Skip to main content
Normal View

Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 17 Jan 2018

Vol. 255 No. 5

Commencement Matters

Hospital Accommodation Provision

I have just become aware of this case in recent days in Letterkenny University Hospital. I could give so many more but this example particularly captures the crisis we have at the hospital in so many respects. A 92-year-old man with pneumonia and an underlying heart condition is gravely ill but for 22 hours he did not have a hospital bed. There are so many examples and not a day goes by that in Donegal we do not speak with families and loved ones about usually elderly parents, aunts or uncles being stuck in this position. It is an absolute scandal and the Government is well aware of this.

Last year there were almost 5,000 people on trolleys at Letterkenny University Hospital, which means almost 5,000 human beings were denied dignity and the service to which they are entitled. That is twice the number from 2016, so the crisis doubled in scale. These are the highest numbers since the records of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, began. There was an appeal from the Letterkenny hospital management to reopen the 19-bed short stay ward and approximately €1.8 million was applied for. The Department was told about the crisis we are facing and why these beds needed to be reopened but there has been absolute silence from the Government.

The issues at the Letterkenny hospital are much bigger. Deputy Pearse Doherty and I submitted a report last year on the need to invest in Letterkenny hospital, documenting years of historic funding discrimination.

Letterkenny University Hospital is the sixth largest hospital in the State. The way it has been treated is wrong. The same applies to the treatment meted out to doctors and nurses who are always praised by the public, and I mean the people who managed to get into the hospital. The difficulty is that everyone concerned is being failed and has been let down by the Government. I hope to hear today from the Minister of State that he will sanction funding amounting to €1.8 million so that the 19 beds can reopen thus ending the trolley crisis at the hospital.

The problem in Donegal at Letterkenny University Hospital has been made worse by the fact that one in four beds in the community hospitals located across the county were closed during the period when the Minister of State's party was in government. As many as one in four beds in community hospitals has been closed and one in three nurses let go. Therefore, we have a community hospital primary care infrastructure that has been starved of resources. That situation has a knock-on effect on the hospital, which is also starved of resources. The very least the Minister of State can do, as a gesture of goodwill, is give them the resources they need to reopen the short-stay ward that has 19 beds. I urge him to deal with the current crisis and then he can address the wider issue of funding neglect.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue.

First, I wish to acknowledge the distress for patients and their families, and the impact on staff, caused by overcrowded conditions in some of our hospital emergency departments, including the one in Letterkenny.

Tackling overcrowding in emergency departments is a key commitment of this Government. As part of budget 2018, an extra €30 million was made available to respond to winter pressures in 2017, with a further €40 million being provided in 2018. As part of these measures, nearly 150 additional beds have been opened this winter in Beaumont Hospital, St. James's Hospital, Naas General Hospital, St. Luke's General Hospital in Kilkenny, Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, and in Limerick and Galway. Further beds will open throughout 2018, including at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, which will see new emergency department and ward capacity come onstream in 2018.

Part of this funding will also be focused on supporting older people to remain in their own homes by providing additional home care packages and additional transitional care beds per week over the winter period. These measures have already been rolled out to targeted hospitals nationally thus helping to alleviate some of the pressure our hospitals are currently experiencing.

In terms of the specific query raised concerning Letterkenny University Hospital, I am aware that a proposal for additional beds in Letterkenny was submitted as part of the winter plan for 2017-18. I have been informed by my officials that these additional beds have not been funded under the winter plan for 2017-18. However, my Department is undertaking a health system capacity review, in line with the Programme for a Partnership Government commitment, the findings of which are due to be published early this year. The review will provide an evidence base for future capacity decisions.

It is important to note that the public hospital system has seen a growing demand for care, and Letterkenny follows this trend. Emergency department attendances at Letterkenny were up by over 1% at the end of 2017, including an almost 5% increase in emergency department attendances by people over 75 years, when compared with 2016. Notwithstanding the pressure on the emergency department at the Letterkenny hospital, it is worth noting that patient experience times in Letterkenny are above the national average. That means patients complete their episode of care more quickly in the emergency department in Letterkenny, which goes back to the point raised by the Senator about the staff, doctors and nurses who work in the hospital.

I shall conclude by noting the commitment given by this Government to develop and improve services at Letterkenny University Hospital, as evidenced by the significant level of investment in capital projects in recent years. These developments include multiple remedial works following flooding in 2013, a new state-of-the-art blood science laboratory in 2015, a new medical academy and a clinical skills laboratory opened last year.

In addition, the HSE has advised that several important staffing posts are currently being progressed, including for a second consultant endocrinologist and advanced nurse practitioners.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Senator Mac Lochlainn can make a brief supplementary comment.

The Minister of State's response is quite extraordinary. He acknowledged that an application for funding amounting to €1.8 million was received to reopen the 19 beds. The provision would take some of the pressures off the nurses and doctors who must work in impossible conditions every single day they work in the emergency ward. He has acknowledged the application has been received but the scheme will not be funded. He also mentioned that an evidence-based health system capacity review is under way.

What more evidence does the Department of Health need? The numbers have doubled since 2016.

When the Fine Gael Party entered office in 2011, there were hundreds of patients on trolleys in hospitals in County Donegal. Most of those on trolleys at the time were elderly people who had worked and paid taxes all their lives and who expected to be treated with dignity when they got older. Now, the numbers on trolleys in hospitals in County Donegal runs to thousands. In 2017, almost 5,000 citizens ended up on trolleys in Letterkenny University Hospital. How can this evidence not be more clear in terms of the need to invest in more beds in that hospital? It is an absolute sin that a ward of 19 beds is lying empty when it could be put into service and we could solve this current crisis at the hospital. The Government refuses to invest €1.8 million in that hospital. The Minister of State's response is unacceptable. I appreciate that he is taking guidance from hospital management in Letterkenny, but it is an insult to the intelligence of the people of County Donegal to talk about 5,000 people on trolleys, some of whom were processed more quickly in Donegal than in other hospitals. The Minister of State knows that is not an acceptable response. I consider him to be a decent human being. The response he delivered is indecent and intolerable. I appeal to the Minister of State to deal immediately with this matter so that the funding sought to reopen the short-stay ward and bring the 19 beds into operation will be forthcoming. That will take the pressure off the heroic nurses and doctors who are dealing with this crisis. Then we should address the wider issue of Letterkenny hospital later this year.

I thank Senator Mac Lochlainn. I appreciate his frustration. I also appreciate his role as a public representative; he is doing a very fine job. He has brought this issue to the notice of the Seanad with passion and conviction. I agree with him and I support him on the principle of opening transitional care beds. That is the way to deal with the issue in the future and that is the way to take the pressure off emergency departments. We need to invest more in that area.

Last year, an additional €30 million was invested in transitional beds. However, this was not sufficient to open additional beds in all the locations in which we wanted to open them. The HSE must work to strict criteria in deciding where to open these beds. For a variety of reasons, it is not always possible to open beds. In my constituency, 25 empty beds are not in operation due to union issues and objections. There are a number of considerations involved - I am not suggesting that this is an issue with Letterkenny - but there are myriad reasons beds can and cannot be opened at a given time and why beds were opened in some places and not in others. The budget was €30 million in 2017 and an allocation of an additional €40 million was made in the 2018 budget to deal with the winter overcrowding in this coming year. I cannot give the Senator any commitment because, as he knows, this is an operational matter for the HSE. However, I can guarantee that the position of Letterkenny University Hospital will be looked at very seriously again. As resources allow and as other matters fall into line, I hope we can open additional step-down care beds in Letterkenny. That is the practical solution to the problem.

I thank the Minister of State and the Senator

Hospital Services

I dtús báire cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit, an Teachta Jim Daly, as bheith anseo inniu. Ba mhaith liom labhairt faoin seirbhís sláinte. Tá cúpla ceist simplí agam. Dhá sheachtain ó shin bhí scéal dochreidte sa Sunday Business Post. People were rightly shocked to see the headline "Life or Death: Top doctors say life support now being 'rationed' " in a newspaper at the weekend. The relevant story by Susan Mitchell, which was published in The Sunday Business Post, goes on to state that doctors were forced to make "tough decisions" and prioritise some critically ill patients. It is clearly stated in the article that the crisis stems from a shortage of intensive care beds in hospitals.

I preface my concerns about the problems relating to the intensive care units by stating that the vast majority of people who use the public health system have extremely positive experiences. Let us look at what has been said about the intensive care unit, ICU care. Dr. Tom Ryan, a consultant in intensive care and anesthesia in St. James's Hospital is president of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, IHCA. Two weeks ago, Dr. Ryan noted that we are effectively rationing life support. Dr. Ryan is a senior medical professional who knows what he is speaking about. Dr. Emily O'Connor is President of the Irish Association of Emergency Medicine and a consultant in emergency medicine in Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown. She stated that doctors were having to make "tough decisions about which critically ill patients to prioritise". I could quote from members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, SIPTU and other unions who are on the front line in intensive care units. The Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland have repeatedly warned about cuts in bed capacity and the impact on patient safety. What do unnecessary risks or tough decisions actually mean?

The absence of a post-operative bed in an intensive care unit, ICU, means that critical life-saving surgery is delayed, deferred or - God forbid - cancelled. No doctor ever wants to be in this position. It runs contrary to our Hippocratic oath, contrary to the guidelines of the Medical Council, and contrary to the reasons many of us decided to get into medicine and health care. Doctors routinely have to sit down with family members and loved ones and say that in their professional opinion, having reviewed and assessed all of the options, the likelihood of survival is slim. Some of us have to give this bad news thousands of times in our professional lives. I can remember the first time I had such a conversation. I assure the Minister of State that it never gets easier. I never thought that one of these reasons might be that an ICU bed was not available.

In 2018 we were told by the Government that we were the richest in Europe and had the fastest growing economy in the eurozone. There is something profoundly sick about the fact that ICU beds are being rationed. This is why the type of problems being experienced within ICUs is so alarming. The failure to provide emergency surgery because of the absence of an ICU bed is nothing short of a national scandal. There can be no surprise that there is a shortage of ICU beds. It was highlighted for the HSE in 2009, but cuts of €576 million have been made to the capital budget for acute hospital care in the past ten years. What makes it worse in the case of ICUs is that it directly impacts upon serious elective surgery, such as procedures for treating cancer, and hinders doctors from escalating really medically sick patients, for example a patient with pneumonia, from the medical ward into an ICU bed.

Knowing what I know and speaking to people on the front line I can only conclude that the medical outcomes of people have been compromised and that people are dying as a result. This is a very serious thing to say but it is unfortunately the case. People are dying as a result of the absence of ICU beds.

I thank Senator Swanick for raising this issue and giving me the opportunity to provide an update to the House.

I fully accept that there are critical care capacity deficits in hospitals across the country. I recognise the ongoing challenges this presents and also its impact on patient flow within emergency departments. Currently, the annual national adult critical care bed capacity census reports a capacity of 240 adult critical care beds as of 30 September 2017. The HSE national service plan for 2018 recognises that, following the organisation of hospitals into hospital groups, it is clear that critical care capacity building is required in the hub hospitals in order to meet the ongoing and increasing critical care requirements of complex, multi-specialty, severely critically ill patients.

I assure the Senator that the 2018 service plan identifies increase of critical care capacity as a priority for this year. In particular it identifies the opening of additional high-dependency and critical care capacity at Cork University Hospital and the Mater Hospital as specific priority actions. Hospital groups are also facilitating the implementation of the national critical care nursing workforce plan, Career Pathway, to recruit nursing graduates.

The Senator may also be aware that my Department is undertaking a health system capacity review, in line with A Programme for a Partnership Government commitment, which is examining health service capacity across all key areas of primary care, acute care and services for older people. This includes examining current and future demand, capacity for adult critical care and the need for additional adult critical care capacity up to 2031, taking into account demographic growth.

I thank the Minister of State. It is worth noting that the HSE commissioned the Prospectus report in 2009, which recommended that the number of ICU beds be increased by 45% immediately and be doubled by 2020. These recommendations have not been acted upon and no additional ICU beds have been provided. An additional 1,500 acute hospital beds have also been closed. Dr. Fergal Hickey, who was a consultant in emergency medicine in Sligo University Hospital, said that an estimated 300 to 350 patients - real people - are dying every year due to a shortage of critical care beds.

Does the Minister of State agree that the number of ICU beds must increase? What timeframe does the Government have for this? Does the Minister of State agree with the hospital consultants that the number of additional acute hospital beds that are required to provide an internationally accepted standard in Ireland is 4,000? By OECD standards, Ireland is one of the top spending countries in health. Something is seriously wrong when the number of acute hospital beds here is one of the lowest of all OECD countries. That is the fundamental problem.

I assure the House that my Department is committed to working with the HSE to address the clearly identified need for critical care capacity over the coming years. I absolutely agree with the Senator. I acknowledge the issue and, as I said earlier, it is recognised as a priority for the year ahead by the individual hospital groups. The implementation of hospital groups facilitates further reorganisation of these services across hospitals in line with the hub-and-spoke model. Over the medium to long term, the health service capacity review will provide the basis for determining the extent of the capacity requirements over the next 15 years and the type of capacity needed. The findings will also inform the development of a new ten-year national development plan. Work on the HSE capacity review is at an advanced stage and I expect to receive the final report very shortly. I intend to bring the report to the Government and have it published as soon as possible thereafter.

The Government is committed to making tangible and sustainable improvements in our health services. The health service capacity review was a key element of this and the Sláintecare report provides a framework and direction of travel for improvement. The Government has already given its approval to move ahead with the establishment of a Sláintecare programme office in the Department of Health. The role of executive director of the Sláintecare programme office was advertised on Friday 12 January, as the Senator is aware, by the Public Appointments Service.

On his specific question about consultants and the 4,000 beds, the Senator will appreciate that prior to the publication of the capacity review it would not be appropriate for me to comment on any numbers or figures in that regard.

CLÁR Programme

I welcome the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring. I especially wish to acknowledge that the Minister is responsible for CLÁR and that it was he who reopened the programme in 2016. While the Minister might be based in Dublin 4, he is certainly working hard for rural communities. It is interesting to note that the CLÁR covers a programme relating to various counties or parts of counties: Cavan, Clare, Cork, Donegal, Galway, Kerry, Kilkenny, Laois, Roscommon, Sligo, Tipperary, Waterford, Westmeath, Wicklow and all of County Leitrim, which is the only entire country within CLÁR. It is an important measure. It ties in with the Government's commitment to the Action Plan for Rural Development. I am very aware of all the objectives of that. It is important that we hear how the 2017 programme went, what are the Minister's intentions for funding the CLÁR programme and any plans for bringing it forward into 2018. It is an important programme in the context of rural development and it acknowledges that there is a need for investment in rural communities. I thank the Minister.

I thank Senator Boyhan for raising this issue and for the other issues he has raised regarding rural Ireland. I am glad the Senator has a concern. I appreciate that and the support which he and others gave me in the Seanad when we discussed rural issues before Christmas.

The CLÁR programme provides funding for small-scale infrastructural projects in disadvantaged rural areas that have experienced significant levels of depopulation. The aim of CLÁR is to support the sustainable development of identified CLÁR areas with the aim of attracting people to live and work there. The funding works in conjunction with local funding and on the basis of locally identified priorities.

The programme was originally launched in October 2001 to provide for targeted investment in disadvantaged rural areas. The areas originally selected for inclusion in the programme were those which suffered the greatest population decline from 1926 to 1996, with the exception of the Cooley Peninsula, which was included on the basis of the serious difficulties caused in that area by foot and mouth disease.

The average population loss in the original CLÁR regions over the period 1926 to 1996 was 50%. In 2006, an analysis of the 2002 census data was carried out by the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis at Maynooth University and the programme was extended to include areas with an average population loss of 35% between 1926 and 2002. CLÁR was effectively closed to new applications from 2010 and all funding provided over the period 2010 to 2015 was in respect of prior commitments. However, the Government relaunched the CLÁR programme on 6 October 2016 based on the original areas outlined above, with a focus on three separate measures. The first measure concerned safety measures for schools and community or sports facilities, the second measure concerned playgrounds and multi-use games areas and the third measure concerned local access roads.

On 1 December 2016, the allocation of €8.293 million to 651 successful projects under the programme was announced. The 2017 CLÁR programme, with an indicative allocation of €5 million, was launched on 31 March 2017 with a closing date of 5 May 2017. Funding for the programme was available in 2017 under four separate measures. The first measure concerned support for school and community safety measures, the second measure concerned play areas, the third measure concerned targeted community infrastructure and the fourth measure concerned first responder supports. In total, more than 500 applications were received, to the value of €15 million, across the four measures. Applications under the first, second and third measures were submitted through the local authorities while applications under the fourth measure were submitted from voluntary organisations involved in community-based response to emergency situations. In total, just over €7 million was allocated to 231 successful projects, across the four measures, ranging from pedestrian crossings at rural schools to emergency response vehicles.

However, in order to ensure that the CLÁR programme continues to target the most appropriate rural areas, I am committed to carrying out a review of the areas covered under the CLÁR programme during 2018 in light of the most up-to-date population position as published by the Central Statistics Office in 2017. I have secured a budget of €5 million for CLÁR for 2018 and decisions regarding the measures that might be funded for 2018 will be made available shortly.

What the Minister has secured for CLÁR is really good news. Will the Minister release or publish the national map setting out the CLÁR areas? Some people are still in doubt about that. It is also important to keep local councils informed of what is going on. Departments tend to engage with local authority executives but not necessarily local elected members. The Minister will appreciate that his party has a large number of local members, both elected and non-elected, who are very active in rural communities throughout the country. Therefore, given that there have been some changes since the last one two years ago, could we get the map? I also ask that local authorities are kept informed about the work because it is really positive, and it is important that it is made known. I thank the Minister for attending and giving us his time.

I will get the Department to send the Senator the maps. Every local authority area has its map because they have to consider these maps when making their application under the CLÁR programme. The Senator made a valid point. In my area, there are towns and, in particular, villages that are in CLÁR and others that are not in it but should be. I have to be careful how I put it but there are villages where one would feel they have a better standard of living and more people are working and employed there than in other areas. I saw it myself. An area that made an application for a scheme did not qualify because it was not in the CLÁR programme. I would consider this area to suffer major disadvantage. Therefore, I intend to carry out a review of the scheme.

One of the best aspects of the scheme is the first responder supports. Last week, we provided funding of more than €500,000 for doctors who are on-call and make themselves available in a voluntary capacity. Renault sponsored a number of vehicles throughout the country and I helped to fit out the equipment. These first responders, as they are called when there is an accident, have saved many lives in rural parts of Ireland.

There is the Order of Malta and there are many other voluntary organisations. They give of their time to provide a service for communities and they are expected to also collect money for vehicles that can cost anything up to €100,000, which does not make sense to me and that is why I brought in this scheme. Last year I asked the local authorities and the communities if they wanted to make an application for a miscellaneous scheme. I will do the same again this year. I did it on the basis that if there was something I felt several communities needed I could consider a scheme for the following year.

I would love to have more money for the CLÁR programme. It was one of the better schemes in respect of local authority expenditure and how it worked. I intend to open it again early in the new year along with the local improvement scheme, LIS. I will review the overall context of the CLÁR programme, who is in and who is out. We need to have guidelines because we want to identify and target the disadvantaged areas, particularly in CLÁR.

TAMS Administration

I welcome the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to the House and compliment him on the good work he is doing in the Department.

I would like him to include cattle passes in the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS II, which was launched in 2015 with a budget of almost €400 million. We are halfway through that programme and farmers have shown significant interest in it. To date almost 12,000 farmers have applied to the scheme which is positive because the scheme helps them modernise.

Halfway through TAMS II, however, only 10% of the money has been drawn down. There are many applications in the system. I have asked before that we expand it by including generators but today I want it to be expanded to include cattle passes. Farmers on fragmented farm holdings, some in dairy, which have expanded, have unfortunately seen large numbers of animals cross roads, main roads and byroads. It is dangerous. It is also a drain on manpower if a herd is crossing a road. Labour is a problem on farms. We have a real commitment and vision in the food policy, Food 2025. There has been a large increase in the volume produced on dairy farms in recent years. A step towards helping these farmers modernise their systems would be to expand TAMS II to include cattle passes, which would in turn help with labour and health and safety problems.

I thank Senator Lombard for raising this matter and welcome the opportunity to outline the current position regarding TAMS II.

During 2015, a suite of six measures was announced under TAMS II. These measures were launched under the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 and are co-funded under the European agricultural fund for rural development, EAFRD. The measures provide grants for capital investment in physical assets to assist the Irish agriculture sector to respond to a range of policy challenges. The six measures initially launched were: the young farmers capital investment scheme; the dairy equipment scheme; the organic capital investment scheme; the animal welfare, safety and nutrient storage scheme; the low emission slurry spreading scheme; and the pig and poultry investment scheme.

The objectives of the scheme include enabling growth and competitiveness in the sector, addressing environmental and climate change issues, supporting the increased efficiency of holdings and improving animal health and welfare. In addition to these objectives, the young farmer capital investment scheme aims to address one of the key structural issues in the sector by specifically targeting support at young trained farmers, offering them a higher rate of grant aid at 60%, compared to the standard rate of 40%.
In March last year an additional measure, the tillage capital investment scheme, was added to the list of measures. One of the objectives of this scheme is to facilitate the tillage sector to develop a targeted and precise approach, focusing on environmental dividends, efficiency and growth. There is a huge variety of items available under the suite of seven targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, measures.
In all measures, applications and payment claims must be made online, either by the farmer or by an adviser authorised to act on the farmer's behalf. The final allocation in respect of TAMS II for the full rural development programme will be in the region of €395 million. In order to encourage the drawdown of funding, provide increased budget certainty and ensure that all farmers can avail of funding over the entire period of the rural development programme, from the sixth tranche onward the length of time in which to undertake the works approved was reduced from the three-year period in previous tranches to six months for mobile equipment and 12 months for fixed building works. The period for the completion of works approved or to be approved under previous tranches remains unchanged. I am delighted that the scheme has proved to be so popular with Irish farmers, with more than 15,500 applications submitted to date. Of these, more than 12,500, 80% of the total, have been approved to commence work.
The figures are much lower where payment claims are concerned. It is open to approved applicants to submit an online payment claim as soon as they are in a position to do so. Within the approved deadline, the timing of the submission of a payment claim is entirely a matter for individual farmers, and when they carry out the approved works is up to them. To date, just 3,500 payment claims have been submitted. The Department has actively encouraged all approved applicants to submit payment claims, including by contacting approved applicants individually by text message. I urge all approved applicants who have completed their works to submit a payment claim as soon as they are in a position to do so.
To date, payments have issued in more than 2,600 cases, amounting to a total of more than €36.5 million. All payment claims are examined and paid as soon as possible after they have been submitted. Where any issue arises with a payment claim, the applicant concerned is contacted directly by the Department to resolve outstanding issues. All 12,500 approvals issued represent potential outstanding liabilities for the Department. Until these approvals mature to payment stage, or the timeframe of the approval expires, a budgetary provision must be available to make payments. Until the budgetary position becomes clearer, it is not possible to consider adding additional items, including cattle underpasses, to the comprehensive list of investment items already available under the suite of seven TAMS II measures. It is not proposed, therefore, to add any additional items at this time.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive response and for the update on the TAMS scheme. He is right in saying that it is a very important scheme, and the uptake among farmers, with more than 12,500 applying, is very much welcomed. Again, it comes down to the payment and the actual payment scheme. In many ways it is in the farmers' hands. They must move the projects forward and trigger the payment. When will the Minister have an indication of whether there will be money left over from the scheme? Does he know a date on which these applications will mature and will not be drawn down? I expect that a cohort of applications in the system will not be drawn down.

Do we know the date on which this cohort will fall off the system? We might then know when the funds assigned to them would be made available, and thus be able to extend the scheme to cattle passes or even agricultural generators. I know it is an issue of timing, and I appreciate that the Minister is under pressure, but it is important that at some point we get a budgetary figure and amend it appropriately.

I thank Senator Lombard. The scheme is extremely attractive and successful, not least because of the level of grant aid but also because of the range of projects covered under it, which are myriad across a number of sectors in agriculture.

A total of 15,500 applications have been made under it. Some 12,500 applications have been approved but in only in the region of 2,500 of those approved have payments been claimed. The problem for the Department is getting certainty around the intentions of those who have approvals outstanding but where no claims have been submitted. We have applied a time limit to more recent tranches of applications whereby an applicant has a six month period for an application for mobile equipment and a 12 month approval period for buildings.

The unfortunate reality for a substantial number of applications prior to that stage is that they have had a three year approval process and that three year process has not begun to expire yet. It is probable that a number of those approvals will not proceed. Currently, they may be resubmitted at a later stage but it makes it difficult to consider at this point in time whether there is sufficient head room to consider other items under the rural development programme and the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS. There is no shortage of asks.

I appreciate the points the Senator has raised here and with me privately about underpasses. I accept the principle of the point made, namely, that the absence of underpasses makes it difficult to farm fragmented holdings, particularly dairy holdings where crossing busy roads multiple times each day is necessary.

There is no shortage of asks in respect of TAMS. The Deputy also mentioned generators and that is another area where there is interest. The list of asks is very long but until we get greater financial certainty around what are the intentions of numerous approved applicants whose applications are timed to expire as this year progresses, we will not have sufficient clarity as to what head room is available.

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