Commencement Matters

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Is mór an onóir dom labhairt anseo tráthnóna mar tá an seomra seo speisialta, stairiúil agus ornáideach. Ba mhaith liom moladh a thabhairt don Chathaoirleach, an Seanadóir Denis Ó Donnabháin; don Cheann Comhairle, an Teachta Seán Ó Fearghaíl; agus do Choimisiún Thithe an Oireachtais. Our temporary move to the Ceramics Room of the National Museum will in no way inhibit the work of Seanad Éireann, and I congratulate all the staff, designers, builders and technicians who have created our Chamber.

I thank the Minister of State for joining us to discuss this very timely issue. The dangers associated with carbon monoxide are promoted this week through Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week. The dangers are so immense that there is a need for constant vigilance in this area. I am increasingly concerned about landlords across the rental sector who are failing to carry out annual servicing of boilers such as oil and gas. All heat producing carbon monoxide emitting appliances need to be serviced annually. According to the HSE, on average six people die unnecessarily from carbon monoxide poisoning each year, and countless more present to their GPs and other health professionals with other symptoms from carbon monoxide poisoning, such as nausea, headaches, breathlessness and vomiting.

Owing to the fact that it is a colourless and odourless gas, carbon monoxide is highly dangerous and can kill in minutes if levels are high. In addition, large numbers of people are living in properties with poor health and safety measures in terms of heat producing, carbon monoxide emitting appliances. My Fianna Fáil Party colleague, Deputy Cowen, recently outlined a plan for an NCT-style system for the entire rental sector, and it is something which I believe is badly needed. There are regulations in place concerning gas safety and that new homes must have carbon monoxide alarms, but we need a more coherent approach from the Minister of State's Department.

In 2017, the 31 local authorities have budgeted to collect over €435 million in rent from local authority tenants, making the State the largest residential landlord. Throughout the year I have looked into the major ambiguity that exists with the mandatory servicing of oil and gas boilers across local authorities because there appears to be some confusion surrounding this issue. I followed up directly with the chief executive of each local authority late last year and asked for the number of local authority homes in each area and the corresponding number of boilers serviced. Some of the local authorities refused to answer the questions and others failed to respond despite repeated queries from my office and from elected councillors. Some said that it was not their responsibility. Others have an excellent system in place.

To give the Minister of State an indication of the level of ambiguity, let me read just two conflicting responses from two local authorities.

Meath County Council directly manages a housing stock of approximately 2,870 units, of which 179 contain a gas boiler and 620 an oil boiler. In the servicing regime for the said boilers, gas boilers are serviced annually while oil boilers are serviced biannually. On the other hand, Mayo County Council's tenant handbook, which forms part of the tenancy agreement, requires all tenants of houses provided by Mayo County Council to ensure that a yearly servicing of boilers is carried out. The council is not legally required to carry out annual servicing of boilers. This is nonsensical. We have two totally conflicting and divergent situations in two different local authority areas. If this is the case where the State or local authority is the landlord, what is it like in the private sector? The Minister should query this directly with each local authority and with landlord associations, housing associations and other relevant groups. Ideally, I would sit down with the Minister and his officials to discuss this matter further as I feel there are real and practical approaches that can be taken. In Ireland, on average six people die unnecessarily per year from carbon monoxide poisoning.

I welcome the Minister of State. He will find the surroundings a little different.

I do. I welcome the opportunity to answer the important query raised by Senator Swanick and I am glad to be here for the first sitting of the Seanad in its new building. I am looking at the roof and see alarms on the ceiling, though I do not know if there are also carbon monoxide detectors. It is a fantastic room and I wish Senators well in their time here. I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, who is in the Dáil Chamber at the moment. This matter is particularly topical because - something I did not know until this morning - this is carbon monoxide awareness week. Perhaps that is what has prompted the Senator to bring it up as an issue today.

The presence of carbon monoxide in the home is recognised as a critical health and safety risk for households, which is why it was included as one of the new measures introduced under the revised minimum standards for rental accommodation, that is the housing standards for rented houses regulations 2017 which came into effect on 1 July this year. Article 6.6 of the regulations, on heating facilities, states that each house shall contain, where necessary, suitably located devices for the detection and alarm of carbon monoxide. The regulations also specify requirements for a range of other matters, including structural repair, sanitary facilities, heating, ventilation, fire, natural light and the safety of gas and electrical supply. With very limited exemptions, the regulations apply to local authority and voluntary housing units as well as private rented residential accommodation. All landlords are legally required to ensure that their rented properties comply with these regulations. Responsibility for enforcement of the regulations rests with the relevant local authority, supported by a dedicated stream of funding provided from part of the proceeds of the tenancy registration fees which are collected by the Residential Tenancies Board. More than €32 million has been paid to local authorities since 2004 to assist them in the performance of their functions under the housing Acts, including the inspection of rented accommodation. Since then, in excess of 185,000 inspections have been carried out.

To assist local authority inspectorate staff in determining compliance with the new standards, comprehensive guidelines have been developed and were issued to all housing authorities in August 2017. Carbon monoxide requirements are covered in much greater detail in these guidelines. The Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 gave local authorities legislative power to enable them to issue improvement notices and prohibition notices where landlords are in breach of their obligations. Fines for non-compliance with the new 2017 regulations were increased, with a maximum fine of €5,000 and a daily fine of €400 for each day the offence continues.

Anecdotal evidence from local authority inspectorates to date indicates that landlords, generally, have been proactive in fitting carbon monoxide detection devices in their rental properties. The strategy for the rental sector, published in December 2016, also prioritises the strengthening of the inspection capability of housing authorities to increase the number and frequency of inspections of rental properties. In addition to the updated regulations and guidelines, procedures for a more efficient, standardised and transparent inspections and enforcement approach across local authorities will be introduced, with specific ring-fenced funding for inspections provided from 2018 onwards.

The target is that by 2021, 25% of all rental properties will be inspected annually.

Senator Swanick's referred to the divergence in this respect across local authorities. The only commitment I can give here is that contact will be made with the local authorities. It is the case that in service provision across a number of sectors, local authorities vary from authority to authority in the way such provision is actioned on the ground. The prevention of carbon monoxide exposure and poisoning is an issue of such importance that there should be a more uniform approach to addressing it across the country. The Senator's suggestion is not unreasonable.

As the Minister of State gave a comprehensive reply, I ask the Senator to be brief.

When the Minister, Deputy Naughten, was in the Seanad last December, he said: "Taking off my energy hat and putting on my climate change hat, it is important that all boilers are serviced on an annual basis because that improves their efficiency". There is a simple solution to this issue. During the summer I drafted proposed legislation, the health and safety carbon monoxide Bill 2017. I would be happy to work on it with the Minister of State and his officials with a view to producing a solution to this issue during this important carbon monoxide awareness week.

I will contact the Senator directly and we can meet up.

Schools Building Projects

I wish to raise a matter that has been brought to my attention by some councillors in the Kildare area. In light of recent CSO figures, which state that there will be an increase of 24% in the need for secondary level school places by 2025, can the Minister explain what progress has been made on funding for the Educate Together school to be built in the south Kildare area? There are currently 4,000 13 to 18 year old teens in the area but, according to CSO data, there will be an estimated increase of 24% in the need for secondary school places over the next nine years.

It is little noisy in the Chamber.

Ciúnas le do thoil. Can we have ciúnas in the Chamber as it is hard to hear what the Senator is saying.

I do not mean to be a prima donna but it is quite distracting.

In this new Chamber, the sound carries differently.

The South Kildare Educate Together Second Level campaign has been active for some time and gained almost 3,000 signatures in support of the provision of a second level Educate Together school in the area. A report produced by the campaign shows an estimated shortfall of 415 places by 2025, not taking into account all of the new three and four-bedroom houses built in the past year, many of which will house families whose children will need secondary school places in the future. Earlier this year there were proposals for a joint venture between Educate Together and Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board to be considered for the provision of a second level community college, possibly in Newbridge. Is there any update on the progress made on these proposals?

On a side issue, there is a need for the Curragh post-primary school to be rehoused in more suitable accommodation. It is currently located in the barracks, in two former Army buildings. Is there any update on progress on that proposal?

I am delighted to be here in this lovely new Chamber. I congratulate the architects and everyone else involved in its design.

I thank the Senator very much for her question and raising this matter as it gives me an opportunity to outline to the Seanad the current position on the ongoing campaign for the provision of an Educate Together secondary school for the south Kildare region. My Department uses a geographical information system, GIS, to identify where there will be pressure for school places across the country. The GIS uses data from the Central Statistics Office, Ordinance Survey Ireland, the Department of Social Protection and my Department's own database. With this information, the Department of Education and Skills carries out nationwide demographic exercises at primary and post-primary levels to determine where additional school accommodation is needed. Where demographic data indicate that additional provision is required, its delivery is dependent on the particular circumstances of each case and may, depending on circumstances, be provided either through one or a combination of the following: utilising the extended existing unused capacity within a school or schools; extending the capacity of a school or schools; or the provision of a new school or schools.

There are seven school planning areas in south Kildare, namely, Newbridge, Kilcullen, Monasterevin, Kildare town, the Curragh, Athy and Castledermot. Following completion of the last demographic exercises, the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, announced the opening of four new primary schools and nine new post-primary schools, to be opened in 2017 and 2018, to cater for increased demographic needs nationwide. As part of this announcement, it was noted that a range of areas nationwide, including south Kildare, were experiencing increased demographic pressure and would be kept under review. These demographic exercises showed that while the school planning areas in south Kildare were experiencing some demographic growth, it was considered that, with the addition of both significant planned and recently delivered infrastructure in areas of south Kildare, the existing schools should, between them, be able to cater for the overall level of demographic demand for post-primary school places. The reference to an increased need of 24% for second level places by 2025 in south Kildare appears to originate from a report compiled by the South Kildare Educate Together Second Level campaign group, which has also been submitted to my Department. The Central Statistics Office has confirmed to the Department that it has not yet made future population projections arising from the 2016 census and has indicated that the population projections are scheduled to be released in April 2018.

As with other school planning areas nationwide, the demographic data for the south Kildare school planning area is being kept under ongoing review by the Department of Education and Skills to take account of updated child benefit data and updated enrolment data. Recommendations on foot of the last ongoing demographic exercises being carried out by my Department are expected to be received before the end of the year.

I thank the Minister of State for coming in to give the response. The last paragraph is really what I would have asked the Minister of State to do having heard the previous statement regarding whether there will be further information available in April 2018 and if there is a need at that point, which is projected by the report. The origin of the report is irrelevant as long as the data is correct. That is something that needs to be looked into. I know there is a very active campaign to have an Educate Together school or indeed a joint venture in the area. I know councillors in the area and Deputy Heydon are very much on top of this issue but it was great to get a response from the Minister of State today in the Seanad.

I welcome a former long-standing Member of this House and former Leader of the Seanad, Donie Cassidy, to the Distinguished Visitors Gallery. I almost said Senator Donie Cassidy but that might be predicting his future.

Mental Health Services Report

I will share a minute of my time with Senator Ó Clochartaigh.

Three and one?

I will remind the Senator.

I welcome the Minister of State to our new abode. I am not sure how it will pan out but we will do our best to behave ourselves. I want to raise the issue of Roscommon Mental Health Services and the report published a few days ago. The report reveals secrecy, poor standards and, quite frankly, negativity within Roscommon Mental Health Services. It also shows that moneys were given back by Roscommon Mental Health Services to the tune of almost €18 million - €18 million that is so desperately needed. In a reply dated 18 September to a parliamentary question by my colleague, Deputy Buckley, the HSE said that no unallocated spend and no moneys were given back. They have been given back. This report is quite shocking and saddens me as a former mental health nurse. There was a significant reduction in nursing levels and there was a massive reduction in the filling of medical posts. We recognise that there is a problem there, are working on it and have solutions.

When we spoke previously about Linn Dara, I told the Minister of State that there are solutions within my organisational body, which is the Psychiatric Nurses Association, PNA. The association has reviewed the Roscommon report and has no confidence in what is to become an implementation group established to give effect to this review's recommendations. Senior management was referenced in the review. How can we have confidence in the implementation group when the report clearly states that leadership at a number of levels appears to be ineffective?

The PNA is demanding that the proposed implementation group be independently chaired, not include the senior managers who were in place during the period of the review and include representatives of on-the-ground workers. I am gobsmacked that €18 million was sent back. The review focused excessively on financial matters to the detriment of the staff's working conditions and safety, as well as patient care.

We need to abide by the recommendations made. We know that there will be no comfort if the implementation group is led by those who were found in the review to be totally ineffective. Why would we put them in charge? At times it is a little like what is going on in the Garda. Why would the Minister of State continue with it when we know that it is broken? He needs to fix it. Mental health services need to be managed well and the Minister of State has been tasked with that responsibility.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Tá alltacht orm agus mé ag cloisteáil inniu go bhfuil €18 milliún do na seirbhísí seo curtha ar ais as Ros Comáin.

As the Minister of State might know, Galway and Roscommon are linked in the provision of mental health services. I attended presentations a number of years ago at which we were told that the model to be used in the Galway-Roscommon mental health service would be exemplary in terms of best practice, but it is absolutely not.

I attended a joint policing committee, JPC, meeting yesterday. I am concerned about an increase in the numbers of burglaries, assaults, etc., and told by senior gardaí that many of them are alcohol and drug-fuelled. In Galway we are way behind when it comes to the provision of addiction counselling and mental health services. It is, therefore, disgraceful to find out that €18 million has been sent back. This issue has to be addressed. When one makes a comparison, there are far more counsellors in Waterford and Tralee than in Galway city and county, Mayo and Roscommon. We certainly need those moneys to be put back into the services in the region in order that we can deal with the very serious issues mentioned at a grassroots level.

The HSE is committed to ensuring all aspects of mental health services are delivered in a consistent and timely fashion. In 2015 the mental health division of the HSE determined that it was necessary to conduct an independent review of the quality, safety and governance of services provided by Roscommon mental health services to support achieving the goals set out in A Vision for Change and other relevant national policies. I welcome the report which was completed in July and which makes 27 recommendations for local service improvement. Within a short period of being commissioned, it became evident that the initial timeframe proposed to conduct the review was insufficient and the review team requested and received extra time to complete its work.

The recently released report indicates that the review team was impressed by the majority of staff it met or interviewed and struck by their commitment to seeing services improve for service users in Roscommon. The overriding concern of the majority of those interviewed - staff, service users and carers - was that patients and families in Roscommon were not receiving services in line with best practice that would meet required quality and safety of care standards. The team concluded that there was a disproportionate focus, even in a time of straitened financial circumstances, on achieving budget savings at the cost of an adequately staffed and safe service.

Multi-disciplinary team working, MDT, the linchpin of modern mental health services, was severely eroded in Roscommon, with fractured relationships within the area management team, AMT, within the Roscommon teams and between a number of professionals and key consultant medical staff. Throughout, there were poor line management arrangements. Leadership at a number of levels appeared to be ineffective. The majority of nursing staff interviewed believed - the team agrees - that the senior nursing leadership critical to representing the professional views of nurses at the executive level was missing. It is the team's view that, in some instances, relationships appeared to have broken down irreparably. Managers in any organisation have a difficult balancing role and should be allowed to manage without undue interference. However, this can only occur in a working environment that is conducive to mutual respect and understanding. There was clear evidence that this was absent in this instance. Some senior medical and nursing staff maintained that the relationship difficulties impacted on their ability to bring about changes that they felt were necessary.

The review team pointed to the need for effective application of appropriate change management principles as a new entity attempted to merge disparate parts of hitherto separate organisations. The team believes preparatory work to support the area management team should have been under way as it embarked on creating a new culture.

Little emphasis seems to have been placed on this, and when combined with economic constraints, less than favourable conditions then prevailed.

An implementation group has now been formed by the HSE to implement these recommendations. This House will appreciate that the HSE has statutory responsibility for the planning and delivery of health care services at local level, including mental health in Roscommon. The Senators can rest assured that the Department of Health and I will closely monitor the progress of the HSE implementation team to ensure that the recommendations of this comprehensive report are delivered as quickly as possible.

The Minister of State referenced A Vision for Change. It is an excellent document, but its sell-by date is last year. Some 73% of it has not been implemented. In this instance one can rightly call the Roscommon-Galway report, Aversion to Change. It is stuck in the past and stuck in the old ways.

I have two things to ask of the Minister of State. The first is that the implementation group is not peopled by those who were implicated in this report. That is of utmost need. To give trust and respect to this implementation group, we cannot have those named in the report as being inefficient, if that is the polite word. The second thing I ask is for is on behalf of the people and services of Galway and Roscommon. We want our money back. We want the €8 million back and ask the Minister of State to please provide a cheque as soon as possible.

I think the Senator has outlined her response sufficiently. Is there anything the Minister of State wants to add briefly?

I assure the Senators that I have taken on board their concerns. I have met with the PNA on this matter and discussed this and a number of matters. I have met with it and heard its concerns previous to today. I gave it an assurance that I will take on board its concerns about the composition of the implementation group and who it consists of, and I will be monitoring it closely. I will also be visiting the region myself to have a look first-hand. There is a body of work to be done and a group has been tasked to do that work. I want to let some of that work get under way before I get involved directly, hands-on, but I assure the Senators that I intend to do that. I thank them for their concern about this important matter.

What about the cheque?

I do not issue cheques, Senator. That is a matter for the HSE.

I am sure we will hear about this again.

Diaspora Policy

I thank the Minister of State for taking this Commencement matter today. Before I begin, I would like to congratulate the staff of Leinster House and the OPW for their work in having this magnificent room ready for the new Seanad term. I got a shock when I walked in here. I thought I was in the US Senate for a moment when I looked up and saw the ceramics, and I thought I was looking at baby Trump. Look at it over there.

Over the past 20 years-----

There is a marked resemblance, Senator.

Once one sees the resemblance, it is hard to escape.

Over the past 20 years, Ireland went from being a country of emigration to one of immigration, "E" for emigration and "I" for coming back in, and then it went to emigration again. Now we are all delighted that, thanks to the improvements to our economy, Ireland is in a phase of return migration. This did not happen by accident. At the height of the economic crisis in 2009, the inaugural global Irish economic forum was established. This was the beginning of a transformation of Ireland's relationship with emigrants overseas. The referendum allowing emigrants to vote in the presidential election, which I read that the Taoiseach hopes to have in place next year, represents another milestone in this journey.

Today, I want to talk about the final part of this voyage as the fruits of a global diaspora policy start to take hold. For the first time since the crash, we are returning to net inward migration and 400 Irish citizens living abroad return every week to live in Ireland. According to the latest report published by the expert group on future skills needs, there has been an increase in labour shortage across all sectors. Returning to the peak levels of the start of 2008 with a high concentration in the financial and professional services sector, we need our best and our brightest back in this country. My pre-budget submission, which I intend to publish later today, calls for substantively small changes to be made that could have big outcomes in both encouraging emigrants to return as well as providing a smooth re-integration of those who left Ireland. These are some of the issues which face returning citizens that could be resolved with limited additional budgetary allocation to the relevant Departments.

We lack a website that could be a single point providing clear information for returning emigrants accessing services, where rather than refer them to the different agencies, there is a one stop shop. Primary schools' enrolment policies can have a discriminatory effect. Car insurance and the non-transferability of the no-claims bonus is a huge issue. There is the issue of converting foreign drivers licences to Irish drivers licences. Government, landlords and banks demand evidence of utility bills as proof of address. It is so difficult for returning emigrants to open bank accounts.

I understand that each of these issues creates its own hurdles but I urge the Minister to consider ways that both the information and real world assistance to deal with the hurdles of returning emigrants could be consolidated and more centralised. For example, the Citizens Information website is a wonderful tool for existing citizens understanding and interacting with our State services. A returning citizens website would be a good start. I recognise that there are actuarial issues relating to car insurance and perhaps safety issues for drivers licences but making returning emigrants jump through hoops is the lazy option. There has to be scope for better and easier accessibility to State, education and banking services for those returning home.

A major issue I hope to push forward during this session of the Seanad relates to third level education. In March 2014 the then Minister for Education and Skills announced that the children of Irish emigrants who have spent five years in primary or post-primary school in Ireland qualify for EU level fees at Irish universities and third level institutions for undergraduate courses from the 2014-2015 academic year. While welcome, this does not serve people who may have emigrated with their children either at the start of the recession or before and now want to return. Their children could qualify for the merit programme for scholarship to US colleges but because they are Irish citizens they cannot avail of any scholarships in the United States. If they return to Ireland they must pay almost full fees to attend an Irish university. That is not right.

We need to do better for our returning emigrants and I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's response.

I thank Senator Lawless for once again raising this very important issue and these challenges. I have not addressed the Senator in any role before but I commend him on the work he has done to date. Not only has he been rightly lauded for his work on the global stage and in a macro sense, he has helped countless thousands he has helped on an individual basis during his career. His work does not get the recognition it deserves.

My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Ciarán Cannon, sends his regrets he cannot be here as he is launching the Irish Aid annual report which clashes with this debate, and he asked me to take this debate on his behalf.

When Global Irish: Ireland's Diaspora Policy was published in March 2015, the then Taoiseach noted the impact of emigration on our society, and stressed that we wanted people to be able to come home and play a part in the future of our society. Since then, Government policy has been to create the economic conditions necessary to make returning to Ireland an option for those who have emigrated and wished to return. Its strategy of steady, stable economic growth has benefited all our citizens and is helping to facilitate our emigrants' return to Ireland.

I am aware that for returning emigrants, returning to Ireland can be a challenging experience. People are moving their lives from one country to another, with all the challenges that entails both economically and personally. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, through the emigrant support programme, provides significant funding and support to organisations, including Crosscare Migrant Project and Safe Home Ireland, which work with citizens who wish to return to Ireland. Over the past decade more than €4 million has been allocated to Irish-based organisations working with returning emigrants. In addition, the Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora chairs the interdepartmental committee on the Irish abroad which works to ensure that Government works in a joined-up way to realise the objectives of our diaspora strategy. This includes addressing issued affecting the Irish abroad and those seeking to return. Over the past year the interdepartmental committee on the Irish abroad has focused its work on addressing Government procedures reported to be negatively affecting returning Irish emigrants. Departments continue to work to address issues that have been raised at the interdepartmental committee.

To build on the work of this committee in addressing such barriers, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has commissioned an economic report on barriers to people returning. In particular, the report will review and proposed measures to address difficulties in areas that are not immediately within the remit of Departments to alleviate. The report will inform Government policy and actions in respect of the difficulties it finds.

In addition to assisting to address potential barriers, the Department is always looking for new and innovative ways to assist Irish people abroad and those returning. Research suggests that time spent living abroad improves capacity to succeed in creating and growing businesses. At the same time, returning emigrants face challenges unique to them in setting up a business. These include gaps in personal and professional networks, support and up-to-date local knowledge which are crucial to the successful establishment of new businesses. To support these returning emigrants in a practical way, the Department has established a mentoring programme for returning emigrants to help them set up businesses in Ireland and contribute fully to local communities and economies across the country. The programme will be open for applications next month.

As the Senator will be aware from his own experience, there will always be some financial and opportunity costs associated with moving between countries. However, the Government is committed to supporting the Irish abroad and those seeking to return, and ensuring in so far as possible that our returning emigrants do not face disproportionate or avoidable barriers as they return to live In Ireland.

I thank the Minister of State, even if the Government started with the driver's licence. When I moved to Chicago, I went as soon as I could to get my Illinois driving licence. I acknowledge all states in America have their own driver's licence and there is no federal licence but I had to complete a written test, an eye test and a 45 minute to one hour driving test with an examiner. There are critical examinations, which is an easy one to do. We could start with easy measures. We do not have to have major reports, another think tank or whatever. Let us do it. It will not cost a great deal. I acknowledge that the Ministers were not available but I had to table the matter because I am making a budget submission today as well and issuing a press release.

I will ensure the Senator's comments are conveyed to the Minister. I acknowledge the practical suggestions and solutions he has put forward. However, there are huge obstacles for individuals who are trying to return to Ireland and I accept they could be sorted more easily without waiting for all the reports and committees to come together. I will ensure that message is carried strongly to my ministerial colleague.

Sitting suspended at 3.20 p.m. and resumed at 3.30 p.m.