Commencement Matters

Home Care Packages Provision

I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for taking this Commencement matter. I am here to make a personal representation for the family of Ms Mary Baker. Mary is 80 years old and went to St. James's Hospital in August with a chest infection, ending up with a broken back, leading to paralysis from the waist down.

Please desist from naming individuals.

Okay. The family is here so they are okay with it.

They may be but we are not allowed to name individuals.

Mary was at five years old put into institutional care, along with her small sister of two years old. She had an horrific childhood, with horrors we can only imagine and which we have heard of through the years about the Magdalen laundries. She protected her small sister and got out of there at the age of 16, never to return. She married happily and has children of her own. She is blind. She asked her children to never allow her back into institutional care. Unfortunately, this is what is being offered by the wonderful staff at St. James's Hospital, who have cared for Mary. They have said she will probably need institutional care as opposed to home care. She wants to go home and she is familiar with that environment, given her disability of being blind. She had a wonderful life going in and out of social events, having hairdos and being in her local community. She was a very independent woman.

Since the news was broken last week by the staff in the hospital, she has experienced extreme distress. She is crying and cannot eat. She just wants her wishes to be fulfilled in that she can be cared for at home with whatever time she has left. She needs more than the average home care package. I know there are difficulties with these packages but I plead for the Minister of State to work with the other Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, on this and meet the family. We should look at the benefit to the State, as the cost of hospital bed stay is approximately €6,000 per week, the cost of residential care could be up to €2,000 per week and the cost of a home care package is significantly lower.

I would like a commitment from the Ministers of State, including Deputy Finian McGrath, who is aware of this, to meet the family and work out the best option in order to fulfil her request for whatever time this woman has left. We need to have compassion and empathy and we must act in the best interests and wishes of Mary.

I thank the Senator for raising this matter. She referred to a particular case.

I believe that it would be inappropriate to discuss an individual's circumstances in public in the Seanad. I appreciate this is a distressing time for the individual. However, I have been advised that the HSE is working closely with the family and that a range of resources is needed which are difficult to source.

The HSE has operational responsibility for planning, managing and delivering home and other community-based services for older people. In addition to the mainstream home help service, which offers support for personal care and help with domestic chores, enhanced home care is provided through home care packages. All those applying for home care are assessed and provided with a service, if appropriate, as soon as possible having regard to their assessed needs and availability of resources. Priority is given to people due to be discharged from acute hospitals who are in a position to return home with supports. However, the resources available for home care services, while significant, are limited and, with the increase in our elderly population, demand is growing year on year. In budget 2018, a further €37 million has been made available for older people's services, comprising €5 million in funding in 2017 and €32 million next year, to further strengthen supports for older people, particularly to facilitate speedier discharge from acute hospitals over the winter period. A significant proportion of this additional funding will go towards home care services. There will always be a cohort of people for whom residential nursing home care provides the best option to meet their health care needs. The nursing homes support scheme continues to be the main pathway through which most people enter residential care. The scheme will continue to be a key support ensuring that older people have access to high-quality care in a location of their choosing. Improving home care services in order that people can live with confidence, dignity and security in their own homes for as long as possible is a key commitment of the Government. Home supports are crucial to helping older people, and indeed people of all ages, with particular care needs to remain where they want to be, at home in the surroundings with which they are most familiar and comfortable. The Government is planning to establish a new statutory home care scheme and a system of regulation for home care services. The Department is currently engaged in a detailed process to progress these issues. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and I launched a public consultation process on the financing and regulation of home care in July of this year. The public consultation is just the start of the broader process of engagement by the Department with interested individuals, groups and service providers on the future of home care. The Government is committed to progressing the development of a regulatory and funding model for home care services as quickly as possible, though I should point out that it is a complex undertaking and will require a significant amount of detailed preparation.

Would Senator Devine like to ask a supplementary question?

Yes. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly. I refer to his reference to a location of their choosing. This woman chooses to go home to a familiar environment where there is family involvement and they can dovetail in with a home care package. I could go on. Her daughter lives with her, other daughters and sons live in the vicinity and they already have made alterations to their homes to accept their mother home for whatever time she has left. Will the Minister of State give a commitment that he will meet the family, who are sitting in the Gallery here today, and try to come up with a package that is suitable for all?

I cannot get involved in personal cases. I think the Senator knows that. As a Minister of State, I do not decide, and nor does the Senator, about resources. That is not a decision for us. I manage the Department from a macro level but individual resources are administered by the HSE. It would not be appropriate for me as Minister of State to direct the HSE as to what families should get the resources that are available. That is a matter for the HSE.

Road Projects Status

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Ross.

I welcome the Minister and thank him for coming to the House to deal with this Commencement matter. It is brief. I am raising this issue on behalf of public representatives in Athy, County Kildare. I have some claim to fame there in that my family is originally from there and is in business and in the commercial life of the town itself in Duke Street. I know it well. As I am there on a weekly basis, I am very familiar with County Kildare and with Athy in particular. It was once a very successful market town and a particularly attractive town. It is served by wonderful public transport because there is a train service there. It is a town that from the 1960s right up to the present has seen a diminishing of employment and economic activity. However, it has great prospects being so near to Dublin and there is a great potential future in respect of the provision for the Athy ring road. My understanding is that An Bord Pleanála has now given the go-ahead. There were planning issues and difficulties but they have been resolved. Kildare County Council is keen to get on with this project. People want to see this road put in as quickly as possible, subject to the available finances. They want to know where this project is on the priority list for the Minister's capital programme in the context of the town's renewal and revitalisation and in respect of capitalising on its potential. It is an important hub for people doing business and living there and it has good transport connections. We are trying to find out what is the status of the ring road in the grand scheme of things and what sort of funding has been identified. Where is the priority in getting this initiative and this road up and running?

I thank the Senator for raising this important subject. Although I get an enormous number of requests of this sort as Topical Issues in the Dáil and as Commencement matters here, it does matter. It would be wrong for me to say that when the Senator raises matters of this sort, they are disregarded, disposed of or ignored or that we are going through the motions. There are hundreds and perhaps thousands of roads that potentially could be brought to my attention but when they are, it does make an impact, not just on me but on the Department. It puts the issue immediately on the radar. What Senator Boyhan is doing today is useful and I hope will be beneficial in sorting out the problem of traffic congestion in Athy.

The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is a statutory function of the local authority in accordance with the provisions of section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. Works on such roads are a matter for the relevant local authority to be funded from its own resources supplemented by State road grants. The initial selection and prioritisation of projects to be funded from these moneys is a matter for each local authority. Ireland has just under 100,000 km of road in its network and the maintenance and improvement of national, regional and local roads places a substantial financial burden on local authorities and on the Exchequer. The national financial position meant there were very large reductions in Exchequer funding available for roads expenditure after the financial crisis. Consequently, the focus has had to be on maintenance and renewal, rather than major new improvements in recent years and I envisage that this emphasis on maintaining the assets will continue into the next capital plan period. The Building on Recovery capital plan 2016-2021 and the capital plan review allocations mark a significant step in terms of restoring funding to the levels needed to maintain the road network in a steady-state condition and allowing for some investment in road improvement schemes. The Athy southern distributor road is one of the improvement projects designed to address bottlenecks on the road network included in the capital plan. Following An Bord Pleanála’s approval, to which the Senator referred, of the project in October, the next stage is for Kildare County Council to do the detailed project design and to prepare the contract documents. Under the Department’s funding programme for the regional and local road improvement projects included in the capital plan, it is anticipated that the main construction contract for the Athy project will start in mid-2020. It is hoped that it will be completed, I hope this answers the question, by 2022. It is likely that some advance works contracts will be undertaken in 2018 and 2019 in advance of the main contract. In addition, land purchase will proceed.

That should give the Senator the type of timetable we are thinking about, barring any upsets which we do not anticipate now that An Bord Pleanála has gone through the process.

I thank the Minister. It has been helpful as it gives a focus and an indicative timeline. The local council and people living there are keen to know and at least there is no ambiguity now. We have an indicative timeline for it and in respect of the role of Kildare County Council. When one talks to a council it can say one thing while one hears another from the Minister. We at least have the basis for something now and I want to thank the Minister for dealing with that.

I thank the Senator. The fact he has made representations on this will make it more likely rather than less likely to happen within that timetable.

Scéim na gCúntóirí Teanga

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Joe McHugh, to the House.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Tá mé sásta cúpla focal a rá faoi scéim na gcúntóirí teanga agus tá cúpla ceist shimplí agam faoin scéim.

As the Minister of State will know from recent parliamentary questions submitted by my colleague, Deputy Dara Calleary, this is an issue which is affecting primary schools in Gaeltacht areas. It is my understanding that the objective of the cúntóirí teanga scheme is to reinforce Irish as a spoken language among young people in the Gaeltacht. Schools have been fortunate to have the opportunity to have native Irish speakers visit on a daily basis to give their expertise in spoken Irish to the children. Many of the schools feel that this is a vital cog in their wheels. Two organisations, Muintearas Teoranta and Oidhreacht Chorca Dhuibhne Teoranta, manage the scheme on behalf of the Department and deliver it, for the most part, through the network of Gaeltacht primary schools.

The school about which I have been contacted is scoil náisiúnta Dubh Thuama in Erris. This school has availed of the cúntóirí teanga scheme in the past and is very eager to have it reinstated in the school. Last June the school signed up to the new Department of Education and Skills policy for Gaeltacht schools, that all subjects would continue to be taught through Irish and would continue to be adhered to in the junior classrooms. In other words, junior and senior infant classes would be immersed fully in the Irish language.

Unfortunately, when September allocations came around scoil náisiúnta Dubh Thuama was not included in the scheme and the school has not been briefed on why it was not chosen. Following on from a response to a parliamentary question issued to Deputy Dara Calleary, it is clear that an allocation of €551,830 was made in order to facilitate the provision of the scheme to the same schools that participated in the scheme in 2016-17. I find it hard to understand, as does the school in question, why the schools from the 2016-17 scheme were automatically returned to the 2017-18 scheme and no other applications were accepted. The school is also very confused by the fact that three out of the seven schools that also signed up to the new Department of Education and Skills policy for Gaeltacht schools were not allocated funding from the cúntóirí teanga scheme while schools that have not signed up to the policy have been given allocations.

I ask the Minister of State to clarify the qualifying criteria for the provision of a language assistant as part of the cúntóirí teanga scheme.

Gabhaim mo bhuíochas leis an Seanadóir fá choinne an cheist thábhachtach seo. Bhí mé rud beag mall fosta agus tá brón orm fá dtaobh de sin. Gabhaim m'aitheantas fosta don dream i gCorca Dhuibhne agus le Muintearas Teoranta fá choinne a n-iarrachtaí agus a tiomantas don scéim seo thar na blianta.

Scéim na gcúntóirí teanga was established was established by the Department in 1999 as an additional initiative to help further strengthen Irish as a spoken language among school going children in Gaeltacht areas. Under the scheme, cúntóirí teanga or language assistants, who are fluent Irish speakers, provide support to Gaeltacht schools in order to further support language acquisition and enrichment opportunities for school age children within the school setting.

Gabhaim m'aitheantas leis na daoine a bhíonn ag obair in achan scoil fá choinne a ngealltanas don teanga fosta. I would like to acknowledge the commitment and dedication to the language shown by all of the people who are working on these schemes. The focus of the scheme is on activities that contribute primarily to the enrichment and acquisition of language opportunities including storytelling, rhymes, small plays, games and so forth rather than learning opportunities in the context of the curriculum. Tá na daoine ag obair ar rudaí go neamhfhoirmiúil, that is, the informal aspects of learning. This practical support greatly assists participant schools in their efforts to create such learning opportunities and helps to underpin the Irish language as the foremost community and family language in Gaeltacht areas. Caithfear a rá go bhfuil na daoine ag úsáid na teanga achan lá sa scoil i mbealaí neamhfhoirmiúil. For those who use it every day in an informal setting, it is of great benefit to their learning experience and their joy and love for the language. The overall measure is being implemented in support of the implementation of the 20-year strategy for the Irish language as it relates to the Gaeltacht.

In order to qualify for recognition under scéim na gcúntóirí teanga, which is administered on behalf of my Department by Muintearas Teoranta and Oidhreacht Chorca Dhuibhne Teoranta, schools must be situated in a Gaeltacht area and operate through the medium of Irish. The scheme is currently operating in 107 Gaeltacht schools and 93 language assistants are engaged in delivering the scheme.

Funding of €784,442 has been approved for 2017-18. Bhí an uimhir chéanna i gceist fá choinne 2016-17. From this allocation, tá €548,613 ceadaithe do Mhuintearas Teoranta, atá ag obair sna Gaeltachtaí i nDún na nGall, Maigh Eo, Gaillimh, agus i Ráth Chairn agus Baile Ghib i gContae na Mí agus tá €232,629 ceadaithe d'Oidhreacht Chorca Dhuibhne, atá ag obair i gCiarraí, Corcaigh agus Port Láirge.

Bunaíodh Oidhreacht Chorca Dhuibhne Teoranta in 1980 agus tá sé i mbun an teanga a spreagadh go dtí seo. Oidhreacht Chorca Dhuibhne was established in 1980 and it has been promoting the language to this present day. Oidhreacht Chorca Dhuibhne Teoranta is a subsidiary of Comharchumann Forbartha Chorca Dhuibhne that operates under the umbrella of Údarás na Gaeltachta. The organisation is operating from lár-ionad forbartha Bhaile an Fheirtéaraigh for which the Department approved grant funding of €1.7 million in 2013. Tá Muintearas Teoranta ag obair sa phobal ag cur traenáil ar fáil. Is fochomhlacht é de chuid Údarás na Gaeltachta. It works as a subsidiary of Údarás na Gaeltachta. The organisation's headquarters is in Tir an Fhia, Leitir Móir, Contae na Gaillimhe; and it has sub-offices in the Donegal, Mayo and Kerry Gaeltacht areas. Education is provided to all age groups in the community, from pre-school to adult lifelong learning. Muintearas Teoranta is working in all aspects of education, training and services for the Gaeltacht community.

Gabhaim m'aitheantas arís chuig Muintearas Teoranta agus an dream atá lonnaithe i gCorca Dhuibhne dá tiomantas thar na blianta, that is, their commitment down through the years to the scheme. Tá Muintearas Teoranta ag obair ar rudaí éagsúla, go háirithe forbairt an linbh, oideachas bunscoile agus an clár óige. Tá an clár óige thar a bheith tábhachtach maidir leis na príomhspriocanna ar chlár Muintearas Teoranta. In recent years, these organisations have focused on opportunities offered by communicative modern technology for remote communities. As matters stand, the demand from Gaeltacht schools to participate in the language assistants scheme is greater than the Department’s capacity to meet the demand within the relevant subhead which funds the scheme. Notwithstanding this challenge, I should point out that in order to further strengthen the scheme in the context of the implementation of the language planning process as set out under the Gaeltacht Act 2012 agus faoin Pholasaí don Oideachas Gaeltachta 2017-2022, which is being spearheaded by the Department of Education and Skills, my Department intends to undertake a review of the scheme. Among the issues to be addressed as part of this review will be the qualifying criteria that should apply in the case of schools that are participating in the scheme or that wish to participate in the scheme sa todhchaí. This will address the issue raised by the Senator here today.

The issue of how best to advance the recommendations emerging from the review will be carefully considered in due course in the context of how best to ensure effective support of both the language planning process and the Polasaí don Oideachas Gaeltachta within na hacmhainní atá ar fáil, that is, the available resources. Without prejudice to the outcome of the review, consideration will also need to be given as to how best to address the matter of schools which have, for whatever reason, not yet opted to participate in the scheme being rolled out at Gaeltacht schools level by the Department of Education and Skills le tacaíocht a thabairt don pholasaí.

I share the Minister of State's concerns with regards to nurturing our language. I also understand that not all Gaeltacht schools can be facilitated due to the Department's capacity. However, with regards to scoil náisiúnta Dubh Thuama, it is important to realise that it has opted to participate in the scheme in the past but for some reason it has now been excluded. I know that the Minister of State has visited Erris. I have met the Minister of State there before. I encourage him to examine this school in particular. The Irish language is alive and well in Erris. We want to nurture it for our kids and the next generation. I would be grateful for any available feedback in the coming weeks.

I am very happy to do that. The Senator might just seol a ríomphost. He might send on a wee email with the details of the specific school and I will certainly follow up on it. While I would like to see for all Gaeltacht primary schools that it would not be based on a selective process, certain schools are selected due to the financial resources that are available. I have visited schools and seen the scheme working. Muintearas Teoranta covers the Donegal Gaeltacht areas. Consider the resources that are on our doorsteps. These are people who are not teachers. They do not need qualifications or PhDs. However, they have the language and are sharing it with primary schoolchildren in an informal setting, and this is the way to go.

I would like every school in the Gaeltacht to be covered by the scheme. I would also like every school in the country to be covered by it. Within the review, there will be a linkage with the Department of Education and Skills. It will take significant resources to do and we cannot bite it all off in one go. As the Senator says, given Irish is alive and well in Erris and other areas outside the Gaeltacht, we need to approach it in this way. This is a common-sense way of keeping the language alive and it is absolutely wonderful to see schools embracing the scheme. I have more of an insight into the work of Muintearas Teoranta because it is based in County Donegal but I want to acknowledge the two organisations for their efforts. They will be a fundamental part of the review. On the issue raised by the Senator, we are trying to cover every school eventually but it is subject to resources.

Mar fhocal scoir, gabhaim m'atheantas arís leis na daoine atá ag obair agus atá páirteach sa scéim seo agus leis na cúntóirí teanga. Tá siad ag coiméad na teanga bheo agus in áit níos fearr. Tá mé dóchasach go mbeidh an t-athbhreithniú ag dul ar aghaidh sa bhliain úr. B'fhéidir go mbeidh smaoineamh ann achan scoil a bheith clúdaithe faoin scéim seo agus go mbeidh an scéim seo ina scéim phíolótach fá choinne an tír agus fá choinne scoileanna atá taobh amuigh den Ghaeltacht.

Tá tuismitheoirí ag strácáil. Parents are struggling. The children come home from school and not everyone has Irish and is able to speak the language but there is no shortage of love and demand from people who want their children to do it. We therefore must consider every possible opportunity to encourage them. A nice Ulster word we use for encouragement is "uchtach". I learned it from a Connemara man. We have to provide the resources so that we can be ag spreagadh na daoine and motivating and encouraging them. This scheme works. I have seen it working. Tá an t-éileamh ann. The demand is there and there needs to be an obligation to provide for the school the Senator mentioned in a fair way. I hope the review will point to the benefits of what is happening, given where we have come from and what it has done and how the language can be grown just by using it daily.

We all have had our different experiences learning Irish. We all have our different stories. Perhaps we concentrated too much on writing or reading it rather than vocabulary and opportunities to speak the language. I acknowledge those in this House who are making an effort in this regard. Every single usher, with their varying degrees of Irish, is using it. Tá siad ag déanamh iarrachta. Tá na daoine uilig timpeall na tíre ag déanamh a seacht ndíchill fosta. Everyone is doing their level best to learn the language by even using just a couple of words.

Now this is my final word, that is, mo fhocal scoir. Má tá cúpla focal nó líofacht agat sa Ghaeilge, úsáid na teanga. Ná bí buartha. Do not be nervous. Ná bíodh eagla oraibh fosta. Do not be afraid of making mistakes - ag déanamh botún. I encourage those in the Seanad to use it. It happens to a great degree. Even those with no Irish who cannot string two words together can read it. Further, they can use the services available to this House. We have a translation service across the road in Kildare House. They are a very good team and they are listening to us here today. They are ready to translate. They are ready to do the business. The Senator opened his contribution this morning with a few lines as Gaeilge and should be commended on it. Three years ago, I was unable to string two words together. Knowing the value the language can give to us as people, we can grow with the language. We have a responsibility. Tá an dualgas orainn uilig. We have a responsibility don chéad ghlúin eile - for the next generation - to hold it. Our job as legislators is to work on this scheme. This scheme worked and it will work in the future. Tá mé dóchasach. Beidh an dearcadh dearfa fosta. Tá brón orm. I went on a wee bit there. I got carried away. I am sorry about that.

Go raibh maith agat, a Aire Stáit. Bhí tú ag caint mar a bhíonn mise. I thank the Minister of State and the Senator.

Sitting suspended at 11.10 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.