Skip to main content
Normal View

Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 10 Jul 2019

Vol. 266 No. 14

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Housing Adaptation Grant Applications

My fellow Kerryman, Senator O'Sullivan, is first. The Minister of State is welcome.

The Leas-Chathaoirleach looks shocked to see me up at this early hour of the morning.

It is not that. I am delighted. It is always good to see the Senator.

I thank the Minister of State for taking this matter. Before I was elected to Seanad Éireann, I served as a councillor in Kerry for 22 years, in which time I had the privilege of being mayor of the county.

With distinction.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. In that time, I was involved in any amount of housing grant applications. Although one did not always get the desired outcome, I never came up against a case as unfair and inexplicable as this one. I do not say that lightly and, as the Leas-Chathaoirleach knows, neither am I in the habit of tabling Commencement debates on individual issues such as this. The Minister of State's office has been advised of the particular and unique circumstances surrounding the application. It is my hope that he will see how shabbily the lady in question and her loving and supporting family have been treated and that he will, even at this belated stage, intervene.

The Government and everyone else in these Houses know full well that we are in a crisis as far as public housing is concerned. The programme for Government sets as a high priority people who make a genuine attempt to house themselves, and rightly so. Far too many go for the easy option of putting their names on a housing list and waiting until someone comes along and hands them the keys. Many will refuse the first or second houses on offer for any variety of reasons until they get exactly what they want. Their houses will be fully furnished and equipped and, for the rest of their days, they will be will be maintained to the highest possible standard and the people to whom I refer will never be burdened with worries about mortgage. In the meantime while they wait, the State will assist them with all necessary supports, including rent allowance and income supplements. We all know what a burden that is placing on the Exchequer and how it perpetuates an unending cycle where demand will always exceed supply.

The lady in question chose another route - a more difficult and unselfish route. With tremendous support, financial and otherwise, from her devoted parents and siblings, she went about housing herself. She was fortunate enough to secure a suitable house adjacent to her family home. For reasons that I will not put on the record but that are known to the Department, this was crucial, because her personal circumstances made proximity to her parents essential to her being able to achieve independent, stress-free living. The house was purchased through a combination of family support and borrowing. It is a wonderful listed building and she has restored it to its former beauty completely in line with Kerry County Council's regulations, which were stringent. Prior to that, the building had become an eyesore in a lovely town that, as the Leas-Chathaoirleach knows, was this year's overall TidyTowns winner.

The story of this application for State funding makes for sad and disappointing reading. What was sought was recognition for her efforts and the fact that, instead of being a lifelong burden on the State, she just got on with the job of housing herself. She would have been a very high priority for local authority housing at God knows what cost in perpetuity, but no. She received a grant from Kerry County Council that would be deemed meagre under any circumstances, never mind in the context of her particular life history. I have been involved in facilitating grants for housing renovations paid out to some of the State's wealthiest citizens, people for whom the grant was just a welcome bonus and not a necessity. They were entitled to it and they got it, but that is not the point. I have worked with the officials and staff of Kerry County Council my whole life. No one admires them more. They are helpful and diligent at all times, but in this case something seems to have gone radically wrong. This has given rise to disappointment on my part in our local government system, with which I have been involved all my life.

Will the Minister of State set an example? He has reply that was prepared by civil servants but it is time that people in his position stand up and reward those who, like this young woman, want to help themselves. He should find a way to address her case and afford her and her family some much-needed financial relief.

I thank Senator O'Sullivan for raising this case. I also thank him for his honest appraisal of the housing situation and how, despite being potentially complicated, it can work in many cases and help people who choose a different route and try to help themselves. There are systems and processes in place and it is important that we try to work within them. That works two ways, of course, and everyone on both sides must play his or her part. The Senator has given an honest description of the complications encountered in trying to house people. While there is still a major housing shortage, a great deal of progress has been made in every county, including Kerry, where the county council is meeting its targets, delivering many new houses, buying and refurbishing many more and bringing others back into use. There are many solutions. In every debate on housing in this and the Lower House, I stress that there is more than one solution and approach to the question of social housing, for example, purchasing, new builds, Part V, leasing, voids being repaired and brought back into use, the repair and leasing scheme, and the buy and renew scheme. There are many schemes, and I am glad that the majority of councils are beginning to avail of them. That is what we want to do, but it means that we will have to adapt our ways as we see different and better solutions. If they accommodate people, we will attempt them.

I thank Senator O'Sullivan for raising this case and giving me the opportunity to provide an update insofar as my Department is concerned. A representation regarding the case was received from the Senator and acknowledged by our Department in February. There has been ongoing consultation since then between departmental officials and Kerry County Council on this and many other cases. Where it makes sense and represents good value, every local authority is encouraged to acquire houses. Sometimes, people approach me about other issues, but I wanted to be clear on that point.

It is important that I indicate for the record that the detailed administration of the housing adaptation grants, including the assessment, approval and payment of individual grants to applicants, is the responsibility of the relevant local authority. While officials at my Department oversee the national budget for this programme - we have increased the budget in recent years, including for this year - and work with our local authorities to ensure all funding is spent effectively and the grants are implemented fairly and consistently, it is logical that the local authorities make decisions locally, based on the guidelines set nationally, and use their local knowledge of individual applicants and their personal circumstances. As a former councillor, Senator O'Sullivan will have tried to intervene down the years and bridge the information gap so that decision-makers were not missing facts about cases.

In this particular case, Kerry County Council assessed the proposal as a derelict cottage in need of significant reconstruction and funding of €13,775 was awarded in October 2018.

The approach the council took in this case is in accordance with the guidelines. However, the Department always emphasises to local authorities that they should make the best judgment in each case commensurate with the level of need and the circumstances of the applicant within the guidelines.

My Department raised this case with Kerry County Council, which agreed to revisit the application to consider other possible approaches to assessing the grant application concerned while remaining within the guidelines. There is some challenge and complexity to the case. The Senator referred to the purchase of a property, which can complicate application for certain grants because there are processes to be followed. Everyone had the best of intentions in respect of the case, but matters can sometimes become a little complicated. In the circumstances and based on the discussions between the council and my Department, I can assure the Senator that council officials will contact the applicant shortly to look at an alternative way to assess the housing adaptation grant application and see if there is a way to achieve a higher level of support.

The Senator outlined the details of the case and the amount of funding required. He will appreciate that I cannot pre-empt the precise outcome, given that decisions on applications of this kind are a matter for the local authority and not my responsibility. I am not allowed to intervene on any particular case and do not have the power to so do. I assure him that the objective is to bring about the fairest possible outcome for the applicant and recognise the reality of the situation. I trust that the prospect of a better outcome will satisfy the Senator for now, while allowing time for the council to re-examine the application. I recognise his work on this matter in recent months. I trust also that the follow-up by the council directly with the applicant will take place shortly such that the matter can be brought to a more satisfactory conclusion. There are many solutions to housing. Houses often need to be adapted because the residents may be of various ages and abilities. We try to facilitate that as we want to make the best use of our housing stock.

I know Listowel quite well. The Senator referred to it as a lovely town and clarified that the house in question is a listed building. The town was recognised at the national Tidy Towns awards and I am aware of the work done there early in the morning and late into the night by its Tidy Towns committee and many others. The preservation of houses and restoration of buildings within the town boundaries is to be encouraged. We try to facilitate such works through the many grants that are available. The grant in this instance is very often used to fund the adaptation of a house and is not essentially designed to be used for restoration. However, we try to encourage the usage of grants for various purposes. They are there to help people. We will continue to increase the number of adaption grants made available in the years ahead.

I thank the Minister of State for his reasonably satisfactory response, including scripted and unscripted comments, and his understanding of the uniqueness of the situation and the bigger picture. I will not belabour the matter. I know the family will welcome a review and look forward to the promised contact from the county council in great anticipation. I detect a mood change from the words of the Minister of State. We will leave the matter rest.

I thank the Senator for raising the issue.

School Patronage

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the Chamber to respond to this matter, which relates to a new primary school for Donabate. The latter is a town in north County Dublin with a population of approximately 8,000. I am one of the people who live there. Donabate is expanding rapidly, with a significant amount of construction taking place. There is planning permission for 900 homes, with many hundreds more to come.

Last year, the Government announced plans for a new 16-classroom primary school for Donabate to open in September 2020. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, previously confirmed that the patronage of the school will be decided through a patronage process in consultation with patronage bodies and parents living in Donabate. This will allow the parents of the area to give their preference on school patronage. The three excellent primary schools in the town are an Educate Together school, a girls' Catholic school and a boys' Catholic school. There is significant demand for a new school, given the level of construction and the growing and very young population in the area.

The Minister previously confirmed that the patronage process would begin well in advance of the school year. September is rapidly approaching, as is the beginning of the school year. It is very important that the patronage process begin immediately because parents need time to plan and see what are the choices in the area in order to decide on their preferred schools. It can be difficult to decide what is best for one's child and family. In addition, parents need to prepare children for entering primary school. It is a significant milestone. As the mother of a child who is starting primary school in September, I know that one needs to prepare oneself and one's child for that significant transition. The child needs to know where he or she is going to school and what will happen there.

I ask the Minister of State to confirm when the patronage process for the new primary school in Donabate is due to start.

I thank the Senator for raising this very important matter. I will respond on behalf of the Minister who cannot be present. It gives me the opportunity to set out for the Seanad the position with regard to the patronage process for the new primary school in Donabate, County Dublin. As the Senator may be aware, in April 2018 the Government announced plans for the establishment of 42 new schools over the next four years, namely, 2019 to 2022, including a new 16-classroom primary school to be established in 2020 to serve the Donabate school planning area. The announcement followed nationwide demographic exercises carried out by the Department into the future need for primary and post-primary schools across the country. The four-year horizon enables increased lead-in times for planning and delivery of the necessary infrastructure.

A patronage process is run after it has been decided, on the basis of a demographic analysis, that a new school is required. The process is open to all patron bodies and prospective patrons. The preferences of parents of children who reside in the school planning areas concerned for each patron, together with the extent of diversity currently available in these areas, are key to decisions in respect of the outcome of the process. The patronage process for new schools is overseen by an external independent advisory group, the new schools establishment group, NSEG. Following its consideration of the Department’s assessment reports, the NSEG submits a report with recommendations to the Minister for consideration and final decision. The assessment reports and NSEG recommendations for all such patronage processes are made available on the Department’s website. An online patronage process system, OPPS, has been developed by the Department to provide objective information to all parents which will allow them to make an informed choice about their preferred model of patronage for their child’s education. Parental preferences were previously collected based on direct engagement with patron bodies.

The patronage process for the new schools to be established in 2020, including the new primary school to serve the Donabate school planning area, will commence later in 2019. The Minister asked me to highlight that the patronage process for the remainder of the new schools will be run at a later date which will be significantly ahead of their due opening. Updates on further patronage processes will be announced on the OPPS website and the Department’s website.

The patronage process for the new schools to be established in 2020, including the new primary school to serve the Donabate school planning area, will commence later in 2019. That will be the first school. I have answered the Senator's question to the best of my ability. I thank her for the opportunity to respond to her question.

I thank the Minister of State, but he did not answer my question as I wanted to know exactly when it will start. However, if it is to commence before the end of the year, that is something of a timeline. It is worth bearing in mind that the choice is very important for parents in the area. We need adequate school provision but also choice within that provision. I realise the Minister of State cannot tell me when in 2019 the process will begin, but can he indicate how long the process takes?

I have been told that the patronage process for most of the other schools will begin in 2020. The Minister told me that this school will commence later in 2019. To be honest, I do not have a definite date but over the next couple of days I will speak to the Department to see if I can get dates for the Senator, which is important for her. While I have referred to 2019 and 2020, I am assured that it is 2019. I spoke to officials in the Department this morning. I will speak again to the Department's officials over the next couple of days and I should be able to give the Senator a date. I will give her whatever information they give to me.

I thank the Minister of State. I will follow up with a letter to remind him. I appreciate his support in this matter.

Coast Guard Service

I thank the Minister, Deputy Ross, for coming to the House to deal with this matter personally. There were scheduling difficulties in the last couple of weeks in arranging for that.

The Minister will be well aware of the motivation for tabling this Commencement matter. The Irish Coast Guard does extremely valuable work. The more than 700 volunteers who operate in the various Coast Guard stations around the country do vital work in supporting the emergency services. They are available and on call 24-7, but they are not paid for doing the work as they are volunteers. However, these people could find themselves on a search and recovery mission for days, at which point they must take leave from work. They are using up their annual leave and in some cases are taking unpaid leave.

Not all the 700 people are necessarily happy with the manner in which the Coast Guard does its business. All of them are very dedicated and proud of the work they do, and the connectivity they have with the sea and with helping people is extremely admirable. On many occasions they take their lives into their hands when they go out on both search and rescue and search and recovery missions. My reason for tabling this matter is that every organisation has grievance mechanisms to deal with grievances and when the mechanisms in the organisations do not work there is usually an independent process as a last recourse. People who are not satisfied they are getting a fair hearing within the structures that are available can appeal to the independent body. Most people who are in employment are able to appeal to outside bodies.

I am asking for a structure to be established under the auspices of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport whereby the few volunteers in the Coast Guard who have grievances and who are not satisfied with the manner in which their grievances have been dealt with can appeal to an independent body overseen by the Department. I recommend that this be established and that it be headed by a retired High Court or Circuit Court judge. The body would also be tasked with recommending improved practices in the Coast Guard. I also recommend that this body should look at cases which have concluded where volunteers are not satisfied with the manner in which they have been dealt with. There has already been a case where a volunteer ended up going to court and being reinstated by the court. We do not wish to see that type of thing. It was reported in the media recently.

Essentially, I wish to enhance and improve the Coast Guard and to provide a mechanism within the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in which volunteers in the Coast Guard can feel confident that their grievances will be properly investigated and adjudicated. As I said, these people are volunteers and are not paid. That is a separate issue and I believe the country must examine that. In this case, however, it is only reasonable that there would be an independent structure to which they could appeal, and that this independent structure would look at previous cases as well. It is something that must happen and I urge the Minister to make it happen.

I thank Senator Conway for raising this issue. He is second to none in his respect and advocacy for the Coast Guard. I salute the Coast Guard and the work it does. We both want to see any grievances in the Coast Guard resolved in a way that is satisfactory, independent and fair. We have met on many occasions to discuss this issue with the Irish Coast Guard. On at least one occasion we met Bernard Lucas, the widower of Caitríona Lucas who died in a tragedy. That was a particularly moving meeting and I hope the response I give today will be well received by him as well.

Senator Conway has raised the concerns of a number of Coast Guard volunteers that existing procedures for handling grievances need to be improved. The proposal to establish an independent body to deal with such grievances has been raised by the Senator. To be clear, the number of grievance cases currently stands at three. This represents less than 0.5% of the total volunteer cadre. That is not to demean them in any way but just to point out that any response should be proportionate. It is not in any way to denigrate the grievances or to make a judgment on them. I wish to look closer at the manner in which grievances are currently managed in the Coast Guard. The relevant key documents involving volunteers are the Irish Coast Guard code and the grievance and complaints procedures.

Last year, the Coast Guard completed a review of the code. It includes sections on performance management, disciplinary procedure and a positive volunteering environment. This review was conducted with independent expert input from a human resources consultancy to ensure that the Coast Guard's processes were fair and fit for purpose for an organisation of its type. The review also involved a consultation process with the volunteers which was managed through the coastal unit advisory group. This group is a representative structure for the volunteers made up of six members elected by the units independently of full-time staff in the Coast Guard.

The HR consultants recommended various modifications and a revised code was published late last year. These independent experts confirmed that the code represented good practice, particularly given the voluntary nature of those involved.

In terms of grievances, all volunteers have access to a process to address issues about any aspect of their volunteer duties or how they are managed. Volunteers who are unhappy in their role or have a grievance they wish to discuss may approach their designated line manager or where they do not wish to go that route, they can escalate their grievance to their coastal unit sectoral manager. These are full-time staff in the Coast Guard. The matter is dealt with in a private manner and in line with the Coast Guard's human resources standards. Various checks are in place to ensure that where one or other party is not happy with how a grievance is being handled, he or she has recourse to independent mediation.

In terms of the independence of human resources processes within the Irish Coast Guard, the existing system has been enhanced over the past six months. As mentioned, a human resources company has been procured to provide reassurance about the procedures and offer the aforementioned independent mediation, where requested. This ensures a sufficient level of independence within the existing system proportionate to the level of grievances. The Coast Guard management accepts that the new code will take time to bed down and, to this end, training is being organised at all levels throughout the organisation, including for volunteers. The Coast Guard is also committed to reviewing its code on a regular basis. In looking to further improve the system, the Coast Guard has recently created an additional external review process for volunteer grievance investigations, disciplinary and appeal processes. This policy has been developed in the interests of ensuring that the principles of natural justice are upheld for volunteers involved in grievance investigations, disciplinary or appeal processes, or both. Under this new policy, the intention is to allow for a further external review of a case, whether grievance, disciplinary or appeal, to be conducted by a competent third party, most likely a HR company. Its focus will be to determine whether procedures were followed correctly. Such a review would be triggered where all other internal review options have been pursued. A volunteer who requests such a review would, naturally, be informed of the outcome of the review and relevant findings. Effectively, this new process will, hopefully, ensure a final independent arbitration relating to grievance and other processes or seen under the code.

The Coast Guard remains a vital component in our search and rescue service. I reassure Senator Conway that its interests are at the core of the significant transformation that is taking place in the search and rescue system.

Clearly, there have been some advances in the months since Christmas. I may raise this matter again in September once I have engaged with volunteers to check if they are satisfied. It is good that an external company or human resources expert has been retained to consider future grievances. The fact that there are three formal grievance cases does not mean that other members of the Coast Guard who have not triggered formal complaints are happy and would not like to see the current system strengthened. I request the Minister to instruct the Coast Guard to have the independent external body review all grievance cases closed in recent years to see if correct procedures were followed and make recommendations. I welcome the use of an external body and it is a step in the right direction. To be fair, however, the external body should be asked to review all grievances that have arisen in recent years.

I ask the Minister to be brief because we are tight on time this morning.

The new policy must be given an opportunity to work. I give Senator Conway a commitment that I will ask my officials to review the policy after one year to see how it is working. I will also ask him to have discussions with us on how the volunteers have received the policy because they are the people concerned. In a year's time, we will consider the policy in the light of how people have experienced the policy and we will see if any improvements can be made.

Will the external company consider the historical cases?

I will come back to the Senator on that.

I thank both the Senator and the Minister.

Medicinal Products Availability

I thank the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Catherine Byrne, for coming to the House to respond to my Commencement matter on the status of the levodopa-carbidopa intestinal gel, LCIG, known as Duodopa. The medicine is used to treat advanced Parkinson's disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that affects 12,000 people in Ireland. The uncertainty around the availability of this treatment option for people with advanced Parkinson's first arose in June 2018. At that time, there was an expectation that certainty of supply would be achieved within three to four months. In cases where patients were in critical need of this medicine it was made available through an access programme provided by AbbVie, the company that manufactures the medicine. However, as of 30 April of this year, this route is no longer available to patients or treating consultant neurologists. I understand that 81 patients were treated under this programme. The 82nd patient and subsequent patients will be denied access to the treatment. One such patient is a man from Cork who was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease at the age of 30. He is now married with young children and is still in his 30s. He is significantly affected by his condition and urgently needs to be treated with Duodopa now, not in one month or two months, to ensure he does not miss the window of opportunity during which the treatment can have its maximum benefit for him, as a patient who is suffering unnecessarily.

Last week, the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics, NCPE, stated on its website that the health technology assessment, HTA, for Duodopa had been completed, which is one year after the reimbursement ceased. The issue needs immediate attention. I ask the Minister of State and her ministerial colleagues to lend their support to ensuring this matter is expedited to ensure reimbursement for this medicine and equitable access to it. People should not have to travel to the UK and beyond to access the deep brain stimulation, DBS, services as some people have been forced to do. The Minister of State knows that Duodopa is a proven and tested product. The positive impact it can have on patients and their carers is immeasurable. Combining a specialist nurse service with this treatment will keep patients out of hospital and, therefore, money is saved and space in hospitals is freed up.

The costs of every other medicine for Parkinson's disease are covered. Why is Duodopa not covered? Patients do not opt for the treatment without first giving it great consideration and when it is not critically needed. However, when it becomes necessary for patients to access this treatment, they must be able to do so. The Minister of State will be aware of the procedure involved in taking this medicine. The treatment requires the medicine to be administered through a patient's intestine and is unpleasant. When there is no other option, however, this treatment becomes necessary. We urgently need a timeline or date for when we can expect to see a long overdue decision on Duodopa. There are a number of patients for whom this medicine provides a lifeline and constitutes their only sense of hope. The matter is, therefore, urgent.

I thank the Senator for raising this Commencement matter today. Unfortunately, the Minister for Health cannot be here, so I will take this opportunity to clarify his position on the availability of levodopa-carbidopa intestinal gel, LCIG, for patients with advanced Parkinson’s disease. As the Senator may know, the HSE has been given statutory responsibility for medicine pricing and reimbursement decisions by the Oireachtas, under the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Act 2013. That Act specifies criteria for decisions on whether the State will reimburse medicines, a statutory process in which the Minister for Health has no role. The HSE's decisions on which medicines are reimbursed by the taxpayer are made on objective, scientific and economic grounds, including on the advice of the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics, NCPE. The NCPE conducts health technology assessments, HTAs, for the HSE, and then makes recommendations on reimbursement to assist HSE decisions. The NCPE uses a decision framework to systematically assess a drug’s clinical and cost effectiveness as a health intervention. The HSE strives to reach a decision in as timely a manner as possible. However, because of the significant moneys involved, it must ensure the best price is achieved, as these commitments are often multi-million euro ongoing investments. This can lead to a protracted deliberation process.

On 14 June 2019, the NCPE completed an HTA on LCIG for patients with advanced Parkinson’s disease. The NCPE recommended that LCIG should not be considered for reimbursement, unless cost-effectiveness can be improved relative to existing treatments. That recommendation is available on the NCPE website. The HSE’s final decision on reimbursement will take the statutory criteria in the 2013 Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Act into consideration. Under an interim agreement between the HSE and the manufacturer, dating back to 2014, the HSE has agreed to fund this drug for up to 81 patients. The manufacturer agreed to fund the treatment of any new patients above that cap through a medical access programme. This interim agreement was dependent on the manufacturer delivering two things, namely, additional clinical evidence and a new HTA dossier to enable the NCPE to complete a full HTA on this product. However, the HSE has informed the Department that the manufacturer has unilaterally set aside this agreement. Furthermore, the company announced that it would not be enrolling any new patients in the free of charge access programme after 30 April 2019, which the Senator has already mentioned. The manufacturer stated that it would continue to provide the drug free of charge to patients already on the access programme, which is a total of 24 patients. I want to make it clear to the Senator that the HSE has yet to make a final decision on this reimbursement application and the statutory process is still ongoing.

I thank the Minister of State for her response. I ask her to ask the Minister, or the HSE directly, to sit down with the manufacturer and negotiate on the price of the drug. I understand the processes involved, the limited resources and everything else around it. However, can the Minister of State imagine what it must be like to be patient No. 82 in this situation? I cited the example of the 30 year old patient earlier. We are not playing with numbers here, but with people's lives. If the HSE sits down with the manufacturer and works out a price, then it can be agreed, as has happened in many other cases.

The effectiveness of the drug treatment is borne out by the fact that it is approved in other countries. It cannot be different for an Irish person living in London or somewhere else in the UK than it is for someone living here. We cannot force patients to go abroad. I am no friend of drug manufacturers, and they need to decrease their prices, but we cannot expect them to continue providing treatment free of charge indefinitely either. There has to be some fairness there. I ask the HSE to sit down with the drug company at the earliest possible moment and negotiate the price, within weeks rather than months. I am concerned that we are now going into the holiday period. Is there is any way this could be done before the end of July, so that the uncertainty will be removed for these patients going into August and September?

The Parkinson's Association of Ireland, among other groups, has been in contact with the Minister. He appreciates that Parkinson's disease is a debilitating condition and that it is a worrying time for patients, families and carers. While the Minister hopes this application will shortly come to a satisfactory conclusion for all concerned, it is important to note that the HSE is the decision-making body on the reimbursement of medicines, under the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Act 2013. Accordingly, the HSE alone will make the final decision on whether LCIG will be reimbursed. However, I will bring Senator Conway-Walsh's question back to the Minister and will ask him to contact the HSE to see if the decision on this vital medication, that so many people badly need, can be made sooner rather than later. I will bring that back to him.

I very much appreciate that. Could the Minister of State ask the Minister if it could be included in the July meeting, if at all possible?

Sitting suspended at 11.27 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.