in a classroom for three or four hours per day. They cannot afford to dim the lights when they are trying to ensure that kids at the most vulnerable age are catered to. Therefore, we have a situation where 500 providers have sent their concerns to the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and they have not received the level of engagement they are rightfully entitled to expect. At this stage, I would really appreciate if the Minister of State could bring this matter back to the Minister, Deputy O’Gorman, and all her wider colleagues. I know she has a particular interest in this. We have to see the key areas the Government needs to address to bring these providers onside. We need to get these providers inside the tent in order to provide the service to parents, children and the wider society. These providers want to sign up to a scheme but they need to sign up to a scheme that is fair. We already have hundreds of providers who have signed up simply because they feel they have no choice, even though they know they might be in a situation where they will lose money in providing this important service that is, of course, also a business.

I thank Deputy Richmond for raising this really important issue and offering the opportunity to respond. The biggest issue anybody with young children will deal with is trying to make sure they are well cared for and looked after before and after school.

On 15 September, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth launched Together for Better, which is the new funding model for early learning and childcare. Together for Better is underpinned by an expert group report entitled Partnership for the Public Good: A New Funding Model for Early Learning and Care and School-Age Childcare. This new funding model will support delivery of early learning and care, and school-age childcare, for the public good and in the interests of quality and affordability for children, parents and families.

Together for Better brings together three major elements of the early childhood care and education, ECCE, programme including the access and inclusion model, the national childcare scheme and core funding in line with the employment regulation orders that are coming into effect. The Minister is very pleased that so far, 90% of early learning and childcare providers, or almost 5,000 services, have become partner services under core funding, committing to working in partnership with the State for the public good and to freeze one-parent fees at September 2021 rates.

Core funding is the new funding stream worth €221 million in full-year costs to start this partnership for the public good between the State and providers. Its primary purpose is to improve pay and conditions in the sector as a whole, which everyone welcomes, and to improve affordability for parents while ensuring a stable income for providers. Core funding allows for an estimated 19% increase in the total cost base for the sector. The vast majority of services will see substantial increases in funding. No service will see a decrease in funding. Together for Better, the new funding model being implemented, aims to transform the sector with a higher degree of public investment and public management. This transformation starts with core funding and the new approach will entail a shift in the relationship between the State and providers. Core funding is open to all registered providers subject to their agreement to the terms and conditions of the funding, including financial transparency and fee management.

One of the questions asked by the Deputy was whether small services would lose out. Core funding is based on operating hours, the number of places offered by services and the age group of children for whom the places are offered, given the staffing requirements determined by the regulatory ratios for different care categories. Service opening hours offering more places will receive a higher value of core funding than other services. This is because their costs of operation are higher. The ECCE preschool scheme is 15 hours per week over 38 weeks of the year. This amounts to 570 hours per year and is equivalent to 23% of the annual hours of a full-day service operating from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for 50 weeks of the year.

I will, however, take on board the issues the Deputy outlined. I will take them back to the Minister, especially those relating to engagement.

I appreciate the Minister of State's reply but a couple of things stand out. Some 165 services in Dublin have not signed up to this scheme. Last year, a survey conducted by the Federation of Early Childhood Providers showed that 260 providers that have signed up to this scheme did not know whether they would be able to open their doors this autumn. A number of services that are not included, and to which there is no reference, have signed up to this scheme somewhat under duress. They have no other choice. They know what the wider societal benefits are. However, they believe their concerns are simply not being listened to.

I heard a previous response from the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, indicating that he would encourage providers to contact their local county childcare scheme. That is a slap in the face. We need real engagement. We need the Minister to sit down with the providers that have not signed up to this scheme, or that have signed up but are extremely worried they will not be able to keep the lights on. Some 165 service providers have not signed up for this year. What happens if the 260 providers that believe they are at risk go bust next year? What happens if more providers realise this scheme will not work for them, particularly in Dublin? The Minister said that 100% of providers had signed up in Leitrim. That is great in Leitrim but just 81% have signed up in my constituency. This is at a time when people are dying to get children into these places in order that they can access the workplace and we can fill critical jobs, bearing in mind we have a labour shortage in the wider society and people want to give their children the best choice. People do not want to be saddled with the second mortgage that is childcare costs and then find themselves having to drive 25 to 30 minutes out of their way in the morning, and drive another hour back to the workplace, paying all the additional extras that come with breakfast clubs and after-school care.

I plead with the Minister of State to bring it back to the Minister that there has to be a level of genuine engagement. There should no longer be warm words. Until the Minister can provide a system that will ensure these services are not under financial threat, we will not be able to provide proper facility for all in our society.

I listened intently to what the Deputy said. The one thing we have to consider is that this is a voluntary scheme. Some 90% of providers overall have signed up to it but, as the Deputy said, it varies from 81% in some areas to 100% in others. There are positives here in that there is a total annual budget of €221 million to support the childcare sector. This includes €138 million to support staffing costs and improve pay and conditions; €25 million to support administration, incorporating the old programme support payment budget of €19.4 million; €20 million to reflect increases in non-staff overheads; and €38 million to support the employment of graduates. These are the key determinants of delivery costs. Capacity does not change from week to week, which provides income certainty for the providers.

What also has to be looked at in respect of the inflationary impacts is that the total funding package for core funding, an allocation of €20 million, is included to contribute to non-staff overhead costs. An additional €25 million is also available for administrative costs, which was not there previously. Some of the providers have welcomed this. I have spoken to many providers in my area. Some were apprehensive about signing up but I am very hopeful that more providers will join once the scheme is up and running. I will certainly take on board the points the Deputy made about engagement and the fact that 19% of providers in his area have not signed up.

Housing Provision

I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for selecting this Topical Issue matter. Deputy Carey and I have combined on this matter and I will use two minutes to speak on it. I also thank the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, for taking this Topical Issue matter, which relates to a very important report. It is the only report of its type I am aware of in Ireland at present. It was commissioned by Clare Public Participation Network, PPN. I acknowledge the presence of Ms Sarah Clancy from Clare PPN, who is in the Public Gallery. A significant effort went into this report. It was done on a shoestring budget of €17,000 and was authored by Dr. Conor McCabe. It deals with poverty and marginalisation in County Clare at a granular, county level. It is a report I have never seen the likes of before.

I will address some of the issues that came up in the report. In Clare at present, there are approximately 2,800 people on our housing list. Some 1,500 of them are people who desire to move to a different property for transfer reasons, but 1,300 applicants are without any home. Some are sleeping on couches and some are living in housing assistance payment accommodation but all desire a home for their families. I am sure many Deputies have looked at a website, insideairbnb.com, over the years. It drills down into the information on rooms and houses available on Airbnb every day of the year. As of today, there are 1,483 accommodation units available in County Clare on Airbnb. We have 1,300 people without homes in County Clare today. There is something systematically wrong when we have an adequate housing stock to put roofs over their heads, but we have some barrier preventing that from happening. I suggest the use of taxation measures and incentives to encourage these landlords to make their houses available. It is not about punishing people but incentivising a way to make these houses available for the general housing stock.

I have more to say and will come in shortly on that.

I welcome this opportunity to discuss this important document, Towards an Anti-Poverty Strategy for Clare, and its findings and recommendations.

Clare PPN is a network of 331 community and voluntary groups in County Clare. The Minister of State will be familiar with their work through their sister organisation, Meath PPN, in his constituency. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission awarded Clare PPN funding through its grant scheme to carry out its research. Its report presents the findings from a nine-month research project led by Dr. Conor McCabe. The research is also informed by focus groups and two peer researchers, Ms Lily O'Donoghue and Ms Madge O'Callaghan. I attended the launch of the report yesterday evening in Buswells Hotel. The report points out key failures at national and local level in measuring poverty and, as the saying goes, what you cannot measure, you cannot address.

One of the key findings in the report is around housing, where the researcher drew upon data from the 2022 census. It states there are 58,148 dwellings of which 47,867 are occupied.

Some 4,912 are unoccupied holiday homes, and a further 5369 are vacant dwellings. Therefore, there are 10,281 unoccupied dwellings in County Clare, giving a vacancy rate of 17.68%. Another key finding relates to health. There is a glaring shortage of both dentists and GPs, the provision of which is well below the national average. In the case of dentists, County Clare has less than 50% of the national average. In respect of GPs, a figure of 33% below the national average was recorded. The report is clear on the lack of available data at the level of the State, local government and other relevant agencies to measure child or fuel poverty in County Clare.

Gabhaim buíochas leis na Teachtaí Crowe agus Carey. On behalf of the Government, I welcome the report to which the Deputies have referred, Towards an Anti-Poverty Strategy for Clare, which was published by the Clare PPN. Indeed, I welcome the representatives of the network who are here today. We know that the voice of lived experience is essential for good policy and good decision-making. Democracy is made stronger by allowing diverse views and interests to be considered as part of the decision-making process of local government. It is important that we hear from those groups who are socially excluded and whose voices may not be heard in our society. Therefore, this work of the Clare PPN is extremely important.

Addressing poverty continues to be a key priority for the Government. The Roadmap for Social Inclusion 2020-2025 was published in January 2020. The primary ambition of the roadmap is to "reduce consistent poverty to 2% or less and to make Ireland one of the most socially inclusive countries in the EU." The roadmap translates this ambition into seven goals underpinned by 66 unique commitments that will help to deliver these goals. It is a whole-of-government strategy with a five-year timeframe and includes a mid-term review in 2022 to facilitate an evaluation of the impact of roadmap commitments. The social inclusion roadmap steering group, which monitors the implementation of the roadmap, has met seven times to date.

The most recent poverty data are from the 2021 survey on income and living conditions, which was published by the Central Statistics Office on 6 May 2022. There were welcome reductions in all three national rates for the key poverty indicators. Consistent poverty decreased from 4.7% to 4%, the at-risk-of-poverty rate decreased from 13.2% to 11.6% and the deprivation rate decreased from 14.3% to 13.8%. Notably, the statistics reflected the positive impact of Covid supports. Without the pandemic income supports, the at-risk-of-poverty rate would have been 19.9%.

Insightful as this report is, it becomes futile unless there is a strategy to respond to poverty in County Clare. That is the very thing Clare PPN and our partners are looking for. We have a Clare county development plan that contains headings on housing, retail and wind energy, but there is no heading dealing with poverty. Currently, that plan is under review. We need a heading and a strategy on poverty. The representatives of Clare PPN cannot speak from the Public Gallery today, but if they could they would shout out that there is no data set, particularly where childhood poverty is concerned. It is true that we collect data in the census, but census figures sometimes take five or six years to trickle down. A child who is measured as being in a home of a certain income level may have left childhood by the time they are accounted and factored for within Government strategy. It is particularly concerning that we are 33% down on GP service requirements and 50% down on dental service requirements in County Clare. That is how far we need to go to catch up with the national average, which itself is not good. It is something that I believe the Government and the HSE need to deal with. There is a whole lot more to be done to deal with the marginalisation of Travellers, mental health and pathways to education and jobs. We need a strategy. I think the Clare county development plan is the vehicle for that. We would love Government support for that.

I wish to acknowledge the presence of Sarah Clancy of Clare PPN in the Public Gallery. There is a need to address the issues highlighted in the report. For example, the whole question of attracting and retaining GPs, particularly in rural areas, needs to be addressed in a comprehensive way. It is clear that the rural practice allowance that is there is just not adequate. These issues need to be teased out and resources and policy changes need to be introduced. I am proposing that the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien, who attended the launch of the report yesterday, arranges to engage directly Clare PPN, and that a cross-departmental working group is established, led by the Department of Social Protection, which includes officials from other Departments such as the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage; the Department of Children. Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth; the Department of Health; the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. I ask that the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien, engages directly with Clare PPN and establishes that cross-departmental group.

I will certainly pass the constructive suggestions and ideas that have been put forward by Deputies Crowe and Carey to the Minister. It is the case in Ireland that social protection budgets over the past number of years have prioritised the introduction of measures that have had and will continue to have a direct and positive impact on poverty in the entire country, and including those who are living in County Clare. I know the Deputies have supported this. We have increased the weekly child-related payments, including the introduction of a higher rate of payment for older children in 2019. There have been increases in the working family payment thresholds and improvements in the means-testing of payments for lone parents. We have increased the living alone allowance rate, the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance and the weekly rates of payment for all schemes in social welfare. We have expanded the hot school meals programme to include an additional 310 schools, which will cover around 60,000 children. This is very much to be welcomed. We have extended the national childcare scheme universal subsidy to all children up to the age of 15. The parent benefit has also been extended. Other recent cost-of-living measures include a fuel allowance payment of €125 paid in March 2022, with an additional payment of €100 in May 2022; and an increase of €100 in the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance. Further measures will be introduced next week in the budget. We are acutely conscious that people are struggling at the moment as a result of the cost-of-living crisis. The Government is keenly aware of this and is working very hard to make sure we can get best possible response to people in dealing with the issues that have been raised by the Clare PPN. The Deputies should be under no doubt that the contents of the report and the contributions of the Deputies today inform the work of the Department and the Government, particularly in the run-up to the budget next week.

Water Services

Gabhaim mo bhuíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle as an ábhar seo a phiocadh. Táim ag díriú isteach inniu ar chúrsaí uisce, nó easpa uisce, i dtrí cheantar i gContae na Gaillimhe, sé sin, Inis Bó Finne, An Spidéal - i ndáiríre ó na Foraí Maola go dtí An Tulan agus níos faide siar - agus Inis Oírr. De réir mar a thuigim, tá dea-scéal ann maidir leis an oileán sin agus níl an fógra ann níos mó gan an t-uisce a ól. Táimid ag caint faoi níos mó ná 60,000 duine atá thíos leis an bhfadhb seo. Tá frustrachas orthu. Tuigeann siad go soiléir go dtarlaíonn fadhbanna ó am go ham. Tuigim féin é sin ó mo thaithí i nGaillimh. Tá frustrachas orthu mar gheall ar an gcaoi ar caitheadh leo. Dar leo, agus dar leis na daoine atá tofa, caitheadh go dona leo ó thaobh cúrsaí eolais de agus maidir le fógraí. Agus mé i mo sheasamh anseo, tá clár “Iris Aniar” ar siúl agus tá dochtúir teaghlaigh ón gceantar ag cúr in iúl nach raibh sise fiú ar an eolas go raibh fadhb ollmhór leis an uisce.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this Topical Issue matter, because it is extremely important, and I thank the Minister for State for being here. I know that I do not need to translate the Irish for the Minister of State. He has heard it. However, I need to emphasise what has happened here.

The Inis Oírr notice was lifted just yesterday. It is very difficult to understand what happened regarding Inisbofin.

I ask the Minister of State to clarify the sequence of events and dates. When did Uisce Éireann become aware that there was problem? What was the nature of that problem and why could the system not deal with it? Are the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and the HSE involved? This is an island that, like all of us, is utterly dependent on water, the most basic ingredient for life. The islanders were told on 25 August by Irish Water to boil their water. A boil water notice was issued to the 156 customers but no explanation was given as to why or what was wrong but a map was included. On 2 September, they were told that the boil water notice remains in place as there was a deterioration in the quality of the water because the raw water in the adjacent lakes had deteriorated due to low levels and so on. In the interests of brevity, I will not go into all of the details but the main point is that residents were again told to boil their water at that stage. Fast forward to 3 September and residents are told that the boil water notice is now a "Do not consume" notice, with no explanation given. I have no idea whether the doctors and nurses were told. I do not know how anyone was told except through Radio na Gaeltachta and the local news. That situation continues on Inishbofin today. When did it start? The date I have is 25 August but I understand it started earlier than that.

Similarly, Ceantar Cois Fharraige is without water. More than 5,000 people are effected and no explanation has been given. What has emerged is that the level of manganese is too high and the figure that has been quoted is 250 mg as opposed to 120 mg. How did this happen? What is wrong with the system? When will it be put right? I want the maximum volume of information to be given out so that we can have trust in the system. As an elected representative, I have no trust in the system. My trust was seriously challenged by the cryptosporidium issue in Galway and now we are back with the same lack of trust.

Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Teachta Connolly as an ábhar tábhachtach seo a chur faoi bhráid na Dála. Tá brón orm go bhfuil an ráiteas a thug an Roinn dom as Béarla agus nach bhfuil aon ráiteas trí Ghaeilge agam. Is féidir liom an Ghaeilge a labhairt ach ba mhaith liom a bheith soiléir agus beacht leis an bpobal. Tá fíricí agam sa ráiteas seo; b’fhéidir nach bhfuil gach freagra agam ach tá na fíricí anseo i mBéarla. Bímid go léir buartha nuair a tharlaíonn rudaí mar seo inár gceantair féin. Tá a lán bá agam leis an Teachta, le muintir Chonamara agus le muintir na Gaillimhe. Ba chóir go mbeadh i bhfad níos mó eolais curtha ar fáil ag Uisce Éireann agus tá an fhreagracht reachtúil aige ó 2014.

I am pleased to report, as the Deputy Connolly said, that the "Do not consume" notice was lifted for Inis Oírr yesterday. Irish Water and the local authority and HSE water liaison group will continue to meet to review the ongoing process control, monitoring and testing of the drinking water supply. Irish Water drinking water compliance and operational experts are working with Galway County Council to resolve the situations in An Spidéal and Inishbofin as soon as possible.

Alternative water supplies in the form of bulk tankers have been arranged. Nobody likes bulk tankers but in the context of what is going on, they are needed. They have been arranged for the people in the affected areas and are in place at a number of locations around An Spidéal and Inishbofin. These alternative water supplies are being replenished on a daily basis. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage's priority is to ensure that people's health is protected and that adequate water is available for all consumers. We all want to see this notice lifted without undue delay, but only when the HSE and EPA are satisfied.

The Government is making substantial investments in our water system to bring the services and systems up to the quality and resilience standards required. I am glad that this issue was spotted through the testing and quality control work that is ongoing because it is obviously a very serious problem. In budget 2022 the Minister secured funding of more than €1.57 billion to support water services. This overall investment will deliver significant improvements in public water and wastewater services right across Ireland.

I thank the Minister of State and certainly agree with him regarding the word "customer".

This situation puts into acute focus the result of the Government's decision to put water under Uisce Éireann. If this was in the old days, not too long ago, there would be an urgent meeting of the city and council in Galway to discuss what was happening and the local councillors would be getting answers. That part is now missing. In addition, what is missing is any oversight by a Department that has allowed this answer to be issued. I understand the difficulties of the Minister of State in reading this out.

Since August, there has been a problem on Inishbofin. Islanders were told they could consume water once they boiled it but then they were told not to boil it, that the water was not fit for consumption. The Minister of State made reference to 10 September but that date is wrong in terms of when they were told on Inishbofin. They were told way back in August and then they were told again at the beginning of September. Then the notice changed and they are still in difficulty.

In terms of all three areas what I would like to know, and what should be contained in the Minister of State's response, is how the problem arose. What is wrong with the system? Is the system not fit for purpose? What is the connection between the three areas: Inis Oírr, Inishbofin and Ceantar Cois Fharraige? What has happened? What is the connection? What has Uisce Éireann done? What is the involvement of the EPA? What is wrong that they do not see the need to tell, at the very least, the GPs and the nurses in the area and to distribute newsletters to houses? That is what was done in Galway city when there were problems. I have no interest whatsoever in bashing staff but there is an obligation and a duty here to inform the public about their most basic right to have clean water.

I am going through countless emails and it is an absolute nightmare but I am being paid. What is it like for the people on the ground, to go through this? Sometimes the communication is only in English, sometimes it is in English and Irish but leaving that aside, the following basic questions must be answered. What has happened here? When is it going to be remedied? How did it happen and what is the EPA and the HSE saying about it?

Tá mise ag labhairt ar son an Rialtais agus tá dualgas ar Uisce Éireann cumarsáid agus teagmháil a dhéanamh leis an bpobal sna ceantair go léir. Tá dualgas air i bhfad níos mó eolais a thabhairt don phobal, do Theachtaí Dála agus do chomhlairleoirí contae sa cheantar freisin. Iarrfaidh mé ar Uisce Éireann é sin a dhéanamh agus iarrfaidh mé ar an Aire teagmháil a dhéanamh le hUisce Éireann maidir leis sin.

Tá fadhb ansin. Tá mise sásta go bhfuil an fhadhb sin feicthe ag Uisce Éireann agus tá súil agam go mbeidh sé in ann an fhadhb sin a réitigh. Tá sé réitithe in Inis Oírr anois. Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le muintir an Spidéil, le muintir Inis Bó Finne agus le muintir Inis Oírr agus leis an gnóthaí ansin freisin as an bhfoighne agus as an gcomhoibriú atá déanta acu.

Caithimid sláinte an phobail a chosaint agus is dualgas ríthábhachtach é sin d’Uisce Éireann. Táimid ag iarraidh go mbeadh na fógraí seo bainte go luath ach níor cheart go mbeadh siad bainte go dtí go bhfuil an soláthar sábháilte agus ceart ann chun an t-uisce a ól. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil Uisce Éireann ag obair go han-mhaith le Comhairle Chontae na Gaillimhe ach aontaím leis an Teachta go dteastaíonn i bhfad níos mó teagmhála leis na comhairleoirí contae agus leis na Teachtaí Dála. Beidh mise i dteagmháil leis an Aire ag insint dó a bhfuil curtha in iúl ag an Teachta Connolly ar son muintir an cheantair sin.

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